I toured a vineyard in Italy this summer. There, under the Tuscan sun, amid row after row of grapevines unfurling toward the horizon, I expected to learn about the art, science, and craft of winemaking. What I didn’t anticipate was that the experience would offer me valuable insights into my own vocation and who I am as a person uniquely created by God.
A few years after the vineyard had been established, owner Olimpia Roberti hired a world-famous consultant, who suggested how to improve the flavor of her red wines. But when she tasted the supposed new and improved vintage, Olimpia couldn’t tell the difference between her wine and that of the other producers in the area.
“They all tasted the same,” she told our tour group, as we stood facing dozens of oak barrels in the fermentation room. “Nothing distinguished our wine from the all the others.”
The consultant’s goal was for Olimpia’s vineyard to produce wines that would appeal to the mass market. It makes sense, especially from a business perspective: the wider the appeal, the more bottles sold, the more successful the vineyard.
But Olimpia refused to sacrifice the personality of her wine. She fired the world-renowned consultant and reverted, with a few new tweaks, to her original formula.
“I wanted to keep our wines’ personality,” she explained. “I decided I was willing to sell fewer bottles in order to maintain the unique character of my wine.”
Too often, I compare myself with other writers, particularly those who have more readers and sell more books than I do. Sometimes when I measure another writer’s accomplishments and success against mine, I’m tempted to alter my own writing style and voice to be more like theirs, in the hope that I might attract more readers. I wonder if perhaps I were funnier like him, or more encouraging like her, or more controversial or more contemplative, I might appeal to a broader audience.
In short, I’m tempted to sacrifice what makes my writing my own in order to attract more readers and sell more books.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Think about the mild-mannered salesman who adopts an aggressive negotiation style in the hopes of landing bigger contracts.
Or the church that revamps its worship service to try to attract a larger membership.
Or the contemplative teenager who pretends she’s gregarious and extroverted to appeal to a particularly popular group of peers.
We sell out. We sacrifice what makes us special; we abandon our true, authentic selves, the uniquely beautiful people God created us to be. We try to become like others, especially those we consider more successful than we are, in order to broaden our influence and appeal.
But in doing so, we don’t honor who God created us to be.
After our tour of the vineyard, I sat at a long table in the tasting room and lifted a glass of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to my lips. As I sipped the smooth, subtle wine, I thought about what Olimpia had said and how relevant her words were to my own career and calling and even to who I am as a person.
The fact is, Olimpia Roberti may not become the most successful vintner Italy has ever seen. Her vineyard might not sell the most bottles or earn the highest sales. But her wine, with its own uniquely beautiful taste, will be hers, and it will attract the people who appreciate and enjoy it.