When Good Enough Isn’t (good enough, that is)

“More spot-putty…”  Those hated words came easily to my brother-in-law’s tongue, but fell on my ears like a school-days detention bell, signaling the beginning of an extended stretch in the miscreant’s study hall.  I knew we were in for more drudgery, more physical labor, and more delays.  And, to be quite honest, I wasn’t feeling up to the task.  I have said many times that I’m basically lazy and I constantly try to prove it, but it seems that someone is always holding my nose to the grindstone.  And so it was again.  We were reviving an old car, pulling it from the brink of annihilation, but we had been at the job for many evenings and weekends, hours and hours of labor, and I was tired.  To my eye, the body panels were straight.  Certainly when compared to their previous state, they were perfection incarnate.  At least, that was my take on the subject, but my brother-in-law didn’t see it that way.

Perfectionists are a pain.  They are never quite satisfied, never happy with the result, always looking for one more tiny imperfection with which to find fault.  I had had it with my persecutor’s nit-picking and the words burst out without my permission.  “As far as I can tell, it’s perfect.  It’s my car and I’m ready to get it painted.  It’s good enough!”  It was many years ago that the event took place, but I’ll never forget the reply.  “No.  It may be your car, but the bodywork and paint job are going to have my name on it.  It’s right when I say it’s right.”  As much as I hated to admit it, the man had a point.  We started mixing more spot putty to level the tiny imperfections only he could see.  As I look back, I’m still astounded at his patience and attention to detail and my own inability to see the importance of the minutiae when it came to the finished product.

 My Grandpa’s old car, a rust-bucket if ever there was one, became once more a beautiful piece of machinery, no thanks to me.  The automobile is not with us anymore, having succumbed to time and an era when cash was not readily available for making necessary mechanical repairs, but the memory of the years we enjoyed it lives on.

When I think of the car and my learning experience as we toiled on it, I realize that the precept I gleaned that day has stayed with me.  Most of the time now, I’m reluctant to allow repair jobs to leave my business without me being perfectly satisfied with them.  I no longer am quick to say, “That’s good enough.”  Instead, I find myself looking at the rest of the instrument, adjusting the string level, setting the harmonics, when all I’ve been hired to do is replace the strings.  “But, my name is going to be on it,” is my common response to the urging to hurry up and finish the job.  The owner may tell their friends that I worked on that instrument and I want it to reflect my principles.  There is no such thing as “good enough.”  There is only a finished job or an unfinished job.  It’s not true in all areas of my life, but I’m doing my best to make it that way.

There have been other examples, not so commendable, of this precept, which have also aided in the learning experience.  At one time, before I owned the store, we had an itinerant instrument repairman, who would come by the shop one afternoon every two weeks and take care of any jobs we needed to have done.  Doc didn’t have what you would call finesse, bending keys mercilessly to make adjustments, forcing screws into sockets with different thread patterns, and making some of the worst-looking solder joints I have ever seen.  Oh, the instruments played when he got through…they didn’t dare not play!  But, this method of making things work, sans craftsmanship, earned him a bad reputation, especially within the music repair business.  I remember being in a different repair shop with two of the technicians talking about a certain clarinet.  “Doc has been working on this one,” said the one.  “Oh, how can you tell?”  queried the other.  “Well, the chain saw marks are still on it!”  came the not-quite tongue-in-cheek reply.  Evidently, “That’s good enough” actually isn’t when it comes to a reputation for excellence.

I’ve got to admit that sometimes I feel like my old car, though.  I’m going along contentedly, confident that I’ve learned life’s lessons and am accomplishing things in the proper manner, but still I keep getting scraped and sanded, holes being filled with spot putty, and more sandpaper being used.  Somehow, I’m imagining that God is saying, “My Name’s on this one.  It’ll have to be better than this…”  The process isn’t always comfortable and I certainly would like for the paint to go on, but I have a feeling that the shiny, finished product is still quite some time off.  The old saying is certainly true in my case, “God’s not finished with me yet.” 

“If something is exceptionally well done it has embedded in it’s very existence the aim of lifting the common denominator rather than catering to it.”

(Edward Fischer)

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