The Thing About Socks and The Power of Small Gifts

This is a discussion of the small, but important role socks (like actual socks, not Bill Clinton’s cat) have played in my life: an analogy about being grateful for the little things. Accompanied by a story about giving small gifts that matter because most of us don’t know how to or have never given a gift that truly touches someone’s heart.

Would the 6 year old version of me or even the 14 year old me believe that I am now, at the age of 21, running 80 miles a week? Probably not, but in each of those stages of my life I was pursuing radically different lifestyles with entirely different dreams and aspirations in mind.

When I was 6, I was a soccer player. When I was 14, I was a skateboarder. And here I am now, a runner. While these three pursuits differ, they’re all linked through my connection with socks. Of course, nearly regardless of what we do we are wearing socks, however, my connection with socks comes more so through the natural destruction of them.

Even before I began playing soccer, I had developed a slight fascination with socks. I can recall always being excited when the laundry was done. While my Mom or Dad would fold all of the laundry, I would play my part by pairing the socks together. I found so much joy in tucking one sock inside the other to craft a precious ball of cotton.

My brother and I

My brother and I looking tough as nails in front of a city bus our Dad airbrushed.

When I picked up playing soccer, my socks stretched well up to my knees where they quickly met the bottom of my shirt. I was a small kid, so just about any shirt fit far too large and I liked it that way—it almost appeared as though I was never wearing shorts. This small boy with a huge shirt and tall socks makes for a humorous image, but I loved the outfit—especially the socks. As a kid, battle scars were worn with pride, as was the dirt you earned. It almost became a game in and of itself to see how dirty my socks could get. My favorite part was pulling them off afterwards and seeing the distinct line on my leg from where my socks were which separated the clean from the dirty. Grass stains and mud had become my best friends while my socks were my trusty steed.

Soon enough, I turned in my tall socks as I began to steer away from soccer, and at the age of 10 moved down to Florida where I rediscovered skateboarding. By the time I was 14, I was traveling just about every weekend with my friends. Most of them were in high school and had cars so we would drive to different cities to go skate. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I’ll admit that I was pretty damn good skateboarder for a 14 year old. I was even sponsored by our local skate shop. I put emphasis on sponsored because there wasn’t anything legit or legal about the sponsorship, it was more like they’d give me free boards and shoes when I needed them.

With that being said, even as a little skateboarder that still wore shirts that were far too big, my destruction of socks continued. I reached a point in which I was blowing through a pair of shoes nearly every month. Yes, every month. The griptape on the top of skateboards can both be a skaters worst and best friend. As my shoes got more and more worn, they’d eventually have holes on the side. Once a hole surfaces on a pair of shoes, every pair of socks are destined for destruction. So I was going through socks at this point just as fast as I was going through shoes.

The Thing About Socks - Skateboarding

Left: 360 flip, Right: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Today, even as a runner when I’m no longer slide tackling for no reason and where no griptape is involved, I continue to destroy all of my socks. As a runner, you can’t run every day and expect that your feet will remain soft and well groomed. In fact, they become quite the opposite. Before this gets too gross, I’ll simply say that I have rough feet—very rough feet. Just from running, I’m lucky to have a pair of socks last longer than a month or two.

Socks aren’t cliche

These three periods of my life are all interconnected through the wear and tear of my socks, and as silly as it may sound, they’ve become an important symbol in my life. I never take socks for granted, and I can easily recognize their value. Slicing open the side of your foot continuously just to do a kickflip takes commitment. So does finishing a race despite having bloody toes and heels.

My reasoning for writing about this is to note that socks have significant value and meaning in my life, and so they aren’t a cliche when it comes to gift giving. My entire life I’ve been most excited about receiving socks as gifts more so than anything else. Just recently my brother had bought me a bunch of socks, which he seemingly did out of the blue, however, it came at just the right time—when I had torn through all of my previous socks. I’m sure he didn’t make much of the purchase or the gift, but it meant the world to me. It not only meant that I could continue running in comfort, but socks will always reconnect me with my past and connect me with all of those positive memories. Cliches only exist if you allow them to.

