The Parable of the Fisherman

My mom told me a story years ago, the origin of which I never knew. It was about a fisherman in a village and felt like a modern take on the parables of the Bible I’d grown up reading. The first time I heard it I thought it was interesting but didn’t dwell too much on it. But in recent years, I’ve come to think a lot about that story, and have realized it might have had a bigger influence on my life than I first realized.

I don’t know where the original story came from, and there is a myriad of variants floating around the web, but they’re all very similar. I took this version from Paulo Coelho’s blog:

There was once 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!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

I spend so much time worrying about whether or not I’m making the right decisions in my life. Am I saving enough? Am I working toward the right career? Should I have been married by now? Should my resume be better, do I need to volunteer more, should I be working longer hours??

I start to think I’m behind the pack and can’t possibly measure up to those around me. And in the business world, that’s probably true–I can’t. But I think I’ve been comparing myself to the businessman in the story, instead of the fisherman.

I don’t really care about wealth. I want to make enough money to live off of; I don’t want to end up homeless and destitute. But beyond that, I’m not focused on money. In a dream world, I get to travel and own a cat, which I’ve already successfully done while never making more than $15,000 a year.

My lack of cat at present is unfortunate but hopefully temporary. Beyond that, my life is good. So I’ve decided to stop comparing myself to the businessmen of the world and start comparing myself to the fishermen, and do what makes me happy.

What about you–are you a businessman or a fisherman?

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