Planting a tree, you may never enjoy the shade from.

Planting SeedsLast week as I was leaving the gym an older lady was standing in front of her car in the parking lot with the hood open. I approached her and asked, “what’s wrong?” She was visibly upset and had no idea what to do, nor could she begin to tell me what was wrong with the car. The steam rolling from the upper radiator hose was obvious to my trained eye. “It’s the upper radiator hose,” I said. She asked if it was possible for her to drive it to the dealership about 20 minutes away. Knowing there was no way for her to drive that far with the car in this condition, and seeing that it was an easy repair, I told her I would run down the street and buy a hose, quickly replace it, and allow her to get to work–hopefully on time.

The auto parts employee got an ear full as he asked for the year, make and model. “I’m helping a lady broke down in the gym parking lot.” To him, it must have been “Yada yada yada!!” Yes, they had one in stock and then he tried to up-sell me, no doubt as a product of all the training he received during his employment asking, “Clamps? Antifreeze? Heater hoses? Is the radiator OK?” Truly, the treats of a know-it-all employee.

I asked him if he had heard a single word of the story. “I’m just helping a lady who broke down in the parking lot,” I repeated. Then without hesitation I explained, “The training you received is secondary” to the story your customer will tell. The questions you ask are not meant to be a script, nor a sales pitch. They are a way to learning the root cause of their problems and a way to provide them with a solution.” In the end, the parts were less than $15 and I was (somewhat) quickly on my way back to the gym.

Once I arrived back to her and the car, my repairs took only minutes. As she thanked me, she asked, “What should I do if anything else happens to my car?” I thought for a minute.  “You need a learn-it-all mechanic.” The simplest metaphor I could think of using to explain at that moment was that of two different employees at an auto parts store. One of them is a ‘know-it-all’ and the other is a ‘learn-it-all,’ and the ‘learn-it-all’ always will do better than the other one even if the ‘know-it-all’ employee starts with much more innate capability. “You must find a learn-it-all type of mechanic,” I told her.

The truth is, we’ve all been given different amounts of resources (talent, coordination, financial means, etc.) Life has so many distractions, expectations, and responsibilities. Our country was formed by a spirit of cooperation–everyone helping each other. It’s less common now, but there was a tremendous amount of bartering (exchanging) goods for services or knowledge for knowledge. It’s a practice that may yet prove useful in the future. However, whether or not that’s true, giving of yourself to advance another’s ambition or need improves the human condition on the most fundamental level.

Paying forward in the drive-through at Starbucks is noble, but planting seeds for trees of which you will never enjoy the shade is a true blessing. I pray that the auto parts employee one day understands our transaction was not just a sale as I also pray that that lady’s car never gives her another moment of trouble…..