Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

The Fisherman and the Executive

A powerful executive was walking along the beach in a small coastal village, taking a much needed vacation. It was his first in more than 10 years. He noticed a small boat with just one fisherman pulling up to shore. Inside the small boat were several large fish. The executive complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, “Not very long.”

The executive then asked, “Then why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

To which the fisherman responded, “I have enough to support my family.”

“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” the executive asked.

The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos.”

The executive quickly interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and can help you. You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would then of course need to leave this village and move to the big city and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

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

To which the executive replied, “Twenty, maybe 25 years.”

“And after that?” the fisherman asked.

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the executive, laughing. “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? Really? Then what?”

“Then you could finally retire and move to a small coastal fishing village! There 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 would sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”

Clapboard image via Shutterstock

  • JTR

    Brilliant! Thank you.

  • David

    I my opinion it is a shame that you post this story without mentioning that it is inspired by “Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral” (EN: “Anecdote concerning the Lowering of Productivity”) by german author Heinrich Böll.

    Honor to whom honor is due.

    • David Friedlander

      indeed. thanks for that. we were not familiar with böll’s story.

    • Angela Ballard

      this story in many versions has been around a lot longer than that. It was common in Asian development circles in the 1990’s and likely Heinrich Boll was inspired by the simplicity of those fisherfolks. Perhaps the attribution belongs with them

  • Rob Eisner

    I am most sympathetic to the spirit of this, and in fact I tried to follow it with a frugal lifestyle during my working years and an early retirement, but the metaphor may have been poorly chosen. In fact, in our world today, it may be difficult to find an extended metaphor that does work to express this valuable sentiment. The Greek fishermen I knew and lived with and accompanied out on their caiques thirty years ago were having a heck of a time making ends meet in a world of already depleted of fish stocks, rising diesel costs, and incipient globalization. Today, this Romantic scenario is a chimaera all around the world, from New England to Tanzania.

    Naytheess, the essential point is well taken. And stoutly expressed, defended, and elaborated on Mister Money Moustache’s website:

    One of the reasons’ I originally went into university teaching was to have time–mainly for related intellectual pursuits–but also to be free of the 9-5 ratrace. That would be a mug’s game now.

    Rob Eisner

    • David Friedlander

      thanks rob for the comment. i agree, the simple life is becoming far more complicated to live. as i was reading the first few lines of your post, i was thinking about mmm (

      the essence of this parable is not be a fisherman, but rather be clear about what’s important and live accordingly, now–not one day, when. living a life focused on constant professional and commercial output tends to support the latter more than the former.

  • JMA W

    I would prefer to live the simple and laid back life of the fisherman than that of the executive. The last paragraph can only turn into a reality if he is lucky to survive the stress involved in an executive position and to live in good health long enough to enjoy all the amassed wealth.

  • It’s more fun to short the Harvard MBA guys. They are usually wrong, you can get rich in a much shorter period of time than 25 years, and you will have time for sleeping late, fishing, playing with your kids, siestas with your wife, strolling, sipping wine and playing guitar. But this is not a simple life.

  • WithheldName

    I’m very much like the executive, sadly. I don’t take vacations. I work way too many hours out of habit, fear, competitiveness, and low self-esteem. My life is mostly lonely, bitter, stressful, and monotonous. I read LifeEdited every evening as a way to relax because my soul cries out for an escape to a life that is more heart-felt, meaningful, and enriching. I dream of a minimalist life, free from material and monetary shackles, doing something that I love to do, making the world a better place, surrounding myself with people that care about me, and nurturing strong personal relationships. I’m 47 years old with a “solid” financial situation and I’m watching my life p|ss away down the drain and I’m constantly questioning what’s the point of it all.

    • It’s never too late to make a change, even a small one which could provide more satisfaction. As a student I enjoyed volunteering at an elderly assisted-living center. There are ways of adding joy to the world without leaving it all behind and having to move into a electric mini van that contains only 10 pair of clothing items. Even though I liked this tale, I would add that the above fable is wonderful (meaning the fisherman’s life) if you’re healthy and expect your offsprings to enjoy the same lifestyle. Alas, we need good healthcare and good education, and easy access to this. In some European countries you can be lower or middle class and still enjoy these basic necessities, but in most parts of the world you need hard earned cash to satisfy these basic needs.

      • WithheldName

        It’s funny you suggested volunteering at a nursing home. Just this week, I gathered the resolve to take a rare bold step and made a call to a nursing home located a mile from my house, offering to volunteer there. The first receptionist wouldn’t divulge the name of the person who coordinates the volunteers, which I thought was odd, but I didn’t mind. So I called back the next day as instructed. The second receptionist sounded a little guarded as well when I said I wanted to volunteer. I finally left a brief message with the person who coordinates volunteers…and I haven’t heard back from her…and it has been a week. As I read their website, something caught my eye. They advertise a specially-protected wing for female dementia patients. I think I’m starting to get the picture. So I guess it’s time to look for some other avenue to meaningful life change.

        • How weird, but generally speaking nursing homes always welcome extra people. Maybe there is something related to your profession that you can do pro-bono? Or maybe look into charities.

  • Rafaela

    I’ve heard diferent version of this story during last few years, and I must say It is the story that stuck with me the most.
    I could also add this video where he tells pritty much the same story