How do YOU Define Success? A Mexican Fisherman’s Story


“Having more and being more” is generally defined as success to most people. In our human nature is a desire to achieve, to be successful. We all want success.


Mexican Fishing

“There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.”

We live in a world in which being successful is everything. Success is measured by accumulation of wealth, power, popularity, control, achievement, and winning. “The person with the most toys wins” is a fitting motto.

There’s danger in waiting to live the life that you really want to live. Accumulating this ‘success’ can take years, a businessperson can easily spend forty years climbing to the top of the financial ladder only to find it is all lost due to the business decisions of others or the changing world economics.

How do we measure success?

Can a person have too much success?

You may have heard the story about the Mexican Fisherman and the Harvard Businessman. This particular iteration was printed in Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week.

Ever since I first heard this famous parable, I have often thought of this story when faced with decisions in my own life.

The American Tourist and Mexican Fisherman

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 his 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 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, eventually opening 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 eventually to New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

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

To which 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…”

And the moral of this story is: “Know where you’re going in life…you may already be there.”

Why would I share a story about forgoing ambition in pursuit of relaxation?

Answer: because that’s not really what the story is about.

It’s not about doing nothing. It’s about finding out what you desire most. It’s about asking the question, “Why do it all in the first place?”

Don’t confuse your ends with means.

Due to modern society, we have been conditioned to never be content, to keep up with the Jones’ and strive to be like the Kardashians. Bigger and more.

Is life not enough?

Is more the answer?

Superficiality, consumerism, and a cloud of discontent surrounds the average person on a daily basis.

Is there a solution?

Determine who you are and what you’re about. Create your own life; your values, your beliefs, your systems for living based on what makes you happy.

Stop buying the unnecessary.
Stop buying false solutions.

Ralph Waldo Emerson defined success in a simple life, well lived as:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to learn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a little bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

I think the Mexican fisherman would have agreed with Emerson.

Remember – what YOU define as having success in life, may not be what other people around you would consider to be successful. The only thing worse than drifting without a plan is having your plans hijacked by someone else.

This is about YOUR life.

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