This reminds me of the story of the two Bakers.
There were two Bakers in a town whose shops were across the street from each other. The first baker was an older man named Tom, and the other was a younger man named Bill. Tom had been baking in that city for many, many years, so many so that Bill wasn’t even born when Tom started Baking. Bill grew up in that town, eating Tom’s baked goods and quickly fell in love with baking himself. When he was 12 he promised himself that he would open a bakery right next to Tom’s and would bake just like Tom, and everyone would love him and his goods as much as they loved Tom and his.
Bill’s dreams came true after he graduated from Baking school, and with a loan from his father he set up shop across the street from Tom. Every morning when opening their shops and heating up the ovens, Tom and Bill would talk to each other from across the narrow street. Tom was always friendly, and Bill enthusiastic. Tom never complained about the competition, and was always willing to share with Bill any knowledge he had learned over his many years as a Baker.
Did I mention that Tom was a genius when it came to baking? Every week it seemed, Tom would come up with some new idea for a pastry, bread, or cake, and everyone would love his new creation. The result of Tom’s genius and good nature: his shop was never empty, and there was never a wedding that he didn’t get asked to bake for. Of course this made things hard for the new start up Bill, and his first few months were rough.
Tom always saw Bill as a sort of son, and was very proud and flattered that he pursued baking, so he would share some of his secrets and recipes. Bill would use what he learned, but he could never make his goods taste as great as Tom’s tasted, and so his business suffered.
After not being able to pay rent one month, Bill decided he needed to figure out a way to get more business. He knew he couldn’t compete on taste with Tom, so he decided to compete on price. Not only did he price his goods considerably cheaper than Tom’s, but also in order to save himself time, he basically copied Tom’s menu. Using all the recipes that Tom gave him, he almost could create Tom’s menu, item by item, but of course at a lower price. This helped a little, drawing some of the “cheaper” patrons from Tom’s, but Tom had such a base of loyal customers, so Tom didn’t notice the loss of business, and Bill didn’t experience a huge increase.
Tom never stopped talking with Bill, or sharing his recipes, but Bill became less and less enthusiastic as he worried more and more about making money, and obtaining customers from Tom. Every week Tom would come up with something new, Bill would buy it and try to figure out how Tom made it, but because he was trying to undermine Tom, he never would ask Tom how to make the new items.
As the economy started to go south, people started to become more cost conscious and more and more switched to Bill’s shop purely due to cost. Bill started to get more and more wedding business, and even a local restaurant switched from Tom to him for their bread orders. Business was doing better for Bill. Part of the reason was Bill’s low prices, and his extensive marketing campaign, but the other was that Tom never had a sale, never had promotions, and never lowered his prices. He always said that quality deserved a fair wage, and that people shouldn’t get nice things at an unfair value, or else they wouldn’t really appreciate what they had.
As business became slow for Tom and busier for Bill, Tom never complained, and never stopped talking with Bill or sharing the recipes or ideas that he had. He still woke up at the same time every morning and still opened his shop at the same time. As time went by Bill’s shop became the only shop people would go to, all the big hotel and restaurant chains picked Bill up as their baker. Bill had more work than he knew what to do with, and Tom had none.
One day Bill came to work, warmed up the ovens and went outside to chat with Tom, but Tom wasn’t there. His shop was closed. Bill became a little worried and quickly called Tom, who answered just as cheerful as ever. Tom explained that business was slow and he couldn’t justify the time away from his family. He also explained that he took great joy in baking for people, but if people didn’t want to buy his goods, it just wasn’t fun for him to sit in a bakery with cooling goods and no customers. So, he told Bill he was happy that his business was doing well and wished him the best of luck.
The days went on and Bill did great, he was the only shop in town, and everyone had to buy from him. But then the complaints started to come in, people had grown used to Tom’s weekly new products, but with Tom gone, Bill didn’t have the inspiration to create new items, nor to copy Tom’s. He tried calling Tom to see if he could get some new recipes, but Tom was out fishing and never called back.
