Once there was a man who had a garden and an orchard. He grew many kinds of fruits–plums, figs, blueberries, strawberries, and grapes. His fruits grew so well that he needed something to do with them, so he began to make wine out of them. He collected many empty wine bottles of different sizes and shapes. He collected other equipment and supplies. And he set to making his wine.
After many years, he had made hundreds of bottles of wine, which he stored on shelves in his garage, each bottle carefully labeled with the main ingredients and the year. There was grape wine, fig wine, plum wine, blueberry wine, and strawberry wine. The man drank some of it, but he always made more bottles of wine than he would drink. So he stored up more and more bottles of his homemade wine in his garage.
One day the man died. His family began to divide his possessions among themselves. Some bottles they kept for themselves, and others they gave away to friends. But everyone who tasted it found that the wine was not good. Some bottles were too sour. Others had not been filtered, and there were dregs floating in in the wine. Nobody liked it.
So all the wine was poured down the drain–many, many bottles of it–and the man’s work came to nothing.
The Interpretation of the Parable
As you might have guessed, this story is true. I didn’t know the man personally. I entered this story when a friend of one of the man’s family members asked me if I would like a few bottles of wine for free. I said “sure!” Soon I was in possession of about a dozen bottles of homemade wine. The first bottle I opened was just on the edge of drinkable, but I didn’t really like it. A second bottle was entirely too sour. Several of the other bottles, upon close inspection, had bits of the dregs floating around and were totally undrinkable.
If you look closely at this bottle, for example, you can see where it was stored on its side and the dregs collected. Now bits of the dregs have come loose from the bottle and are floating around in the liquid.
Now I am not a wine snob by any means. I can enjoy a glass of $10-a-bottle wine as well as anybody, but I also know a good wine when I taste it. Most of this homemade stuff was not even up to the low standard of the cheap wine sold at Walmart.
I still might keep one or two bottles to use in a chicken marinade, but I haven’t yet found a bottle in the batch that I would be willing to actually drink, much less serve to guests. So I suppose nearly all of it is going to waste. My friend told me that he, too, had discarded most of the wine he had been given.
I don’t know anything about wine making, so I have no idea why these wines were all bad. But the experience got me thinking about the reasons that we sometimes settle for mediocrity in our craft work. When I’m listening to creative types discussing matters of design, construction methods, and selection of materials, I often hear something like, “Do it whatever way makes you happy,” or “The only one you should worry about pleasing is yourself.” The message is that, as long as you are satisfied with your work, then that’s all that matters.
Now, after my experience with the homemade wine, I think that’s very bad advice. I don’t really know why this man couldn’t manage to make good wine. It may be that he made his wine only to please himself. I did find out after the fact that he had been skimping on materials and using poorly-conceived methods. Did he know his work was low-quality? If he did know, did he care?
Had this man learned more about his craft and really perfected his method, he might have left a stock of wine that would have done credit to his name for years to come. But he didn’t. And now his family is left with the unpleasant job of getting rid of the bad fruits of his ill-spent labor. All that work is literally going down the drain.
When we are first learning a craft, many of us have a tendency to over-value our early attempts to make things. We carve a spoon or throw a pot or forge a bottle opener, and while we readily admit that it’s not expert work, we are pleased with having made a serviceable object at all. It’s not bad to be pleased with your work, but your being pleased does not make it good work. All too often, we are not pleased because we have done good work; we are pleased only because it is our work.
Don’t make things just to please yourself. Make them to please people who know a thing or two about your craft. Make them to please the people who will own them after you are gone. Make things so well that they will be valuable to other people, even if those people have no idea who you are. Not everyone has the time or talent to become a master at a craft, but if you are going to take the time to learn a craft at all, you should learn it well–at least well enough to build to a reasonable standard of excellence.
But hey, if you are the kind of person who works only to please yourself… well… would you like a few bottles of homemade wine?