An American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.
Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The tourist 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 tourist then asked, "Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more fish?"
The Mexican said, "With this I have more than enough to support my family's needs."
The tourist then asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your 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."
The tourist scoffed, " I can 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 could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise."
The Mexican fisherman asked, "But, how long will this all take?"
The tourist replied, "15 to 20 years."
"But what then?" asked the Mexican.
The tourist laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."
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."
I came across this a few weeks ago and have been meaning to put it here, for my own reference if nothing else. This story elegantly illustrates one of the fundamental problems of the collective American psyche – the over-emphasis of material and financial “success”. More is always better. As one person put it: We live to work, they work to live.
One of the great things about America is that each individual is free to determine their own personal values and choose how they want to live their life. What’s so interesting is how little variation there actually is when it comes to those values and lifestyle choices. Our cookie cutter idea of success is so pervasive that the entire culture seems to be built around the acquisition of stuff and money. We express our unique, rugged individuality by pursuing the exact same goals as everyone else and conspicuously consuming the same products.
It’s worth noting that a population willing to work ever longer hours, sacrifice their personal relationships, time with family, and opportunities to pursue other areas of human development chasing this pre-packaged ideal, works out very conveniently for the ultra-wealthy business owner and executive class. In short, people who can never have enough make for great employees. The carrot and stick approach is a fabulous way to get the most out of your human capital. Sadly, it can easily be observed that even when people do achieve this very narrowly defined version of success they are still just as discontent as before, often even more so. This myth about what is supposed to make us happy and what we are supposed to be is probably one of the greater ills of our time.