A vacationing American businessman stood on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village, in southern Mexico. He watched as a young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside his small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.
Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the young man on the quality of his fish. “How long did it take you to catch them?” he asked, casually.
“Oh, just a few hours señor,” the fisherman replied.
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch more?” The businessman was astonished.
“There is no need. With this I have more than enough to meet my family’s needs,” the fisherman explained.
“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” the American asked with a stern look on his face.
Responding with a smile, the fisherman answered, “Well, I sleep late and fish a little. In the afternoon, I play with my children, take siesta with my wife, and when evening comes, I stroll into the village where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos late into the night. I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I am an Ivy League M.B.A. and I could help you. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several others, until eventually you have an entire fleet.”
“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman,” He continued, “You would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”
To which the American replied, “15–20 years, 25 tops.”
“But what then, señor?”
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 señor? Then what?”
“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll in to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
There a many different variations of this parable circulating online. Myself, I’ve read it no less than a dozen times. And every time it hits me as if it were the first. I think it was Philip McKernan who said that “we are masters as complicating our lives and then justifying why we do so.”
On Monday morning, I had breakfast with a couple. New clients referred to me by my friend Kevin. Both of them, successful business owners. Young too.
We talked books and podcasts, fitness and business concepts — long before we got onto the subject of real estate and their first home purchase. It’s always refreshing to be able to connect with people on a number of different levels.
And it was that conversation that reminded me of the fisherman’s story.
She mentioned they were both members of what is, to my knowledge, one of the most prestigious business ‘masterminds’ around. A group that costs multiple five figures to be a part of, on a yearly basis. I admired aloud, how cool it must be to be a part of something that I’ve only heard whispers about.
“Definitely,” She agreed, “But I’m not sure I want to renew my membership next year.”
Puzzled, I asked why. She said that while it was certainly inspiring to rub shoulders with some of this country’s entrepreneurial elite, there were very few of them that she’d “actually want to trade places with.”
“The question I ask myself, as I meet these ‘successful’ people,” she told me, “is would I want to live his or her life? Trade my lifestyle for theirs? And I find that far too often, the answer to that question is no.”
You see, it’s easy to sit back and admonish “the fisherman” for leaving opportunity on the table. For failing to max out his catch.
But as my new friend reminded me on Monday, it’s not ALL about hustle, drive, ambition or hard work . . . rather the true essence of self-awareness is having the courage to define “success” on one’s own terms. To know what real “freedom” looks like. And to live your truth.
There is no right or wrong answer. But it’s in that space space that we author our story. And begin to leave our legacy.
There is a poem from the movie Act of Valor, that I have printed out on the cover of a binder I carry with me every day. I wont share the entire thing but I’ll leave you with the final passage . . .
“When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
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