I believe that you should leave everything better than you found it.
A college professor of mine introduced me to this a few years back. I was a theatre major then and a job only lasted as long as the show. Every six months you had to seek out something new. My professor worked in management and understood the hiring process.
“When I left that job, the theatre had a filing system and the best software,” Dr. Carden said with folded hands and raised eyebrows. “Caring about what happens after you’re gone is what makes you hireable.”
It was as if I had been using a math formula all this time to only later understand why it made everything add up. It’s never been enough for me to leave something the way I found it. I am not a perfectionist or a people pleaser, but I do know that always having an attitude of making something just a little bit better for others…keeps me from complaining. It changes my mindset from, “Why couldn’t they have done this better?” to “How can I improve this?”
There was once this cartoon commercial about a cup that misses the trash can. A woman sees it a starts complaining about it, going on about how this was for the environment. Another person comes along and does the same. Soon, the street is full of people complaining about a cup on the ground. Then a small boy comes along, picks up the cup and throws it away, then continues walking. He didn’t do much, but it made all the difference.
Sometimes leaving something better than you found it involves cleaning up a mess that isn’t yours. Most of us say, “That’s not my job.” But who’s job is it to clean up the messes you’ve left behind?
I think this message applies to people, too. To leave a person better off than you found them. If a person left conversations with you feeling just a little more encouraged, a little more knowledgeable, feeling a little bit better about themselves–that would really defy the status quo.
The idea of leaving something better than you found requires some selflessness, even if you are simply trying to get another job. Most of your efforts should go unnoticed. After all, you are probably only making small changes. Society opposes this effort, encouraging us to be selfish with a “it’s all about meeting your needs” consumer mentality. We only work hard if we know we will get rewarded and even then it’s usually a minimal effort.
Dr. Carden did not know that she would be hired because of the extra work she did. It gave her work character, a stronghold she could rely on if she ever needed to prove she was a cut above the rest. But more than being able to say that she left the job better than she found it is the evidence of her strength of character. A whole person is changed by going a bit beyond the status quo–by character made complete in actions.
I’ve never been able to change over all of the software of a business, much less create a filing system. But I try to clean up messes better than I did the last time, to give a little more effort, and to leave people better off than when I met them. It leaves me happier at the end of the day to know that the world is more livable, more enjoyable, because we can live bigger than what our selfish-minded society says we can.