A Fishy Tale

July 25, 2005  

Here is a well-known story that humorously illustrates why goal-chasing can stop you from enjoying the life you want…now.

An American businessman was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin 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 the Mexican how he spent the rest of his time.

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

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 NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

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

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, senor?” 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. You’ll become very rich, you
would make millions!”

“Millions, senor?” replied the Mexican. “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 siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

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6 Responses to “A Fishy Tale”

  1. Alan on November 6th, 2005 1:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing this classical story.

    It is similar to the equally classical story about the famous sales trainer seeing a young salesman selling pencils on the street by simply saying “wanna buy a pencil:”.

  2. elizabeth on January 4th, 2006 11:26 pm

    I haven’t “worked” in over a year. I decided that I wanted to spend more time at home with my family and enjoy the kids’ early development. I gave up a “successful” career in marketing to become a homemaker. Why do I feel guilty about this or feel like I have an “L” stamped on my forehead for Loser? Conversations are cut short when I tell people I am a domestic goddess. Surely this is a higher calling than commercial success? I can tell you, nobody makes a meringue that even remotely compares with mine!
    To get back to the fish theme… At times I feel like a salmon swimming upstream.

  3. Stephen Shapiro on January 5th, 2006 10:27 am

    Elizabeth,

    People are often ostracized if they don’t fit society’s definition of success. However you shouldn’t feel like a salmon swimming upstream. I would like to think that you are actually doing things that give you great pleasure, in spite of what others think. Stand your ground. Another reason why you aren’t like a salmon…you would probably be eaten by a bear when you do get to your destination. Steve

  4. Rosario on January 13th, 2006 9:32 am

    I have two personal fish stories to contribute here.
    The first one resembles the Mexican story, the mine being a version located in the gorgeous turquoise Caribbean landscape of St. Andres Island, off Columbia coast. I travelled there often from Bogota during week-ends in a time when I was doing some free-lance work in the country. I had a romance with a fisherman, someone from whom, at this day, and after having worked and travelled extensively worlwide and met many people, I can say that still impact me with the memory of his natural dignity and deep harmony -totally aligned with the surroundings. I enjoyed days filled with color, swimming, fishing, eating the catchs, navegating, dancing, and just flowing into the pleasure of being alive. I thought: I could stay here forever. Life is precious, and these wise people know how to live well. One day, while navegating both in his four- seat boat, I asked him wanting to know more about his dreams: “What are your dreams for the future?, what would you like to get in a few years and feel satisfied when looking back?”. He paused long -just as the Mexican fisherman-, adopted a contemplative attitude like looking deep inside to the core of his being, and breaking the spell of that seemenly eternal moment stated very camly with a satisfied smile: “I would like to get an eight-seat boat”. His response I will carry forever. It had the power to convey the wisdom and beauty inherent in simple ways of living of many people around the world. But also to wake me up to my own difference, to the fact that actually I was a big dreamer and could not avoid so, or try to be someone else because I thought I was too complicated. Especially, I realised that I could not live there forever and live happily after with that man. I did not belong there. And love was something more than even acknowledging each other, it was about sharing similar dreams, values, and finding oneself rightly place when choosing to be with another. The heart would want that -deep inhabitance of my own potential landscape. So, obviously, even if I would find myself at the end of my days walking freely barefoot everyday -as my friend did- from home to work -the beach-, and feeding on fresh fish and coconut, it would take probably as long as the Harvard MBA fellow to close the loop. There is a purpose for everything and everybody, and no one can take our unique journey on our behalf. For it is our priviledge, and the way to finally come to embrace the commonness that underly behing our many difference.

    The other story is for Elizabeth. But I will take a break now and have my walk barefoot by the shoreline, here in beautiful Cadiz Bay of Andalusia, Spain. It’s sunny and people will be having delicious fresh fish out there!!.

  5. Rosario on January 13th, 2006 5:29 pm

    As for the fish story for Elizabeth, I see that you, Elizabeth, has named your own metaphor -a salmon swimming upstream. Now, it would be great if you would take it to work in your favor, not against it. I would like to contribute to that, following Stephen’s noble intent to comfort you, although adopting a different perspective. It is fascinating to me to think how often we choose and verbalize images, which carry a clue to our struggle, if only we look at what else the image can suggest apart from common stereotipes. I take it at heart the salmon image because I had decided a few weeks ago that illuminated partially my own process last year, and somehow deeply empathise with Elizabeth’s feelings. Salmon and trout are very courageous species. Their journey back to their place of birth is not a sign of weakeness, but of devotion, strenght and intelligence. Salmon is a sacred animal in many traditions. Its travel to the ocean simbolizes the journey to the collective consciousness. But the journey back in search of self-identity is simbolized by upstream return, a search for singleness and uniqueness, an offering of the awareness gained so far and the surrender to the longing to come home. Where is home?, where your heart is, where your longing have been dwelling secretly, unattended because of more urgent matters -the marketing job in your case, a consulting job in mine where I could have stayed longer if I would have wanted. However, the heart spoke again -oh, again!!-, training my controlling side to trust once more in a decision without a clear outcome ahead, but rather foggy and nebulose. I resisted -again-, but finally had to give way to this new turn of a very unconventional life journey -full of learning, and many zig zags. For me, similarly to you, there was a need to return to family, to nurture the heart, to attend the emotionality of my being, and to give it priority in order to be able to access new aspects of myself, which includes what I can and want to give back to others, to society. Salmon and trout function very intelligently, completely tuned to the hidden forces of water, knowing when and where to rest in fast-flowing waters, and how to jump over high waterfalls by using free energy generated from spinning motion of water. Viktor Schauberger, the brillian Austrian inventor, visionary and great water researcher, rightly called “the son of the forests”, was himself a free spirit misunderstood in the difficult times during and after World War II in which he lived. Many of his words remain relevant to this day, somehow prophetic in the light of so much technological misuse and environmental breakdown. His work on energy generation is being developed currently by his son and other researchers, mainly in Germany, and I hope that it will attrach increasing attention from spheres of decision-making and technological industry. Clues to credible sustainability for the future may lie there. So, a salmon swimming upstream is a wonderful image, very unique, and hope that may give you strenght and self-confidance, instead of doubt. You will probably reinvent yourself at later time into a new professional persona, after having drank from the emotional waters of connection and belonging. To further your curiosity I will say that the word Delphos in ancient Greek meant fish and womb, and that the words fish and tongue are related in many Indo-European languages. Also, that the fish-tongue association in Irish tradition relates to verbal conception, and the value of language, words, stories -told or written- for cohesion and exchange of gifts, not for separation. So, let the salmon carry you into the story you are creating out of your return to connection, and enjoy being the goddess of your own river of becoming. For your domestic territory sound to me that it does not include merely what is perceived conventionally as such, but a larger inner territory in your imagination that you have chosen to explore through the decision to listen to your heart first. Have fun with the jumps!!!.

  6. Goal-Free Living » Goal-Free Fun on May 2nd, 2006 2:28 pm

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