Tag Archives: vietnam

A Lesson from a Shoe Cleaner: Persistance

So every morning, I eat at Pho Hoa on Pasteur St. and every morning there is always this handsome, small, dark gentleman that offers to clean my shoes. He carries a wooden box and in it a cleaning kit and sandals that are easily forgettable. Everyday, right when I walk to the entrance of the Pho shop, he points down at my feet and we both look. Whether I have new shoes, old shoes, scuffed shoes or dusty shoes on, I always decline–day after day, everyday. My answer never changes, yet  everyday he politely asks me and smiles after receiving a “no”.

Same routine, but different response today. As I was walking into the Pho shop, he approaches me and offers me the usual, “can I help clean your shoes?” We both look down at my feet. This time though, I sneak a glance at him while he’s still looking at my shoes and say “yes”, certain that I would catch a unique expression of surprise on his face from my unorthodox answer. It didn’t happen. There was no surprise, no wide eyes. Instead, he smiled and nodded as though he knew I was going to say yes.

We were lead to our breakfast table and I asked him for the price before relinquishing my shoes. 15k VND, which comes out to be 75 cents. He went on to taking my shoes and I inherited those easily forgettable slippers.

When I got the shoes back, they were impeccably clean with all the scuffs and scratches gone. Not only so, but the leather was shiny, even shinier when I first bought them over at L’ucines. I should have skipped the shoe shinning portion, but with no complaints, I gave him 15k and I went on with my day with clean and awesomely shiny shoes.

What I realized

Persistence is a skill that requires both patience and a lot of heart. It takes time to master a skill, to close a deal, to grow something great and that time vested is when we will see the fruits of our labor. In the shoe cleaners’ case, a “yes” from me. The word “no” doesn’t always mean “never” as different times calls for different circumstances. There is never an absolute as everything is quite relative. Don’t give up just yet, as time changes situations. Approach the problem at different angles and have patience.

Heart is the ability to get up after getting knocked down, rejected or turned away. It’s when you’re playing Fight Night and your character hits the canvas for the 3rd time. You violently button smash in hopes that your boxer gets back up before the ref makes it to his 10 count. I agree, your face against the canvas may feel nice relative to another beating. Well, life is full of rejections and knockdowns, but it requires heart to get back up. We all have one. It’s if you can muster enough courage to use it. Have heart.

The shoe cleaner, who I have turned down 29 times before finally saying “yes”, has persistence. This is a reminder for me. At the end of the day, whether it would be cleaning shoes, growing a fruit tree or starting a new business, it’s a powerful word to remember.