"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no
man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Growing up as a backpacker (my parents had us on the Appalachian trail by the age of six), I was always taught to leave a trailside campsite better than you find it -- not only do you not leave any of your trash, but you clean up anything else you may find before going.

I was reminded of this recently when a friend told me the following story . . .

He was making use of the facilities in the "executive washroom" of a major bank alongside one of the major players of the 1970's personal development scene. He noticed his colleague looking around the washroom with a puzzled look on his face, and asked him what was the problem.

"I'm looking for somewhere I can make a contribution," replied the man.

"I made mine in here," replied my friend with a smile on his face, but his colleague didn't laugh.

"So often," he said, "we don't get to see the effects of the contributions we make. In order to remind myself that what I do matters, I like to make sure that I leave every environment I enter better than I found it."

After realizing that his friend wasn't joking, they looked around the immaculate room together until they found some towels they could straighten and some water that had splashed from the sink they could wipe up.

I chalked the story up to charming '70's socially conscious eccentricity until last week when I found myself in the restroom of a local restaurant.At first, I was put off by the mess and the paper towels all over the floor and was going to complain to the manager, but then it occurred to me that rather than be a spokesperson for the problem, I could be the solution -- that is, make a contribution, clean it up, and leave the room and the situation better than I found it.

Looking around almost embarrassed lest someone see me ("hey, look at that guy -- he's contributing -- let's make fun of him"), I picked up the paper towels, wiped down the sink, and left the room immaculate. To my amazement, it made my day and I felt my self-esteem soar.

Does that mean to clean up your nearest restaurant's toilet so that you can feel good about yourself?

Probably not. But it does mean that if you want to experience the sense of meaning and purpose that comes from knowing you'll leave the world a better place than you found it, you might want to start by making a difference to right where you are sitting now.

By Michael Neill at www.dailycoachingtip.com
(c) 2002 Michael Neill All rights reserved
1. This week, look for ways to contribute. They don't have to be noticeable to anyone else (in fact, it usually works better if they aren't!), but they should definitely be noticeable to you.

2. Each time you enter a new environment, do something to make a tangible contribution by leaving the environment better than you found it. This may be as simple as smiling and offering human contact and connection to the person behind the counter or as extensive as cleaning up a room when nobody's looking.

3. Notice how it makes you feel. (I mean, sure, you'll be making the world a better place and all that, but wait until you experience the difference it makes to you . . . :-)

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July 19, 2002
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