Heinrich Böll, a German writer, once penned the parable about a Mexican fisherman and an Investment Banker. Böll writes:
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 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 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, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”
“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 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 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.”
This parable blends together numerous lessons that one could examine.
- Stop chasing what you already have. The fisherman’s full and busy life consisted of pastimes that equated to what many of us would deem a full and happy life. By only working to fulfil his family’s immediate needs, he was able to allocate the rest of his time to live his life they way he wanted to.
- What’s the end goal? Note that the Investment Banker did not say that the end goal was financial wealth. Rather, he articulated the end goal as being the ability to spend our time how we wish (just as the fisherman was already doing). Blinded as he was, even the Banker knew that monetary value comes in the form of what the money can be exchanged for, not the money itself.
- The rat race can be blinding. The notion that we have to accumulate wealth before we can live full and happy lives is completely false. In fact, the rich man may ultimately sacrifice the very experiences he sought through his hustle to pursue them. How many times have we passed on spending time with loved ones under the guise of working hard to spend more quality time with them in the distant future?
Time and again, our busy society falls into the trap of the rat race, myself included. Sadly, we often prioritize our time around what we don’t want to do and spend the scarce leftovers on what we would like to do. In the process, we miss out today on living the very life we seek to live in the future.
But, if we all allocated a little more time to play the guitar with our amigos today instead of a distant tomorrow, perhaps we too could start living full and busy lives.