Career Q&A

What does it mean to create value?

Mitchell Earl
April 2020

I can’t help thinking about this time when I was just a little tike. There was an elderly woman who was our neighbor across the street. She had the brightest geraniums growing out front. Every spring, they’d come back bursting to life and liven up the entire street.

One spring afternoon, I was sitting out on our front porch with one of the guys who worked with my dad. We could see the geraniums across the street. Teasing me, he said, “Why don’t you go over there and ask her if you can have one?”

I was just a kid. But I was fearless. So I did it.

Barbara was—and is still—one of the nicest people on the face of the planet. I walked right over and asked her if I could have one of the geraniums, and we struck up a conversation.

Barbara quickly became the grandmother I never had.

I was a neighborhood terror. Always running or biking up and down the street. Chasing squirrels and cats. Catching frogs in the sewage “creek” behind our houses. Climbing trees and scraping knees.

I spent a ton of time at all of our neighbors’ houses. Mostly retired people. Listening. Talking. Entertaining and being entertained.

But Barbara was always special. She’d listen more intently. She took a keen interest.

One afternoon Barbara was having a get together at her house when out of nowhere an uninvited mouse showed up on the scene.

Who are you gonna call?

I jumped at the opportunity to play exterminator. I made a beeline across the street. The mouse had sought shelter behind some flower pots. I ran over to it and picked the mouse right up in my bare hands. The little bugger didn’t miss a beat. He sunk his grimy little teeth directly into my kid fingers and took a chunk of flesh with him.

But I didn’t care. I had saved the day (at least I thought). Until I got home and my mom made me go get a tetanus shot.

What does this story have to do with value creation?

Thought you’d never ask.

I think it’s easy to get caught up thinking of “creating value” as something difficult. As something that only a special kind of person doing a special kind of thing can achieve.

But that’s not true.

Everyone can create value. Everywhere you go. At any moment.

In the big moments in life when everyone is watching. And in the small moments when no one’s watching.

We are surrounded by opportunities to create value in our own lives and the lives of people around us each and every day. And the thing is, you never know just how valuable the interactions you choose to take advantage of will become to another person.

Value creation could be catching a mouse for a neighbor. It could be listening to someone who needs to talk. It could be helping a friend or someone with their groceries.

Everyone can create value. Everywhere you go. At any moment.

It can feel intangible or unreachable in many ways.

But it doesn’t have to. It can be simple. Just do something for someone else. Or do something for yourself that helps you grow.

You never know what kind of difference you’ll be making in someone else’s life. And who knows, you might just make your life better, too.


This article originally appeared on Quora.

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