The Cobbler's Kids Have No Shoes


“The Cobbler’s Kids Have No Shoes”

It’s incredible how often I use this phrase. I can’t decide if it’s an excuse or if it’s something that speaks to a deeper principle or approach. There are so many facets to this little idea that I thought it would be fun to unpack them a little bit, and muse awhile on which meaning I am using most often.

First a little back story. This phrase is derived from the more original saying, “The shoemaker’s children go barefoot.” It’s typically translated like, “One often neglects those closest to oneself.” Meaning, we spend all our efforts serving others through our craft and do little or nothing to support the very real and apparent needs of the people right up next to us. It’s especially poignant because in the phrase, what our loved ones need is the very skill that we practice and at which we are so competent. We give our gifts too far away. 

Often I have mistranslated this as, “I don’t ever do the thing for myself which I help others do.” Things like marketing, that’s the hottest one right now. I help people all day build brand and communicate clearly, and yet I spend little to no energy on it for myself. But maybe that’s misconstruing the point of this proverb? The odd thing is that in business, it seems, there is an uneven balance between giving to others and giving into our own business. It’s wise to take time to lean up our process, to reflect on what we are learning, and to reach out to new relationships, but there is a lot of merit in being outwardly focused, in giving great work and services to people out of a fullness of attitude and inspiration. Meeting anyone from a feeling of desperation is never the recipe for real connection and relationship.

But, the phrase isn’t about this. It’s about the Cobbler’s Kids…it’s the macro view. Are we investing too much thought and energy into one hefty, but certainly not all-consuming aspect of our life? Are we forgetting to take time to just show our kids how to make a tiny pair of shoes, then put them on their tiny little feet? I wonder, is there a restoration of the love of our work when we give our first-fruits and skills to someone we deeply love and care for. That might be the richer meaning here. 

When we are very good at something, we can become jaded or even bored. When people appreciate your efforts anything under 100% of what the true value of that gifting is, which is always, we become disappointed. It can wear on us. But when we give it to someone we love, who will run off and just enjoy it, maybe not even bothering to say thank you, it reframes us. Our gift of skill is immediately embraced, fully. It is given from an intentional “gifting state of mind” that needs no response other than just acceptance and enjoyment. It doesn’t require appreciation. It just needs to be given. 

So now I’m reworking the phrase to mean, “Take the time to give your expertise, to someone who you dearly love and really needs it.”

At this moment my mind is spinning with this phrase. I’m wondering, “What are my best skills? Who are the people I dearly love? Who is in need?” I have yet to experiment with this, but I imagine that taking a moment to serve generously, without any need to “receive” may just be the ticket to adding perspective to everything else. Maybe it relieves the pressure to feel appreciated and validated . We can finally take the need to be affirmed off ourselves and everyone we serve.

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