I don’t remember who told me this story or when, but it has stuck with me for many years now. I’m sure it’s been floating around for a while and things are tweaked from time to time – like nationalities, occupation, etc. That’s okay, it’s a fable.
And regardless, I love it. I think it perfectly illustrates what is wrong with the [stereotypical] American idea of work and “success”. This is a big part of what I’d like to explore by living abroad – gain a greater understanding of other cultures’ attitudes about work, play, life, family, etc.
An American tourist was visiting a small, coastal fishing village in Mexico when a boat pulled up to the pier. Inside was a single fisherman and a few fish. The American was impressed with the quality of the fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”
The tourist said, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?”
The fisherman said, “This is more than enough to support my family’s needs.”
The tourist asked, “Well, what do you do with the rest of your time?
The fisherman replied, “I sleep late. I play with my children. I spend time with my wife. And each evening I stroll to the village, have a drink, and play guitar with my friends.”
The tourist said, “I have an MBA and I can help you. You should spend more time fishing. With the proceeds from your extra catch you could buy a bigger boat. Then you could hire some men, catch some more, and buy even more boats. Eventually you would have your own fleet.”
“Really?” said the fisherman. “Then what?”
“Instead of selling to a middleman you could open up a cannery,” continued the tourist. “You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You could leave this village and move to city, then to Los Angeles or New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise.”
“And then what?” the fisherman asked.
“Then you could sell stock in your company. You’d make millions!”
“Wow. How long would all this take?”
“Probably twenty-five or thirty years. But then you would retire very rich.”
“What would I do then?”
“Then you could move to the coast and fish. You could sleep late. You could play with your grandkids. You could spend time with your wife. And each evening you could stroll to the village, have a drink, and play guitar with your friends.”