Lessons from a Mexican Fisherman

Will we live a century? Will we live for the next 5 years? It is not impossible that we have the next 5 days to live? We have two realities to reconcile in life. ONE: we all die one day and TWO: we don’t know when. Our best course of action is to define a lifestyle that fulfills and excites us ‘now’ and that can be sustained for the rest of our lives – however long. Yes, it is very do-able.

We all have exactly One Life – One Chance & No rehearsals

Live your best life Now & Later

Some of us focus on enjoying ‘today’ as if today is the last day. Forget tomorrow. But most of us ‘reasonable’ folks seem to live for ‘tomorrow’ instead, living a transient life ‘today’. The answer is in the balance like most things in life. We must live ‘now’ as well as plan for ‘later’ even if we cannot be guaranteed that there will be a ‘later’. So why do we keep postponing our desired life till ‘later’? We can learn from the Mexican fisherman. And then some.

New Zealand Seal

The Mexican Fisherman Story

This is a famous fable and it goes like this: An American businessman was standing at the pier of a picturesque coastal town in Mexico when a small boat with just one fisherman slowly maneuvered its way back to the side of the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish. Here is their conversation:

– How long did it take you to catch them?

– Only a little while.

– Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?

– I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.

– But what do you do with the rest of your time?

– I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor!

– I have an Ivy League MBA and I can help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually, you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats! And instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell it directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. Finally, I would advise you to relocate to Mexico City where you have a much larger consumer base. Eventually, you’ll export your products and maybe even end up in the US, maybe LA or NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise. Doesn’t that sound fabulous?

– But señor, how long will this all take?

– Maybe 15-20 years.

– But what then, señor?

– 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 and make millions!

– Millions, señor?? Then what?”

– Then you would retire. 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, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…

– But that’s what I am doing already, señoMBA!!

My own fisherman story

I was a corporate executive and learnt EBITDA, the top line , the bottom line, consolidate, expand, cut costs, upsell, maximize profits. Our fable goes like this:

– Get more clients. – Then what? – Economy of scale gets us more bottom line. – Then what? – We can create more branches and bring more talent into our organization. – Then what? – Get more clients. – Then what? – More bottom line…

We had our justifications. As we chased after a better bottom line and EBIDTA, the focus on our client successes got fuzzier and fuzzier. What we were chasing after awhile seemed to actually be our own tails.

Is this your Fisherman story?

– Work more – Then what? – Earn more money – Then what? – I can get my kids private education. – Then what? – They will find great jobs. – Then what? – They can make more money. – Then what? – They can find good partners and have their own kids. – Then what? – They can send their kids to private education….

Stop chasing after your own tail

What if corporations stopped chasing their own tails and took stock of who they really are instead? Re-focus on their vision to support the lives of their employees and clients through their products and services. Often corporate leaders tell themselves that it’s what they’re doing, yet in reality, most of the energy goes into chasing more clients and more profit. And instead the original community vision takes the back-seat to the top and bottom line which take center stage. What is the purpose of it all?

What if we stopped chasing our tail and took stock of where we are. The purpose of our work is to support our family, remember? So let’s not get obsessed with our jobs and constantly prioritize work over our families. If we do, we’ll have completely lost our focus. In the process, we lose touch with our family and forget how to communicate with them. Why were we working so hard in the first place? That is right. It was for our family.

Live now, how about tomorrow?

So now we get what the fisherman was up to. It makes sense. We need to live ‘now’. The fisherman lives for today. He catches enough for today. It’s a cute story and it brings home the point. Why work yourself to death when you can already enjoy life. But, sorry to spoil the party, I would argue that there is one important factor the fisherman could learn from all this.

What about ‘tomorrow’? What if climate change affects his catch and he can no longer fish to support his family in the future? What if he gets sick and cannot go fishing anymore? He doesn’t need to postpone his desired lifestyle for 15-20 years for more money than his family will ever need, however, I’d argue that he will need to ‘ensure’ an equally peaceful and content life in the future, for himself and for his family.

A lesson for the fisherman

He will need to have some extra money to invest in the future – maybe just a few more fish a day to sell, a side hustle for a little extra income with his buddies or maybe just spending a little less to save money: maybe drink a little less wine. Invest the money that will support his family’s lifestyle regardless of internal and external changes in the future. The planning for the future can now ensure and sustain his seaside comfort and peaceful lifestyle.

The fisherman likes his job and his lifestyle now. He banks on the fact that the circumstances will remain identical for his lifetime. You have heard, “The only thing that is constant in life is change.” Many things can alter the steady course and change the environment for the fisherman and for us. What if one day our company merges with another and our particular role becomes redundant? Technology advancements can mean that we may no longer be needed because artificial intelligence can do the same job but better and cheaper. What if another pandemic comes around and we are no longer able to maintain our business ? Are we prepared for such events?

Aim for balance

How will you balance your best life now and your best life later?

For your best life now:

What will you stop doing?

What will you start doing?

For your best life later:

What will you stop doing?

What will you start doing?

Are you able to find a balance between those two sets of answers? Will you stop working at night and start spending more time with your kids instead? Will you start saying no to overtime and start prioritizing your partner instead? Will youl stop over consuming and start saving/investing more money instead? . My point is not to prescribe your best life, but to consider both now and later.

Material possessions hardly make for a good life; instead, it is our shared time together, living our lives aligned with our values, supporting others, both friends, family and even strangers. These things make a good life. Money merely plays a supporting role to our best life. Keep your priorities in sharp focus. Perhaps it’s time to design and live your best life now and into the future.

Contentment is the equilibrium between the enjoyment of life now and the anticipation of what is to come.

Prischilla Shirer

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