There once was a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”
The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”
The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
There was a point not long ago when I was certain I was the fisherman - that living minimally would be enough so long as I had the beauty of nature and the love of those most important to me nearby, that this was all I needed to be happy. I'd dream up different variations of the fisherman's life - one of my alter egos works and lives in a hostel on Ipanema Beach, another works at a coffee shop in Prague and lives in a small flat overlooking the old town square, another volunteers at an elephant conservation program out on the African Savannah, and yet another is perfectly content with the simple life that island life brings when living in a small hut with your boyfriend, cat, and dog. In fact, my immediate interpretation of the story when I first read it was totally different than my understanding of it now. At the time, I remember thinking the businessman foolish for taking such a long and windy path just to end back where he could have easily started. I mean seriously, what is the point of going through all that work just so you can finally experience what you had all along? Why? And so life happened. As did reluctantly coming to the realization, fisherman I am not.
Not that there's anything wrong with being the businessman, but I'd always identified more with the spiritual, creative types, those who are at peace and happy playing guitar around a bonfire, painting, taking photos, writing, all that creative, artistic stuff, people who find joy in the simple things in life, who don't feel the need to fit into the molds of society, people who try their best not to consume more than they need to and give back when they can. These are not unambitious people - they have different beliefs, different values, typically not buying into this whole "work hard, make money and succeed" mentality that most parents raise their kids with. And that's also not to say that the businessman doesn't enjoy these things, that there has to be such a divide between the two types of people... But I have slowly come to realize how important the journey of success is to me - the journey of the businessman - a different one than that of the fisherman. Much like what Richard St. John (as reworded by Chris Bailey) says in his TED talk below, "Success isn't a destination, it's a continuous journey that's made of eight parts: passion, hard work, focus, pushing yourself and others, having great ideas, making constant improvements, serving others, and persistence." Now, if I could only focus... my attention span is unusually short.