What Are You Fishing For?

There is a succinct parable that sums up the philosophy of lifestyle design. The story of the Mexican fisherman creates a stark contrast between the popularized, modern version of success and the quiet happiness of living on purpose.

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.

“But…What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard MBA and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, senor, how long will all this take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years, 25 tops.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos…”

If you are one of the many breaking your back and sacrificing who and what you love to climb a ladder to “success,” the story either generates defensiveness (it’s not realistic, I will get there sooner this way, etc) or an immediate realization that you want to make some changes in your life.

However, beyond the stark contrast between a New York IPO and a coastal fishing village, the Mexican fisherman can still open our eyes.

Note the first thing the Mexican fisherman does in the morning. He accomplishes his goal for the day, earning his siesta, time with his children, and time with friends doing what he loves.

Happiness is not a lazy fisherman. It is an intense focus on what creates meaning in our lives, aligning our talents and purpose, and both earning and nurturing fulfilling activity.

The fisherman thoughtfully selects and lives fully in each moment with a focus that creates peaceful abundance.

Funny enough, we look at the fisherman and feel that he is not doing enough. We look at the businessman and wish we could work as hard.

What are you fishing for, an intense career or a life?

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