WHO among us hasn’t heard (or been on the receiving end of) the statement “having some big shoes to fill”? With the recent passing of Henry Sy, that phrase has been thrown around so many times in the Filipino-Chinese community I’m surprised it’s not a meme at this point. As a Filipino-Chinese myself, I feel the pressure when someone talks about living up to the legacy of my predecessors. More than the filial piety (that’s always implied), it’s the moral obligation to do better than my forebears since I have access to more resources and time than they had.
But I’m here to challenge the notion of filling someone’s shoes. Let me start with a personal anecdote.
Back in high school my greatest joy was getting my first pair of basketball shoes. My parents would only take me to buy shoes when there was a sale or when my only pair of sneakers fell apart from overuse, so a deliberate shoe purchase was a big thing. This was before the dawn of the hypebeasts, so my sneaker research consisted of watching as many NBA games as I could to see which shoe was best. Then the day came: I settled on a black Nike Air Max because it was aesthetically pleasing and I had seen players wear it. The only problem was that my heels hurt while wearing it. No matter, I’d make it work. It took me three months to swallow my pride and accept that it wasn’t just the “breaking in” process that gave me foot pain after every game. Apparently Adidas was the better shoe choice for flat-footed fellows like me, but I had stuck to Nikes because I thought that was the shoe for all basketball players.
Moral of the story: if the shoe doesn’t fit, it might be because you have the wrong pair on.
Having big shoes to fill can be a tall order—one that brings unwarranted stress and anxiety. It’s a one-dimensional view that constrains what we can and ought to do. When I meet my late grandfather’s friends, they never fail to tell me what a kind, intelligent man he was—and I imagine them sighing inwardly as they see how far his apo has fallen from the proverbial tree. We need to take a step back and consider that so-and-so may have been a Nike person, so to speak, while we are Adidas people.
This isn’t a license to slack off. If Alexander the Great was content to “fill his father’s shoes,” he wouldn’t be who he was. “Macedon is too small for you,” his father said, and so Alexander went on to rewrite history. We aren’t limited by anyone’s legacy; what matters is that we strive to make our mark in the world, whatever industry that may be.
Don’t struggle to fill anyone’s shoes; get your own pair and wear it down to the soles.