The blog of an average man managing the 1,440 minutes he's given each day

Are you the Fisherman or the Banker?

Just after I decided to wind down Copper my Mum reminded me of the parable of the Fisherman and the Banker. I remember first reading it in The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. The story goes:

An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.

The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican fisherman replied 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 replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take 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.”

The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”

Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, 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 could make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

As is usually the case, parables over simplify in their aim to highlight a truth, or sometimes several truths. I say several because people often see these truths quite differently depending on their own situation.

What I think Mum was trying to highlight was that the fisherman was able to do everything he wanted to now. Living a simple and enjoyable life within his means. He knew what he liked to do and he could live that life now. And that’s how I probably first read it.

But when I went back to it the other week, given my current situation, I read it differently.

My most recent take from the parable was that there are all different paths through life and it depends on who you are. And what’s actually most important is to recognise what makes you happy and live your own life.

When I think about their relative situations, I wonder. Was the fisherman able to see a simpler life because he hadn’t experienced what the banker had? Was the fisherman better at understanding what made him happy? Did the Banker love building businesses, growing them and listing them more than the prospect of sitting on a pier fishing right now? Or had he just not realised that was an option?

Amongst other entrepreneur and agency types there is often a desire or drive to exit with a sale. So they aim to build an agency that they can sell off in 5-10 years and cash out. This is generally the sign of a successful business. And a successful business-person. But is it any more successful than running a business that provides you the income you need to do what you want to do?

As I approach 40, and will shortly have no real job, life is about finding out what I really want to do going forward. Not looking at what other people are doing, or how they are doing it. It’s very easy to just take opportunities that present themselves and live amongst others doing what they do.

I find that in life there are people like the Fisherman, and perhaps the Banker, who are clear on what they want and can just do that. Then there are others who look at what other people are doing and live someone else’s life. And others still that just end up doing something, making a career out of it and not question where they’re heading. Until they retire.

I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve been ‘successful enough’ at 39.9 to be able to take this time mid-career break and figure out what’s next.

Perhaps I’ll build a fishing business.

Perhaps I’ll just buy a fishing rod.

Or perhaps I’ll just be searching for the next 25 years.

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