Once upon a time there was an investment banker. He lived in New York City, was phenomenally successful, and made a ton of money. But his life was busy, noisy, and very stressful.
So, once a year, he would leave the city and go down to a small coastal village in Mexico. For two weeks he would rest, relax, and allow himself to be rejuvenated.
One day he was standing on the pier just before lunch, looking out to sea, when he noticed a small fishing boat coming in to dock. He thought this was a little strange because most of the fishermen stayed out late into the afternoon, so they could catch as many fish as possible before coming in and preparing the fish for market.
Curiosity overcame him. So he walked over to where the fishing boat was about to dock. Looking into the boat, he saw just one fisherman and several large yellowfin tuna.
“How long did it take you to catch those fish?” he said to the fisherman.
“Not very long,” the fisherman replied with a smile.
“Is there something wrong with your boat?” the American asked.
“Oh, no,” the fisherman said. “In thirteen years I have never had a problem with the boat.”
The American was a little perplexed, so he asked the fisherman, “Why don’t you stay out there longer and catch more fish?”
The fisherman smiled again and said, “This is plenty here for my family right now. Some of the fish we can eat, and the others we can sell or trade for the other things we need.”
“But it’s not even lunchtime. What do you do with the rest of your time?”
“In the morning,” the fisherman explained, “I like to sleep late. When I wake I fish a little, mostly just for the pleasure of fishing. In the afternoon I play with my children and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings I have dinner with my family. And then, when my children are sleeping, I stroll into the village, where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends.”
The American scoffed and said, “I’m a Harvard MBA and I can help you.”
The fisherman was a little skeptical, but nonetheless he obliged and asked, “How?”
“You should fish longer every day,” the American counseled, “late into the afternoon. This way you will catch more fish and make more money, and you can buy a bigger boat. With the bigger boat you will catch even more fish and make even more money, and then you can buy another boat and hire another man to work the second boat.”
“But what then?” the fisherman inquired.
“Oh, we are just getting started! With two boats you’ll catch even more fish and make even more money, and before you know it, you’ll have a whole fleet of boats and every man in the village looking for work will come to you.”
“But what then?” the fisherman asked.
“Before too long, you can cut out the middleman, sell your fish directly to the cannery, and make more money. As your fleet of boats continues to expand, you can build your own cannery. And before you know it, you’ll be able to leave this small coastal village, move to Mexico City, and manage your expanding enterprise.”
“But what then?” the fisherman persisted.
“Well, then you can begin to ship your fish to different parts of the world. Down into Asia and Australia and up into North America. And as demand grows for your fish, you can leave Mexico City, move to Los Angeles, open a distribution plant there, and begin to ship your fish to Europe and every corner of the globe.”
“But what then?” the fisherman asked again.
The American continued, “By then your business will be one of the great ventures of the industry. You can move to New York City and manage your empire from the epicenter of the business world.”
“How long will all this take?” the fisherman asked.
“Twenty-five, maybe thirty years,” the banker explained.
“But what will I do then?” the fisherman asked.
The American’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “That’s the best part,” he said. “When the time is just right, you can go down to Wall Street, list your business as a public company, offer an IPO, and make millions and millions of dollars.”
“Millions?” the fisherman asked.
“More money than you ever dreamed you could earn in ten lifetimes,” the American explained.
“But what then?” the fisherman asked.
The American didn’t know what to say. He had reached his climax. He was stumped. But then a thought crossed his mind and triggered an idea, and he turned once more to the fisherman and spoke.
“Well, then you could move to a small coastal village. . . . You could sleep late. . . . You could fish just for the pleasure of fishing. . . . In the afternoons you could take siesta with your wife. . . . In the evenings you could have dinner with your family . . . and then you could stroll into the village and sip wine and play guitar with your friends. . . .”
I love this story. My friend Matthew Kelly wrote it in his bestselling book, Off Balance. What I’ve learned from Matthew is that more is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Yet, so many of us are addicted to more. More money. More success. More impact. More things. More…more…more!
Sometimes our lives (and organizations) operate best when we are not striving for more. We don’t have to live and lead like the fisherman in this story, but we do have much to learn from him. And who doesn’t want to sleep late, fish for pleasure, take a siesta with our spouse, have dinner each night with our family and stroll into town and sip wine and play guitar with our friends?