Giving Small Gifts that Matter

Last fall, I was taking a class titled “Creative Thinking Strategies” which aimed to challenge and expand our creative thinking abilities. Throughout the course we had a project lingering in the background. The project was to give someone the perfect gift. The catch being, this person shouldn’t be someone you have a close relationship with. Instead, we were supposed to interview someone that we knew, but didn’t know too much about. The idea wasn’t to have just a standard interview with this person, it was to have a deep, engaging, and personal conversation with them—it was an opportunity to learn about them and truly pay attention.

We were supposed to either record the interview or take notes, and the person we were interviewing wasn’t supposed to know why exactly we were interviewing them. After interviewing that person, we had to really analyze and think about everything they told us. From there, we were on a mission to come up with a perfect gift for that person that was less than $50. Determining the perfect gift wasn’t meant to be something whimsical and easy though, instead we were required to come up with 100 different gift ideas. Yes, 100 ideas. This meant we had to skip past the surface and dig deep into what things really mattered to that person—kind of like how I am with socks, but perhaps a bit deeper.

I had originally arranged to interview a store owner here in Savannah, someone I had actually never met, but for 3 consecutive weeks we couldn’t get our schedules to align. In the last minute, I reached out to my cross country coach to see if I could interview him. At this point, I felt like I was cheating because I already knew my coach pretty well, however, I made it my mission to get past the surface and to see what really mattered to him. The goal of the perfect gift is to simply touch their heart in an unexpected way.

After having an hour long conversation with my coach—a conversation which was very personal and heartfelt—I felt as though I knew him on an entirely different level. It was like meeting a whole new person because we were able to get past surface level conversation.

Following our conversation, I went straight into brainstorming ideas for his perfect gift. At first, everything was very surface level and expected—that’s inevitable. As I got further and further in, I had to contemplate what his stories revealed about him that he didn’t explicitly state. That’s where things get tough, when you’ve got to piece together someone’s beliefs and try to understand the things they’re willing to fight for because those are the things that really matter.

Almost an entire week past before I finished coming up with ideas and before I put his gift together. When I asked him to meet up again, he wasn’t quite sure why, but he knew it was serious. As we met up again, I handed him a strange box with a handle sticking out of it. When opening the box, all that sat inside of it was a card and a gardening shovel. The card read “Regrets are a bad excuse,” which were some words of wisdom he remembers from his Grandmother.

In our conversation, my coach had told me that his only regret was not spending enough time with his Grandmother before she had passed away because he had such a close relationship with her when he was younger. Immediately after voicing that regret he remember the words of his Grandmother:

“Regrets are a bad excuse. Because if you are happy with where you are at now, every single decision you made got you to where you are.”

His Grandmother had taught him how to garden and helped him fostered a love for nature. I asked him to take the gardening shovel as a symbolic gesture and a way of remembering her, and to begin planting his future, cultivate friendships, and see SCAD cross country and track blossom under his direction.

Gardening Shovel

This is when I discovered the power of small gifts—of gifts that really matter. I was so hesitant to give him the box because I thought it was too simple or not good enough. Upon receiving the box he had a big smile, but when he opened it and started to read the letter, his smile slowly disappeared. I was so worried, and was doubting the whole thing, but then I noticed his eyes filling with tears. All he said was “Wow,” then stood up to give me a hug. I’ve never had quite that kind of experience before, and it was definitely not what I was expecting.

I grew very close with my coach after our initial conversation, but after giving him the gift we had solidified a new bond. My coach has always been a mentor of mine, but he’s also like a father figure to me. With all of that being said, I want to pose the question: do you really know the people around you? Perhaps it’d be worth interviewing someone you know in attempt to understand them on a deeper level.

I challenge you to give someone the perfect gift. Have a personal conversation that gets past the surface, and then determine 100 possible gift ideas. It’s about finding out what will touch their heart that they didn’t know would. Too often we get fixated on the materialistic aspect of gift giving. Small gifts matter, but rarely do we take the time to figure out what those gifts are.