“Got my green shoes on!”
15 years ago or so, one of my colleagues asked me about a coding task I was working on and did not recognize I was already in the process of doing it. I responded, “dude, green shoes” as I pointed toward some code on my screen. He looked at me puzzled but contextually he understood…I was already working on it. Nothing more was said. I thought nothing about the exchange because this phrase had become common at home with my wife.
Several days later this colleague approached me about my reference to green shoes. Before I share the explanation I hope you agree with me that in every family there is a little dysfunction. Without this dysfunction, what would we reminisce on during dinner dates with friends? What mental abuse would we accuse our parents of during family gatherings?
I grew up on a small ranch on a dirt road located in Belleville MI. I did not have many responsibilities. I would say I had the typical chores: mow the lawn, dust and vacuum when asked, babysit my little brother and sister, etc.
Unlike the amazing lightweight self-propelled push lawn mowers we have today, 25 years ago lawn mowers were heavy and very difficult to push for a 10-15 year old. Add to that, I had a decent size front and back yard. Add to that, I was not naturally blessed with muscles. To quote my uncle “if you turned sideways and stuck your tongue out, you would be a zipper”.
Of all the chores, for some reason, in my family, cutting the grass was a scrutinized art. Allow me to summarize the unwritten rules:
- Mowed lines were expected to be straight. Mowed lines that bend might result in having to re-cut the yard.
- Never cut the grass in the same direction. If the last time you cut the grass was north and south, the next time should be east and west.
- Tops of grass blades being level are as significant as the grass being too long. To the eyes of a non-grass-cutting connoisseur, this might appear in excessive lawn mowing. So naïve…
- It is unacceptable to have clumps of grass blades on the freshly cut grass. Cut grass should be properly disposed of.
We definitely had the best looking grass in the neighborhood.
It is painfully obvious to me today that my mother highly valued initiative, but at the age of 15, I did not pick this up. When you are 15 and all your friends are meeting at the trailer park baseball field, you could care less that the tops of the blades were uneven and the grass should be cut. The school bus would drop me off, I would run to the house, change my clothes, grab my mitt, shout “going to play baseball” to my mom, and run out the door. This behavior did not fly in my house. My mother would stop me, require me to cut the grass and I would miss the baseball game.
Inevitably, I would get the “initiative lecture”. She should not have to tell me to the cut the grass, I should recognize the need and cut it without her intervention. If my toothpaste spit did not rinse off in the sink, I should give it the extra nudge the rinsing required without being told.
So back to green shoes. I have yet to see a house that did not have the special “cut the grass” shoes. These are the shoes that are now old and retired to “cut the grass” duty. You typically store them in the shed next to the lawn mower, rake, etc. Though they started out white, a few cuts later, they are now a nice deep green toward the bottoms. I had those shoes then and have a pair now. These are my “green shoes”.
One day, I jumped off the bus, ran to my house, grabbed my mitt, noticed the grass was long and….decided I better cut the grass. I got my “green shoes” out, starting putting them on when my mom walked by. She clearly saw me putting the green shoes on but still felt the need to say “Dan, don’t think you noticed, but the grass is getting long, so why don’t you cut the grass?” I was furious….how dare she, she saw me putting on the green shoes! So I was like “Mom, I got my green shoes on, obviously I am about to cut the grass!” Though my mom denies it, this was repeated several more times. She knew this got under my skin and she enjoyed messing with me. Recognize me for the amazing son I was trying to be!
At age 38, I am still not over it. I brought this baggage to my marriage and I hate to admit I bring this baggage with me to work. I am overly sensitive to someone buzz killing an act of initiative . As a leader at ProModel, I try really hard to recognize and acknowledge initiative in others. I know I have not always recognized it and if I missed it, allow me to apologize right now. Like my mother, I appreciate a developer who recognizes a need and, without being asked, works on it. Developers with initiative tend to do well at ProModel in my opinion.
After sharing the “green shoe” story with my colleague, the phrase caught on with the development teams I worked on over the last 15 years. To me “green shoes” represent:
- Taking pride in the most mundane tasks.
- Something beautiful in the stained, dirty green hue.
Green shoes felt like the appropriate name or tagline for my blog. I also thought it would be fun to show pictures of other people’s green shoes which you can find in the “Shed” page.