80% Good

Daniel Platt
4 min readSep 7, 2021

One for the amateurs

In 2012 I spent a year working as a tour leader in Eastern Europe, mostly the Balkans. All the other guides were local and while the tours were great, many of the best moments were with the guides. Occasionally, we’d cross paths in a remote corner of Serbia, Slovenia or Croatia… I went with one guide, Tomi, to an abandoned Soviet-era resort where we did some work on his cabin. We went foraging for mushrooms in a cold, quiet forest and spent several hours by a hot cauldron cooking goulash and drinking homemade rakia. I had dozens of experiences like this with my new friends, feeling very much a visitor to the cultures and languages, but also to the do-it-yourself mentality that was common there. It seemed like everyone hunted wild boar for their uncle’s salami or nicked a bushel of their neighbour’s plums for their delicious moonshine.

I grew up in Melbourne, close to the downtown and surrounded by entrepreneurs, professionals… Most of the adults I knew owned a lot of nice suits and championed the merits of staying in one’s lane. For every foreign task, there was an appropriate person to hire. That’s common in an advanced, service-based economy but it was also my circle and my neighbourhood. Plenty of people grow up in Australia being handy, I just didn’t know many of them. Someone who made their own moonshine or salami, or handled their own renovations would have been quite out of the ordinary. These were not my examples.

It wasn’t all goulash and rainbows in Eastern Europe. I could survive on my tips and save the $80 Aussie Dollars a day that was my salary but that was less than half the minimum wage back home. For many of the local guides, it was good money and a great career opportunity but for me, it was a fun way to see an obscure part of the world while getting paid to travel.

The do-it-yourself thing really stuck with me though; a stand-out among the cultural themes I gleaned from my experience. Partly, I’m sure it resonated because I’ve always felt out of place among specialists. Perhaps it’s a lack of discipline but I prefer being pretty good at many things. It’s what I love about running a business and about watching professionals stuck at home this year baking bread and painting and home brewing. It’s easy to forget the joy of learning something new, creating something from scratch and embracing being just a little bit shit at something. It’s a valuable counterbalance to what I’ve always felt was the mounting pressure to specialise.

I live much further from the city now and here, happily, plenty of people are handy. When you’re renovating, they ask if you’re doing it yourself and sheepishly, I explain the good reasons why I am not, which do not include being unqualified. It’s nice to be asked.

I do make some of our furniture — a hobby I picked up shortly after returning home in 2013. I do it slowly and it’s 80% as good as the professional stuff. It’s much harder to improve at this point; the last 20% of most things belongs to the masters. As a good home cook, I have a different appreciation for serious chefs; I can see the hours of learning and labour in a complex joint or a perfect finish. The masters get my reverence, but the amateurs have my heart.

And so, If you ever find yourself invited to our home, you will find it mostly filled with furniture that is about 80% good. You will be made to listen to the story of each piece. I’ll point out the many imperfections. It feels like humility but really, these are the places where I have spent the most time trying to resolve a complex problem. We’ll be looking at the struggle and the point where I decided it was good enough. You will see a decent piece of furniture, about 80% good, but I see the time I exchanged for pleasure, relaxation, hard-won lessons and meaning. I remember the wood and imagine the tree. It’s always better than remembering the showroom floor.

I feel at home among these imperfections. I stick out less. They’re a welcome reminder that my own imperfections can be a point of pride and that everything has been on a long and interesting journey to this moment.

Originally published at https://danielplatt.substack.com on September 7, 2021.



Daniel Platt

I’m a business owner and writing enthusiast. Writing helps me think deeply and work through the complexity of everyday life.