Life lessons from a carpet stain

I’ve stayed in every imaginable name hotel from sea to shining sea.

My speaking schedule lands me in four-star hotels that make you feel like the only guest, and I’ve stayed in motels where I might have been the only guest not under police surveillance.

I’ve stayed in B&B’s, cabins and hostels. A client once booked me in a North Carolina motel where I had to wake up the owner because I’d arrived after hours.


Like many business travelers, I always request early check-in. Most hotels are happy to help and the courtesy allows me to fine-tune an evening speech or take a breather from a long day of planes, trains and automobiles.


During the recent holidays, I traveled with my family to visit my mother in Charlottesville, Va. It’s become a tradition to have an adventure by staying in a hotel, swimming in the pool and jumping on the beds. If the kids are good, I let them jump, too.

I booked rooms at the Marriott Courtyard North and, as usual, requested an early check-in. I’d also requested adjoining rooms, which Marriott does not guarantee, but does everything to accommodate.

We arrived Friday afternoon and the associate at the front desk proudly shared that the hotel has been undergoing a major remodel and the lobby and restaurant had just been completed. It was beautiful, we noted, and the young woman added that not only were the guest rooms next, but that the process would begin the very next Monday.

When we arrived at our rooms, we were startled to find a housekeeper and a manager on their knees just inside the door of one of the two rooms scrubbing a small spot.

I asked, “Is everything OK?”

The manager apologized for the room not being quite ready, but explained they’d noticed a stain in the carpet and wanted to get it out for us.

I made a joke about hiding a body, which my children promptly rated as “lame,” but the manager laughed anyway. Then she promised they’d be finished shortly and invited us to occupy the second adjoining room while we waited.

As we settled in next door, I asked my children if they recognized and appreciated the message. How much easier would it have been, I wondered aloud, for the employees to ignore the spot and call it good.

I imagined the conservation. “Whoops. There’s a stain. Oh, well. They’re replacing the carpet soon anyway and the family won’t even notice. They’re probably the last guests before the remodel.”

Isn’t that how many might have reacted? Judging from the carpet in many of the hotels I’ve stayed in, yes.

Instead, dedicated employees were cleaning a stain no one else might have ever noticed. And whether genuinely happy or not, they were doing it with a smile.

Later that evening, the entire gang enjoyed an epic splash battle, hotel explorations and elevator rides. The kids returned to the front desk for more towels, batteries for a remote and to report a broken vending machine. Each request was met with biblical-level patience and long-suffering.

We’re home now and the holiday bells are just a quiet memory. The carpet probably is, too. But for me, the message rings on.

I wonder about the ugly spots in my life that no one sees but me. It’s certainly not hard to ignore them and hope they go away, replaced by something more beautiful.

But isn’t there also beauty in the cleaning itself?

A flaw is a flaw.

A stain is a stain.

Life’s dirty spots deserve to be cleaned whether we’re the only one who sees them or not.

It’s not just the message we learned at that Marriott in Charlottesville. It’s also a pretty good way to live.