While walking to work one day, Bill over heard a couple talking about how they missed Tom’s goods and how Bill’s were never as good, but they had no other place to buy bread. This caused Bill to become a little desperate, so he tried harder and harder to become a better baker, and tried coming up with new recipes, but no matter how hard he tried, he kept losing customers to the new high tech bakery down the street, which had prices half of his.
When Bill was closing his shop for the last time and shuffling home in defeat he couldn’t help but to think that it was probably his own fault that both Tom and himself were out of business.
5 years later after getting divorced, due to losing his shop and everything he owned, and taking a job in the insurance industry, Bill was visiting a neighboring town and saw a quaint little bakery where he decided to just stop in for good times sake and buy a pastry. Wouldn’t you know, Bill couldn’t believe his eyes; it was Tom standing behind the counter. Tom instantly recognized the older, more warn Bill, and quickly moved from behind the counter to shake his old friend’s hand. They caught up over the next hour and Tom expressed true sadness at Bill’s losing of his Store, and never once mentioned his old one. Although Tom was happy as could be Bill kept feeling more and more upset. He was upset with himself that he had caused Tom, the great man, to lose his first shop, and he was also jealous that Tom was seemingly doing great, while he himself was suffering to make ends meet.
At last Bill couldn’t take it any more and interrupting Tom, who was in the middle of a grand fishing story, he declared that he was sorry for what he did all those years ago, and how he drove Tom out of business, how bad he felt about it, and he asked Tom how was it that Tom was just as happy and successful as ever.
This was Tom’s reply: “my dear son Bill, my father taught me a valuable lesson once, he said: ‘son, worry about yourself, don’t worry about others. If you work hard, and do your best, you will be ok, but if you spend all your time thinking and worrying about others people, you will only be distracting yourself from success,’ and I have tried to live those words. You see, all I really cared about was being the best Baker I could be, I didn’t care how many people came to my shop, if people came and liked my baking, then I was happy. That’s why I never worried about you setting up shop next door, in fact I was excited to have another baker to talk baking with and to share the joys with. I was happy to share my recipes with you, because even if other people didn’t know they were mine, I knew, and I was satisfied that they were enjoying my creations even if I didn’t’ get the credit or the money for them.” He chuckled a little, enjoying the irony, and continued, “I baked there in that shop until the people dried up, I never blamed you for it, just figured that it was my time to move on and enjoy my hobby some where else.” “But,” interrupted Bill, “I never saw you sell that old shop, where did you get the money to buy this one? I don’t think you made enough money to save, because I had more customers than you and I didn’t have any extra cash saved.”
Tom shifted in his seat to get more comfortable and continued on, “well Bill, I guess you could say I made some good investments. You see that bakery down the street? I sold them some of my recipes some years ago, while they were just a start up. They didn’t have any money to pay me at the time, so I settled on just a small profit sharing with them. Oh something like 1% of sales of each product I gave them a recipe for. The funny thing is I lost track of how many recipes I have given them over the years, but their accountant hasn’t’.” Tom chuckled again, rubbing his arm. “No, I don’t run this bakery to make money, I run it for fun, for the joy of baking. I am happy if my customers just enjoy what I make.”
Bill couldn’t believe his ears, here was a man that he basically screwed over, who was now happy and rich. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for himself. They sat there in silence for a long time, then Tom spoke up, “Bill are you happy?” Bill just looked at him, so Tom asked him again. Bill shook his head no, so Tom continued, “what I mean is, are you happy with where your life is going? You showed talent in baking, but you were so caught up with the business side of it that you forgot to work on the art side of it and allow yourself to just enjoy it. You know if you had just asked I would have loved to have taken you on as a partner.” He paused a second, “you know what, why don’t you come work for me, I could always use another baker to talk too. It is kind of boring to just send recipes over to the bakery and not have another baker to discuss it with. “ Bill thought for a moment, and accepted as long as Tom could afford him, and that his presence wouldn’t hurt him financially. Tom assured him it wouldn’t and so they started working together.
One day while baking a large cake, Bill remarked to Tom, “Tom, I wish I had learned to just be content in my own work and not worry about other people’s much sooner. I would have saved myself many years of misery.” Tom just chuckled, “yup probably so.”
1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12 “But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”