When I was in college I studied film. I wanted to be a director. I loved movies and I loved making video projects with friends. Hence, why not turn that hobby into a career?
Like many kids from my generation, however, I thought that getting into a good school with a good film program was all I had to do. Many of my friends thought that getting into Stanford or UC Berkeley was the prize and that a great life with a rewarding career would simply follow. We didn't realize that these fine institutions would not provide us with the answer to life, but merely help us learn how to help ourselves. Therefore, when I began my film training I learned how to use a camera. I learned how to record audio. I learned how to edit digitally. I learned how to make a movie, but it was my job to come up with the idea for one. Oh.....you mean I have to do that on my own? It turns out that being an art major doesn't necessarily make you an artist.
I've never really been the best at anything I've done in my life. I was always good at sports, but never a star. I was always good at making quirky videos, but I lacked the patience and the perseverance to perfect them. Like other kids I knew, I tried to make up for that lack of effort or talent with better equipment. I always had a great aluminum bat and a top-of-the-line catchers mitt. I had the latest Apple computers with the best copies of Final Cut Pro. I had the means to afford the best tools and the finest teachers, but those things can only take you so far. It's never the guys like me who achieve greatness. The best kid on the little league team was always the scrappy kid with the beat-up glove who was good because he lived to play ball. The best movies in my film class were always made by the quiet kid who had to borrow equipment from friends.
Having the best possible equipment doesn't mean you understand how to use it. There I was, nineteen years old, loaded up with a couple grand worth of editing software, when I probably only needed a cheap DV camera and a stripped down version of iMovie to make the films I was making. Whereas some kids knew how to do special effects and computer animation with Adobe Illustrator that took hours, if not days of extra work, I just wanted to point and shoot. Speaking of cameras: how many people out there actually know how to use every function of their Canon T2i Rebel SLR camera? Yet, you see guys everywhere with fancy lenses and heavy equipment bags. How many people are actually out there, scaling a mountain with their Asolo hiking boots and North Face outdoor apparel? While we like to think that the best equipment makes the for the best experience, it's no good to you if you don't know what to do with it.
More so than any of the analogies above, wine may be the absolute best example of a type of "equipment" where people pay in excess for qualities they don't understand, need, or appreciate. I spend most of my time talking people out of bottles rather than into them. You don't want that 1988 Lynch Bages, trust me. But I want to spend $100 on something nice! What do you think nice tastes like? Smooth, rich, and fruity, right? That's not what the 1988 Lynch Bages tastes like. Then why would it be so expensive? We all know that society equates quality with expense, even if it's often undeserved. With wine there's the added caveat that older is also better. This isn't always true, however. Older is simply different. The older a wine gets, the more its flavors change, but not necessarily in a way that's favorable to a large majority of the public. Old wine is an acquired taste. It can be appreciated only after experience. You're not going to drop a hundred bucks on an old Bordeaux and instantly love it. I know this because many people bring back these bottles thinking there's something wrong with the wine.
Although I find that older whiskies tend to be more impressive, even for the beginning drinker, there are plenty of odd, esoteric, and subtlely flavored spirits that don't necessarily speak to the average aficionado. You might think that spending $100 is the only way to drink good whiskey, but you'll only know that if you've already spent $20, $40, $60, and $80 first. You'll only need the Canon T2i if you're finding that the Powershot S90 doesn't do everything you want it to do. Do you really need the manual focus, added depth of field, and the versatility of wide-angle versus portrait lenses, or does it just make you feel like a pro knowing you have them?
In the end, unless you do everything in life completely alone, there's no hiding a lack of experience. At the end of the semester we all had to screen our films at the university theater. It was clear who had talent and who didn't. If the students that made terrible films did so with the finest possible equipment, the irony of that failure made it twice as embarrassing. But that wouldn't be the only time I experienced something like that in my life. If you head out to the golf course with the most expensive clubs available, then double bogey every hole that afternoon, expect a lot of snickering behind your back when you're not looking. If you've got a garage full of the priciest tools, but your kid's treehouse looks like a condemned construction site, don't be surprised if your craftsmanship becomes a practical joke around the office.
On the same page, if your bar is only full of prestige bottles, but you chose the Glenlivet 12 as the best malt in a blind tasting, what does that say about your palate? It doesn't necessarily say that you don't appreciate fine whisky, but it may mean that you're spending far too much.