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Leave the Place Better Than It Was When You Arrived: A World-Changing Philosophy

Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 | 7 Comments

Every once in awhile, I stumble upon simple but profound nuggets of advice that have the potential to change lives. I found one such nugget this last week:

“Leave the place better than it was then you arrived.”

I spent last week traveling around Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas doing a series of clinics for Backwoods outdoor stores. I was traveling with Chad Poole, the Merrell sales rep for that territory. During our time between clinics, Chad and I stopped at other Merrell retailers so I could meet the staff.

At each store, I marveled at Chad’s knowledge of the staff and store. The store knowledge wasn’t especially surprising, that’s part of his job as a sales rep. The personal relationships did surprise me. When we would enter a store, he would immediately strike up a conversation with the first person he encountered. The would immediately begin discussing the person’s career, family, personal relationships… pretty much anything and everything.

At first I thought this was just a part of his job. After all, it is his job to sell shoes to these stores. After a few pitstops to grab a bite to eat, I began to realize Chad not only did this with the stores we visited, he did it everywhere. If he didn’t know a person, he would strike up a conversation and always seemed to do something to put a smile on peoples’ faces.

I asked him about it later. He explained his deceptively simple life philosophy- Leave the place better than it was when you arrived.

He went on to explain how he really focused on building relationships to develop the power to make a difference in peoples’ lives. Most other sales reps from other companies would go into a store and focus on selling products. The people were secondary. Their presence usually added stress to the situation.

Chad flips that paradigm around. He would rather go into a store and make the employees’ days better. He didn’t care about sales. In fact, Chad would use this exact same philosophy if he were a fry cook at McDonalds. Or an accountant. Or the President of the United States.

His philosophy was developed based on his own experiences working the sales floor. Sometimes they get bored. Maybe they’re distracted by personal issues. Perhaps an especially difficult customer soured their mood. Chad realized he could alleviate that by engaging the people working on the floor.

Of course, it’s no surprise Chad’s sales are off the charts. He’s proud of his sales data, but it’s not what drives him to do what he does. He’s driven by the intrinsic joy of making a difference. And he’s really, really good at it.

When Chad first explained his philosophy, I didn’t give it much thought. On an especially long drive from Fort Worth to Wichita, I started to think about other people I know that seem to use this philosophy. I started thinking of my friend Jon Sanregret, also a Merrell sales rep. I realized he used the exact same philosophy with similar results. Both of these guys develop relationships in an effort to make peoples’ lives better. They’re not doing it to boost sales. They’re using their jobs as sales reps as an opportunity to make a difference. It’s not a gimmick. It’s an outlook. It’s a lifestyle choice.

A World-Changing Idea?

On the same drive, I started to consider this philosophy in the broader sense. What if each and every person on the planet adopted this philosophy? We could affect every situation we encounter. Think of the potential problems we could solve with our collective efforts to improve.

Most of us, myself included, spend the majority of our time using ourselves as a frame of reference. Our internal dialog is loaded with thoughts like “these people are annoying me,” “I’m getting the short end of the stick here”, or “what can I get from this situation.” Changing that internal dialogue and inquiring “how can I make this situation better than when I arrived” could be a profound game-changer.

This idea is as powerful as the “pay it forward” idea I discussed in my New Gift Economy post a few months back.

Could this simple idea really change the world?

Here’s my challenge- for 24 hours, I want each and every one of my readers to silently ask themselves this question in each and every situation you encounter. Report back in the comments section here. How did it make you feel? Did you notice a difference in your environment? Is this idea sustainable?

Have fun with this one. 😉


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  1. Sheel K.
    May 1, 2012

    Have any of you ever read “A New Earth” by Ekhart Tolle? That book is about spiritual transformation, but it addresses this point. When you leave a place better than you encountered it, you don’t push across your point of a better view. You just BE there. BEING and not doing is what the two sales reps here do. They don’t fluff the store’s pillows, they are there to do whatever the moment requires of them in order to leave the place they arrived at better than when they arrived.

    • Jason
      May 4, 2012

      Sheel- that’s an excellent explanation of what they do. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. BarefootNick
    April 30, 2012

    Trouble is, not everyone feels the same about what a better world means. My South Dakota conservative friends thinks five kids per couple and steaks makes for a great world.

    I’m concerned about global overpopulation and ideologically leaning towards vegan-ism.

    • Jason
      May 1, 2012

      Good point, Nick. I suppose that could be the reason we have so much strife- we’re all trying to change the world for the better based on our own perception of “better.”

  3. wilberfan
    April 30, 2012

    I’ve been practicing my version of this for years: Every time I walk anywhere–even if it’s just from the car to the supermarket–I pick up at least one piece of litter (frequently every piece I pass). If I go out walking for fun and/or exercise, I take a bag and pick up every piece I encounter.

    It’s always given me a profound sense of “The space I passed through today is better off for my having done so…”

  4. Jeff Gallup
    April 30, 2012

    If everyone had this mindset, it really would change the world. On a more personal level, this is one lesson my dad had taught me early on, with respect to borrowing things. I was raised that if you borrow something from a friend or family, you always return it in better condition then you got it. In other words, borrow a vehicle, you return it washed and gassed up… again, a simple idea but its just what you do..

  5. Erskien Lenier
    April 30, 2012

    I posted last night an interview with Tony Robbins on this exact same topic 🙂