In Someone Else’s Shoes

“Before you a criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”

On Friday, January 22, 2016, I literally walked 12,685 steps in someone else’s shoes. My iPhone tells me it was 5.17 miles.

The truth is, the shoes have always been mine, but they were worn by the person I used to be: the Anthony Garone who walked on the sides of his feet, slumped and slouched and lived with persistent back pain, suffered from depression and self-loathing, spent years pursuing other people’s expectations, and constantly felt like a failure. After 5.17 miles of walking in these shoes, I didn’t feel 5.17 times more justified in criticizing my former self. I instead felt grateful, compassionate, and healthful.

My brother-in-law used to compete in the Highland Games during which he would toss cabers, move boulders, and throw huge hammers while wearing a kilt. In the meantime, he was training for the World’s Strongest Man competition. We have talked about these competitions over the past few years and he’s told me repeatedly that most winners are in their early-to-mid-30s as that is the timeframe during which men reach their peak physical condition. He would say, “They’re in their prime.”

I am turning 34 this week and for the first time ever, feel like I’m “in my prime.” Never have I been so happy about my life, nor have I had such a healthy relationship with myself. To what do I credit this magical change? There are several key people, events, and resources:

  1. A conversation on September 29, 2014 with a musician friend who exposed me to the term “mindfulness.” This later led to an interview with him on my Make Weird Music website.
  2. A week in February 2015 spent in Tepoztlán, Mexico as part of a course called Introduction to the Guitar Circle, where I learned about Alexander Technique (AT) and the practice of doing nothing.
  3. A couple hours spent with an Alexander Technique teacher in November 2015 at Coplex, an agency up the street from my office.
  4. A lecture series on mindfulness by Dr. Ron Siegel.
  5. A workbook on Acceptance Commitment Therapy lent to me by the wife of a coworker, who is a licensed ACT therapist.
  6. Lots and lots of research and conversations with friends and experts I’ve met along the way.
  7. Lots and lots of sitting and doing nothing.

Alexander technique helped me fix all sorts of physical issues and completely eliminated my back pain. A great debt is owed to Sandra Bain Cushman and Erin Wigger, the AT instructors in Mexico. My improved sitting and standing postures have given me complete physical relief from back pain and changed the way I use my body. My head has a new sense of “forward.” Coupled with the practice of doing nothing, I can now feel when my body tenses up playing guitar, working at a computer, sitting in a car, kneeling at church, or standing in conversation. I’ve lost a bunch of weight and eat smaller portions much more comfortably. The difference AT has had in my life is extraordinary.

Acceptance-Commitment Therapy (ACT) has changed how I feel about myself and helped me to live a values-driven life that is no longer evaluated against whatever yard stick I’ve imagined others to evaluate me by. I feel a newfound confidence that is rooted in good health and that confidence has attracted new people into my life.

Mindfulness practice and the lecture series have helped me to develop compassion for myself and others. Treating people with loving-kindness is kind of a new thing to me. It’s not that I wasn’t loving or kind to others before, but I have a new appreciation and compassion for others that allows me to feel more for others, relate to them better, and empathize with their problems.

All these things have helped me feel better in my Catholic faith, have grace for myself, and to feel less “busy” than I used to. My new challenge is finding balance among the various efforts that have yielded more concurrent success than I ever anticipated. For example, I never had much success or following with the music I’ve written and released, so I just assumed I could do it forever with little-to-no impact on my family life, my day job, etc. My music site, Make Weird Music, has been so successful, however, that balancing its success with familial and professional needs is a new challenge that has brought me great joy.

There’s a Lyle Lovett song where he sings:

I’ve had an excellent time so far / There’s only one thing that I fear / I’ve been riding so long on this lucky star / It could be all downhill from here.

While there is a small sense of that, I’m largely just feeling joy and happiness in what I have right now and what has been happening in my life these months. I have a different perspective on parenting, management, music, and everything else in my daily life.

Every step I took in those old shoes felt weirdly unfamiliar. Each step was a reminder of what used to be. It was a physical sensation of my shoes not landing on the ground the way I now expect them to. The now-familiar recognizing the now-unfamiliar in a very visceral manner.

All of this has been so extraordinary, I am starting a company with three friends that will host weekly workshop programs to help bring this stuff into the workplace. It’s nowhere near as focused on mindfulness as Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, but nowhere near as boring as every other professional training I’ve been to.

Stay tuned!