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The Small Shift that Made a Big Difference

I have to admit that I’ve been struggling to find motivation at Unshoes over the last few years. It has gotten progressively worse. I still enjoy the process of developing new designs, but that is about it. Whenever I’m faced with any problems or issues that a business owner needs to address, I find myself procrastinating worse than usual, and I have started to resent those problems. Especially the ones that I am not naturally inclined to enjoy. Taxes, government forms and surveys that waste your time and are required by law. I hate that kind of stuff! But it started to creep into the things I did enjoy as well. It was like the nothing from the Never Ending Story, slowly creeping into my world and devouring everything. Sucking the life out of the business. I spent many hours walking, wondering, and praying to know what was going on and why I was struggling so much. It got to the point where I would try to do some kind of marketing work such as an email newsletter, blog post, or even just some thoughts to send over to the social media manager for inspiration. But I would get the dreaded writers block every. single. time. Usually if I just start writing then it comes. But it didn’t happen. So I gave up. I stopped nearly all marketing efforts unless we were having a sale, or launching a new product. I couldn’t think of a single thing to put on an ad. I would sit and think about what makes Unshoes unique. That would send me into a tailspin of memories and negative thoughts about the history of the company.

When we first started. Actually, I shouldn’t say “we”. Because in the beginning it was just me. When I first started Unshoes, there were only a handful of other barefoot brands out there. Two were shoe companies, and two were sandal companies. At the time, I was only making sandals. I started out just wanting to make a sandal that was light weight for myself. At that point, I didn’t know anything about the benefits of going barefoot, but I knew I liked the feel of it. But as I researched the process of making sandals, I discovered the concept of minimal footwear. It struck a deep chord inside of me and I knew that the concept was sound. I mean, why would humans have developed feet that were not functional? If you believe in God, then do you believe that He created the entire universe with the most intricate and perfect systems to sustain life on this planet, yet somehow messed up on our feet? If you don’t believe in God do you think that millions of years of evolution created complete and functional human beings capable of building vast empires… well except for our feet? Somehow that part of us didn’t evolve properly? Nope. I didn’t buy that.

The difference between Unshoes and the other two sandal brands that were out there was that Unshoes took a more contemporary approach to the design using webbing instead of string or leather thongs. They were all based on the classic hurache design used by the Taruhamara tribe of Mexico, but I took the design and meshed it with a more modern sport sandal. The technical aspects of how our sandals are made have changed, our suppliers have changed, but the basic design that we use has not changed since that time. Over time, more and more competitors entered the market and more and more of them started doing the same thing that we did with webbing.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t accuse any of them of copying us. It was inevitable. It made perfect sense. Years later, competition has only increased. Many new companies with corporate backing have entered the market. Inexpensive shoes based in China are now selling shoes on mainstream platforms like Amazon where you can order and get your cheap shoes in a day. I can’t tell you how much that has intimidated me. I don’t think I fully understood it myself. On the surface, I thought I had made peace with competition. That’s how markets work and thrive! I like competition! But deep down, I felt insecure.

Every time I sat down to create anything, the thoughts like demons would swarm around in my mind saying things like;
“What is the point?”

“What makes Unshoes any better than these other brands? Look how much cheaper/better/more exciting/etc. they are!”

“Why do you think you can do this?”

“You are in impostor! You are not a businessman!”

“Look at you, see how you’re struggling? That’s proof that you aren’t fit for this!”

“People like that other brand better than they like Unshoes”

“Nobody cares that you make them locally with your own hands, they want fast and cheap!”

Add on to these thoughts the fact that everything is getting more expensive, and while materials and demands for wages go up, my own pay goes down. It gets discouraging really, really fast.

As it usually is with the hero’s journey template. The light doesn’t break through until all is dark, and hope is only hanging by a thread.

That, my friends, was yesterday. I don’t know when I’ll publish this. But yesterday was the low of lows. Trust me, I’ve pulled Unshoes from some deep and dark tough spots over the years. But this was a new low. I was nearly hopeless. I looked at the bank account and thought, “we aren’t going to make it this time”. And I’ll be honest, the only thing that has kept this business alive over the years was the fact that I felt like God wanted me to. I can’t explain exactly how I know this, but I do. But that knowing had faded. I wasn’t sure. If I was supposed to be doing something else then what was the point of going through all the pain of seeing my business fail in front of my eyes? Especially since I didn’t enjoy it anymore and I didn’t feel supported in it anymore.

As I always do when I’m in trouble, I walk with God. I actually live in a small rural town next to the city where Unshoes is based. It is really close, only eight miles from my house to Unshoes. However, in the winter the days are shorter and I really don’t feel like I have time to walk 16 miles to go to work. I ride a bike sometimes but some of it is on a dangerous route for bikes, especially in the dark of winter when nobody is expecting a bike. So, my solution is to get in the car and drive most of the way. Then I park and walk the rest of the way. Walking clears my mind and helps me to let go of emotions. The best walks are in nature, not in the city but I don’t always have that privilege. As I walked I alternated between intentional concentration and just letting my mind wander. That is when I ask questions. I ask them to God, to myself, and send them out into the universe hoping that they bounce off something and like radar, come back with some kind of information. You might laugh at me and think I’m just out there talking to myself. Well, maybe I am, but it helps so I will keep doing it. (Side note, lest you think I’m one of those totally crazy dudes who walks around the city muttering to himself… I’m only partially crazy and I do it silently. At least, while I’m around anyone else. In nature I sometimes let it out vocally.)

I was nearly to work when it happened. It came instantly from inside me somewhere, like an internal voice, yet it wasn’t my own. It came suddenly with a hint of sharpness and clarity. My thoughts (as you can see from my writing!) are slow and meandering not quick and clear. The message was: “The question you should be asking is not why Unshoes is better than any other brands, but why is the human body better than the devices of men who tell you that you are broken in order to sell you things you don’t need.”

Just a small shift in thinking but it was so profound. I literally stopped walking and all the motivation, excitement, and love of what I do came flooding back in. It was a phoenix moment where that part of myself had died and withered away and was then reborn anew! I walked the last 200 yards or so to our shop a lot faster and more confidently. I was ready to get back to work! And here I am. It’s only the next day but I’ve accomplished more in the last day than I had in weeks. My creativity is back and things are flowing internally. I have hope again. I’m back on track. It doesn’t mean I’ll do everything right or that I don’t feel worry, negativity, or resentment, but they don’t dominate me anymore. I can’t predict the future and I don’t know what is going to happen next. Maybe we won’t make it past this! Who knows? But I know that it’ll be OK. I’m back in alignment, and Unshoes is getting back into alignment. We still have some big questions to answer and big problems to solve. I might elaborate on that more later. For now, we’re back in alignment. I feel at peace again and have some headspace to consider these things without the heaviness.

What a gift I received on the first day of 2024! Thank God!