3 Lifestyle Lessons from the Story of the Mexican Fisherman

Last week, while on a hike, I shared the story of the Mexican Fisherman with some colleagues who hadn’t heard it before. Coincidentally, one of my good friends shared it on Facebook the following day. I read this story every once in a while to put life back into perspective. If you know it, feel free to skip ahead. If you’ve never read it, here it is:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin 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 American then asked why didn’t he 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 said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, 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 am a Harvard MBA and could 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, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “How long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15–20 years.”
“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 would make millions!”
“Millions — then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your grand kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

1 — Life is Not Linear and Everyone has Their Own Path

“A path is a prior interpretation of the best way to traverse a landscape.”
- Rebecca Solnit

It’s perfectly fine and usually safer to follow the beaten path; the experience is enjoyable. Just don’t be afraid to take detours and explore outside the safe zone sometimes.

2 — Knowledge and Wisdom are Not the Same

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
- Mark Twain

The Harvard MBA had the advanced degree from a prestigious university, but was missing out on what was important. But, what is important?

Incidentally, Harvard’s Grant study on adult development, that has run for over 75 years, has recently demonstrated that happiness boils down to 3 important life elements:

  • Good for Me: Taking care of yourself physically, spiritually/emotionally and financially
  • Good for Others: Strengthening your relationships and serving others
  • Good at It: Enjoying and being good at your job.

3 — Beware of the “Deferred Life Plan”

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” 
- Chinese Proverb

This has always been the most poignant element of the story for me: Money is a renewable resource. Time is not.

During our travels, we continue to meet people on both ends of the spectrum: Retired individuals who are just now beginning to explore the world and young people who have left the rat race and are out exploring and trying new things.

While the majority of us go through life waiting or saving up for retirement, what if you could instead have “mini-retirements”, as Tim Ferriss puts it, and enjoy your whole life, not just the last part?

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should setup a life you don’t need to escape from.”
- Seth Godin

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This post originally appeared on the HighPoint Travel Blog.