When I was a youngster, I'm guessing about eight or nine years old, I had a pair of shoes in which the nails holding the heel had poked through the sole and begun pressing into my flesh. It was just irritating enough to bother me, but not painful enough to take immediate action. So I walked around in them for at least a few days, tolerating the discomfort for no good reason.
I also remember the relief I felt when I pounded the offending fasteners flat with a hammer, allowing me to wear them in comfort until a new set of heels could be applied.
I encountered a cousin recently and discovered during our catching up conversation that he had decided, in the short term at least, to pursue a career as a swimming coach. Now here is a young man who is academically gifted and, by university training, ready for a career in information technology, a field in which qualified individuals almost have to go into hiding to avoid dazzlingly lucrative job offers.
However, instead of going to work for Microsoft or attending law school, one of his earlier aspirations, he's looking at getting certified to teach school. That decision was predicated, at least in part, by a visit with a friend who had gone to law school and secured a position with a prestigious firm, only to discover that he hated practicing law. My response: He's one of the lucky ones.
Now, what do my uncomfortable shoes have to do with a cousin who wants to go into coaching? For a good chunk of my working life, it felt like nails were coming through my shoes. Although I was engaged in perfectly honest and respectable work, it was absolutely wrong for me.
Through a series of decisions and a few smatterings of good luck, I finally broke away from that flesh-pricking job and got into a line of work-journalism-that felt like a pair of broken-in loafers. I have had a few jolts along the way-usually because I veered too far off the path-but I've never been sorry I flattened those nails.
In this job, I get to meet entrepreneurial types all the time, and while I'm not in my own venture, I can understand what drives people like our readers. Yes, everyone wants to build a company they can be proud of and where they can make a lot of money, but more often than not, I get a sense that the financial reward isn't the principal reason they're doing it.
The best of them seem to have a burning desire for what they do, whether it's the hardware store on the corner or the software company launched in the founder's basement. Why else would they put up with tangles of government regulations, parsimonious lenders and shrinking labor pools?
The explanation, I guess, is that, while running a business which you have a passion for can be trying, painful and nerve-wracking, it's not as debilitating as doing something that doesn't suit you.
So my advice to anyone who is not doing what they enjoy for a living, or who hasn't had the epiphany my cousin experienced, is this: Don't walk a mile in my shoes; fix your own.
My editor, Dan Bates, assures me this column will be a regular feature, space permitting, as long as I behave myself and promise to spell-check my copy before I dispatch those billions of electrons to him in the next office.
I've promised to keep doing it as long as it feels good.
When the loafers start to feel a little too much like wing tips, though, I'm outta here.
Ray Marano is the associate editor of SBN Pittsburgh, when he's not out repairing his own shoes. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org"