I recently came across this story adapted from one that was written by Heinrich Böll, a German Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature.
It is a simple short story but it left a profound impact on me.
In life, we’re always busy chasing after something.
If you wish to revisit your priorities in life, this story is for you.
The Story of the Mexican Fisherman and American Investment Banker
An American investment banker taking a vacation at a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.
Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.
The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied,
“Only a little while.”
The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked:
“But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied,
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
The American scoffed.
“I have an MBA from Harvard, and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.
Instead of selling your catch to a middle-man, you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening up your own cannery. You could control the product, processing, and distribution.
Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually to New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked,
“But señor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied:
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
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 could make millions!”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
The American said,
“Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”
What Does Success Mean To You?
The message behind this parable is pretty clear – success and happiness can mean different things to different people.
Oftentimes, we could be so caught up in the rat race that it could blind us from what we truly wish to achieve.
We are sold this narrative that we are only considered successful in the eyes of modern society if we achieve certain milestones in life.
As such, we sometimes forget to question the ‘why’ behind what we do.
This story is a good reminder for us to evaluate our own priorities and what is it that we truly want to achieve in life.
What Is “Enough” To You?
In this story, the Mexican fisherman is very clear on what is ‘enough’ for him.
And in his case, it is to make enough money to cover his family’s basic needs.
The message here is to know what is the type of life you want to lead, and have enough money to live that life.
It’s common for us to want more than what we have, and have this end goal that is constantly shifting further and further away.
For some of us, attaining our first $1 million means having $2 million as the next target. And achieving that would mean $4 million next.
But these are simply numbers if we’re blindly pursuing it.
And the blind pursuit of money has no true meaning, value, or purpose.
On the other hand, there is true power in being clear of what you actually want, because rather than wasting time being part of the rat race pursuing what everyone else valued, you are able to truly focus on what matters to you.
Lessons From This Mexican Fisherman Story
Now, this is not saying that we should all quit our jobs and become fishermen tomorrow.
And if there’s just one thing that I might slightly disagree with the Mexican fisherman, it’ll be him only earning enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The planner within me winced a little knowing that this fictional character cannot afford to be struck by any critical illnesses, or he cannot be met with any accidents while he’s out fishing at the seas.
This is the definition of living paycheck to paycheck, which is not something that we tend to advocate as well.
So if there is something I can change about this story, it’ll be that the Mexican fisherman earns just enough to stash some away as his emergency fund, with a bit more left to financially cushion the future of him and his loved ones.
And while sometimes life isn’t just all about money, it is also important to remember that we do need it to get to where we are going.
We have to acknowledge that money is what’s required for us to attain freedom in the future.
But because we spend most of our lives working, it’s easy to forget what we are working for.
And over time, it’s easy to prioritise money and work over family and friends.
Are those truly your life goals?
Be clear of your life choices, know your own target, and then strive towards the type of life that you want.
And always remember…
Money is a renewable resource. Time is not.