Clean up other people’s mess

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Brian Kight

One of the most impactful things my mom taught me was to leave things better than I found them. It's one of my favorite lessons from her.

When I was a kid, my mom took great care to teach me that it was my responsibility to make sure any environment I was in looked better than it did when I showed up, regardless of whether I contributed to any mess. She showed me how to do it in our home and when I visited other people's homes.

It wasn't limited to only those settings. My mom taught me to do it everywhere, all the time, no matter what.

As I got deeper into my teenage years, she expanded the lesson to include people. Her expectation of me was that anyone I interacted with would be better because of that interaction. She didn't expect me to change people or make grand gestures. Her expectation was simpler than that. It was always grounded in practical actions. It just had to be real, positive, and kind.

It didn't matter whether the other person was paying attention, whether they knew I was doing it, or whether they were kind to me. She expected this from me because of who I was, not who they were. That may be the most lasting lesson I learned from her efforts. 

She didn't just tell me to do it. She showed me, like any great leader, by modeling it herself. I learned a lot from listening to my mom. I learned more from watching her. Her model became my blueprint. Her standard is my aim. She leaves everything better than she found it, even if it comes at a personal cost of her time or a few extra dollars.

She makes it her responsibility to brighten the day, give some love, or share some encouragement with literally everyone she interacts with. You can't meet my mom and be unaffected, even if you're serving her french fries through a drive-thru window (No ketchup, please. She hates ketchup).

Not a day goes by that I don't intentionally consider the lesson of "leave things better than I found them" that I learned and still see from my mom. I work as hard on it as I work on anything in my life. I hope she's proud of me and that I'm half as good at modeling it for my kids as she has been for me.

Answer the call. Do the work.

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