A Parable About What’s Really Important

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehension.

Where do your priorities lie?

Are you trying to make as much money as possible and retire on top? 

Or have you found the balance between your work life and investing in relationships with family, friends and activities you enjoy?

The following parable puts your choices in perspective

Use it as a guide when you’re considering spending an extra hour at work or missing your kid’s Little League game. 

Refer to it when you’re asked to squeeze another responsibility into an already-packed schedule.

Read the story and take it to heart – it just might make all the difference.  

The wisest choice

I’ve used this parable many times with audiences over the years. It was adapted from one of the most famous short stories from German writer and 1972 Nobel Prize winner, Heinrich Böll.

It’s one story with many little lessons that mean different things to all kinds of people. 

Even if you’ve read it before, it’s worth another review. Maybe you’re in a different stage of life than the last time you read it or perhaps something new will resonate with you this time around.

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders.

Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of the fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied, in surprisingly good English.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said, as he unloaded them into a basket.

“But…what do you do with the rest of your time?” the American asked curiously.

The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, and one day open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and ultimately New York City, where you would run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will all this take?”

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 to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”

What it means for you

Take a cue from the wise fisherman. He knew what really mattered in life.

Think about your current life situation: What’s important to you right now? Has it changed in the past few years? What changes can you make to have an outlook that’s more like the fisherman and less like the businessman?

Jim Rohn taught me to not major in minor things. 

That’s good advice. 

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