How I Experienced the Conflicting Emotions of the Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight, Isn’t Your Typical Feel Good Book on Entrepreneurship

God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing. Short of that, I’d like to share the experience, the ups and downs, so that some young man or woman, somewhere, going through the same trials and ordeals, might be inspired or comforted. Or warned. Some young entrepreneur, maybe, some athlete or painter or novelist, might press on. It’s all the same drive. The same dream.

Phil Knight 
Creator of Nike

Wow, Phil, you took me on quite an emotional ride in Shoe Dog. It’s far from the smooth ride your revolutionary shoes have given millions of athletes!

I’ve been reading Shoe Dog this summer. I finished the book over the weekend. It’s the kind of book that hooks me. The book took me on an emotional roller coaster ride. It’s not the usual uplifting book on entrepreneurship.

I usually turn to books written by entrepreneurs for inspiration. They help me find the hope, optimism and motivation to keep going on my own journey as an entrepreneur.

It was clear Shoe Dog wasn’t exactly that pretty early in the book. The emotions I experienced early on made this clear to me. All at once, it left me inspired, comforted and warned.

Am I Too Late?

I first felt a sense of hopelessness. I’m 43 and haven’t hit “the big one” yet.

Phil started Blue Ribbon, the precursor to Nike, in his early 20’s. He experienced financial insecurity until going public about 20 years later.

20 years is a long time for anyone. It feels even longer the older I get. Having started a family later in life than many people do makes 20 years feel even longer.

The voices in my head started again.

Am I too late? Am I “blue flame” enough? Do I have to be “blue flame”enough? Do I even want to be “blue flame” enough?

Phew, I’m Not the Only One!

Then the glimpses of hope started emerging. It was a relief to be reminded that even the most successful entrepreneurs, like Phil, experience being -

  • pushed to and maybe past their edge
  • uncomfortable with uncertainty
  • uncertain about the big questions in life, even after hitting the “big one”

It worked for Phil. It might just work for me too.

I also began feeling optimistic. Phil left a career he thought he was “supposed” to take, to follow a path that felt right to him. He actually started a career, left it to pursue his “crazy idea”, then ducked back into a second career to pay the bills for a while.

This is like the path my vocation’s followed. I feel optimistic about being on my Just Rolling with It path now. Discovering these similarities between Phil’s path and mine has given me hope. Since it it worked out for Phil, maybe it can work out for me too.

Whether it happens on as grand a scale as Phil’s success isn’t the important thing for me. Realizing it CAN work out is what gives me hope.

Intense Emotional Conflicts

Phil experienced intense emotional conflicts while creating Nike. He paints one particularly vivid example of these conflicts.

Phil describes a day in which Nike opened a new flagship store with great success. The same day, Nike was the verge of bankruptcy, due to a looming $25 million bill from the US Customs service.

I can’t say I’ve faced dueling and conflicting emotions that extreme. I do feel like dueling and conflicting emotions bombard me on a regular basis though.

Again, it felt supportive to realize I wasn’t alone.

A Heart-Moving Yet Inconclusive Conclusion

The book’s conclusion, Night, almost brought me to tears. I think it’s the first time a book has ever brought me close to tears.

I experienced Night to be a satisfying, yet inconclusive, conclusion to the emotional roller coaster ride. While inconclusive, it did help answer questions that arose for me during earlier chapters.

Phil also talks about who he’s grateful for and why he’s grateful. He talks openly about his regrets. He provides heartfelt advice, without being heavy handed and prescriptive. He raises many big questions that still loom in his mind. He gently offers his answers to a few of those questions.

Nothing Neat and Clean About It

My hope was writing this post would help me come to a neat and clean conclusion about how I felt about the book. Instead, it’s reinforcing the feeling of open-ended inquiry I experienced finishing the book yesterday.

I do feel hopeful and optimistic on some level. I also feel a bit discouraged on others. I feel the hope and inspiration Phil was hoping to convey. I also feel fear, uncertainty and doubt, from the warning the book conveys.

I guess that’s what this journey as an entrepreneur is all about. In the meantime, I’ll keep on Just Rolling with It. Just Rolling with It is helping me figure things out as a I go, or at least reflect on them along the way.

If Just Rolling with It in at least a few ways worked for Phil, it might just work for me and us, too.

Thanks, Phil, for sharing your story. Keep on Just Rolling with It!