I ran across an old parable the other day. It had been years since I had heard this story but it struck me as being as relevant and instructive as ever for those of us in business—or for anyone, in fact.
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told the contractor who had employed him for years of his plans to leave the home-building business and live a more leisurely life. He and his wife planned to take it easy and enjoy their extended family. Sure, he would miss the paycheck, but he wanted to retire. They could get by.
The contractor was sorry to see his excellent, longtime worker go and asked him if he would be willing to build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter initially said yes, but it soon became clear that his heart was not in the project. He resorted to shoddy workmanship, took shortcuts, and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a career.
When the carpenter finished his work the employer came to inspect the house. Instead of looking it over, the owner simply handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you for your years of excellent work.”
The carpenter was shocked! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently.
So it is with us. Some build lives, a day at a time, often putting less than their best into the building. Then with a shock they realize they have to live in the house they have built. If they could do it over, they’d do it much differently.
It’s a sobering thought, but each of us is a carpenter. With today’s character, attitudes, and choices we build the “houses” we’ll be living in tomorrow.