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The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

This story, adapted from “Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral,” (“Anecdote Concerning the Lowering of Productivity”) is one of the most famous short stories from German writer Heinrich Böll. It’s one little story with many little lessons that mean many different things to all kinds of people.

For me, it’s an authentic reminder that happiness is living simply… and happiness doesn’t have to wait until retirement. Your first 65 years are too precious for that.

An American executive was taking a much-needed vacation in a Mexican coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs… I have a busy and full life.”

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I 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.”

“And after that?” asked the Mexican.

“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 of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Twenty, perhaps 25 years,” replied the American.

“And after that?” the Mexican asked.

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?”

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

Be where you are

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  • Georgette

    Great Story! Thanks.

  • Jenny

    Love, love, love this. My husband asked me to forward this email to him so he can print it off and hang it in his office. I’m going to ask him to print another copy for me. I live in northern indiana on 5 acres with an old farmhouse and a barn and 2 other buildings. We are on our way to being self sustainable. We don’t make much nor have much in USA terms but we are happy, very happy. This story speaks to me. Thank you so much for it.

    • Your homestead sounds wonderful. Being able to look around you and see all the fruits of your labor must be the most rewarding feeling ever. 🙂

  • Gretchen

    I’ve heard that story before, but didn’t know the source. Thanks for reminding us about living in the now.

  • Caitlin

    My favorite! Living simply is something I am always trying to be better at and thanks to a very tight budget and “simple” husband I am improving 😉 Thank you for the reminder!

  • Cary Bradley

    Priceless. Capped off by your knees ;). Thank you.

    • Those knees (and the boat above) were both photographed in Mexico… in a tiny village near the coast, of course. 😉

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