Be more with less: A salutary tale

The tension between needs and wants is often what fires the ambition in us all.

Sadly we listen to the voice in our head that says “more”, even when we know that is rarely the right answer. Giving into needless drive is the fastest way to create an unhealthy life/work environment and balance – In simple terms, work for works sake or just to make money is fatally flawed.

We should aspire to be rich in experience, rich in relationships, and rich in free time. Mostly, these cannot be bought with money, in fact each of these are negatively impacted by a busy work life. Lots of folks are busy at work – and that’s a shame.

I’m reminded of the oft-quoted story of the American banker and the Mexican fisherman.

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.”

Yes, we know the story has holes but the principles hold true – if you can find your happiness within your existing environment then do that. Chasing pipe dreams and unsustainable growth or money goals is destructive to you and most the folks around you.

I like to sleep late, work a little, take time for my family, and stroll to the pub with my mates. Idyllic living, a modest kind of life that specifically avoids chasing a bigger house, posher car, or over-consumption. Keeping it simple.

By Martin Dower