Return things better than you got it

My parents never missed the chance to bestow wisdom and life advice on me and one particularly never made any sense to me growing up — if you’re going to borrow something from someone, make sure you return it in better condition. Of course, I refuted the point by telling them isn’t it enough to just return it not broken? What if it’s kind of broken, do I have to fix it before I return it? They simply told me it was the right thing to do and ended the conversation1. Without the “why” I left the conversation confused until that lesson came when I had a friend borrow a shirt from me. He communicated when he was returning it, washed it, and ironed the shirt for me. It was as if he bought a new shirt, I didn’t even recognize that was my shirt. Whenever he would ask me to borrow something, I’d feel confident and at times, happy, to help him because I knew he would return the item in much better condition. I learned the lesson that my parents were trying to teach me, it’s about building trust and your reputation.

Not only a courtesy but a philosophy

People will know you by all of the actions you take, even if they’ve never met you. Words will travel quickly and people will know what kind of person you are. This will either give you the advantage of building relationships or the disadvantages of everyone avoiding doing business with you. I find genuine actions to work better consistently and long-term versus doing it to only build your reputation. If people find out you’re only doing it for the latter, then you’ll just be labeled as an untrustworthy person.

Most of the time, the people I borrow from are people that I also care about so the act of going above and beyond is easy to do. I also understand how they think and their preferences, which makes it easier to not only borrow but “improve” the item. I once borrowed a pencil from a classmate, only to lose the eraser area. I quickly gave her a new pencil but she was upset that it wasn’t the same one. She explained that my “new” pencil didn’t write as well as hers. I also foolishly thought it was fine to just toss her pencil because mine was obviously “better” since it was new. Just because your thoughts of wanting to go above and beyond would be welcomed won’t always be aligned.

It brings me to my next point of borrowing, if you don’t think you can make the item “better”, perhaps make the transaction or the process better for the other person. Have you ever lent somebody something and it was a pain to get that item back? Once you have to take action, it has become a bad process. Instead, we should aim to have an open dialogue with the person whose stuff you just borrowed. If we can confirm when we will return it and keep them updated if we need an extension, it makes everyone’s life easier. The lender should never have to do any work and they should have no doubts about lending things if we are aiming for an ideal situation. this is not only for the borrower but to set the standard for yourself. Take it upon yourself to deliver and guarantee exceptional service whenever there’s a transaction. In fact, make it a habit so that anytime anyone works with you, your reputation will speak for itself.

Keep building your “credit”

Similar to how we pay our credit card bills on time, and if we keep doing so, we can start to apply for more perks and more opportunities start to open up for us. We can get an increase on our line of credit, new credit cards with better rates, and more. Another example is if you’re running a business and you pay all of your vendors early or never miss payments, they’re more likely will provide better service, and better items — especially if you’re a restaurant, you can get better ingredients, and even refer you to their trusted friends. Since vendors want to maintain the relationship with you, they’ll refer only their best referrals so you won’t have to take time to source other vendors. If you’re known for these great characteristics, you’ll start to attract like-minded individuals, and it soon compounds.

The best thing about building your “credit” or reputation is you only have to put in a little extra work. Granted it won’t be like this every time but if you can do enough to separate yourself from the average, the gains are exponential. It’s as easy as picking up a small gift for a friend or do organize a list of things for your boss to make their job easier. It’s imperative we do these things because we want to, not because it serves an alternative purpose. If you’re like me and are just starting out, keep it as simple and small as possible. Even if you don’t think it matters, you should just do it because it makes life easier for other people or it’ll just genuinely make them feel better. Apply the same principles when you start to borrow or lend out. you’ll recognize what behaviors are preferable or not. This will make it easy to sort out what people you want to work with or not.

If you mess up, take it upon yourself to fix it immediately and learn from it. Just as we return things better than we got them, we should also be better than how we started.

Until next week,


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1 I was a kid who questioned everything and that tends to get annoying so my parents reacted in the way they knew how, which is to walk away. They did miss the chance to solidify their lesson, but at that age, I wasn’t the type to “dig deeper” to learn more or one to listen.



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