“Leave it better than you found it” is something you’ve probably heard about a campsite or nature preserve. It’s a great rule of thumb for just about everything. Sticking to it will ensure that you treat every activity as meaningful. If you have to leave it better than you found it, you really have to think about what’s worth finding in the first place.
Apply it to workplaces
Wherever you work, try to leave it better than you found it. This means more than simply fulfilling the scope of your tasks. Can you improve the fundamental institution itself, so that you’ll leave a different organization than you found?
And if you can’t…
I used to work in the State Legislature. I realized pretty quickly there was no chance in hell I could make a dent in the institution. Sure, I could make a few friends and perhaps make a dent in their lives, but the institution itself is firmly entrenched in an incentive structure that rewards all the wrong things. I couldn’t change it, it could only change me.
If you can’t make it better it’s probably making you worse. I had to get out, so I did.
When you can
The next few places I hope I left a little better than I found. I worked hard to not only do my job, but alter the culture and incentives a bit. I pushed to make remote work more acceptable. I reduced some barriers between departments. I created some programs and projects that would continue in my absence.
The difference in fulfillment between these jobs and the legislature was night and day. I was a part of things. I was a co-creator with my colleagues. I wasn’t just meat and bones to complete tasks, my vision played a small role in impacting the organization’s vision.
All the way
Entrepreneurship pushes this to a new level. It’s impossible to not leave it better than you found it when it didn’t exist before you created it!
Even if your venture fails, you left it better than you found it. A former Praxis participant named KJ Herr once told me he hadn’t made much impact with his startup Robin Socks because it eventually failed. But Robin Socks wasn’t even an idea before KJ, and the idea had no legs until he provided them. He dreamed, built, launched, and executed. The business folded up, but without him it wasn’t even a business. He gave it a history. He left it better than he found it.
That’s one of the biggest draws of entrepreneurship. The inescapability of improving a vision. To launch it is to improve it.
Why waste time?
Whether an entrepreneur or not, try this simple rule of thumb for all of your jobs and projects. Can you leave the organization better than you found it? If yes, find out how and patiently work at it in addition to kicking ass at your role. If not, why are you working there?
Leave better than you found it or don’t find it at all.