What’s Your Definition of the Good Life? World Peace ~ Love & Laughter ~ Art & Innovation ~ Giving & Gratitude ~ Friends & Family ~ Money & Fame ~ A Healthy Mind, Body & Soul?
Fifteen years before I wrote The 4 Essentials of Entrepreneurial Thinking, a friend sent me a fable about how we define success. I included the principle in my book as Skill #1. Hybrids of the famous story floated on the Internet for decades, written by countless poets with themes from pirate’s tale to Buddhist myth. Curious to its origin, I stumbled upon a German writer named Heinrich Böll, a Nobel Prize winner who wrote a parable in 1963 about a traveling businessman who attempts to lecture a humble fisherman about success. Instead, the biz guru learns a valuable life lesson from the fisherman.
A modern version of the fable written in 1996 is titled “The Mexican Fisherman” by Dr. Mark Albion, a former Harvard business professor. In 2009, Mark changed the title to “The Good Life.” When I told Mark about The 4 Essentials, he graciously approved my spin on the famous fisherman’s tale. I hope you enjoy it …
Harvard Joe and the Fisherman by Cliff Michaels
After graduating from Harvard Business School, an American stock broker named Joe decided to take a vacation. He chose a small island, famous for a quiet and friendly fishing village. If only to take his mind off work a few days, Joe vowed he would fish a little and avoid the money-talk so prevalent on Wall Street.
On his first vacation day, Joe strolled the beach. He spotted a small fishing boat coming into shore. Inside the boat were a lone fisherman and a fresh catch of large yellowfin tunas. Dozens of tourists were handing over cash as the fisherman docked his boat. Joe was so impressed, he complimented the fisherman and asked how long it took to catch so many beautiful fish. “Not long,” said the fisherman. “The supply is endless in this treasure cove.”
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” asked Joe. “You would certainly make more money in such rich waters.”
The fisherman smiled and said, “Oh, I catch more than enough to support my family and lifestyle.”
“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” asked Joe.
The fisherman replied, “I read, nap, and play with my daughters. Some days I teach kids how to fish. Other days I play soccer with school children. In the afternoons, I stroll into the village where I sip wine with my lovely wife and play guitar with my friends. Most nights we cook fish and share recipes with tourists.”
“Wow, you have tons of free time!” said Joe. “Listen, I have an MBA. I can help you vastly expand your business. If you simply spend more time fishing, you would earn enough money to buy a bigger boat.”
“Really?” asked the fisherman.
“Absolutely,” said Joe. “And with a bigger boat, you could catch enough fish to buy several boats and then a whole fleet. At that point you would be successful enough to sell directly to a processor, cut out the middleman, and vastly increase profits. Then you could open your own cannery and control distribution.”
“Then what?” asked the fisherman.
“If all goes well, you’ll find yourself in a big city, running a rapidly expanding empire,” said Joe.
“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman.
“Not long at all. Maybe 7 years,” replied Joe.“With me as your CEO, I’ll bet we can do it in 5 years if we hustle. I’m all about the hustle!”
“Then what?” asked the fisherman.
Joe grinned and said, “When the time is right, we could take the company public or sell to the highest bidder. At that point, you would be very rich — a millionaire many times over.”
“Really? A millionaire? Then what?” asked the fisherman.
“What do you mean?” asked Joe.
“I mean, what would I do if I was a millionaire?” asked the fisherman.
“Whatever you like,” said Joe. “You could retire, move to a coastal village, fish a little, play with your kids … sip wine at night with your wife … play guitar with friends … and …”
Without another word, Joe and the fisherman shared a good laugh. The fisherman then invited Joe to return for dinner. By sunset, the fisherman had built a small fire to share his catch-of-the-day with tourists. Joe arrived just in time for the most scrumptious fish he ever tasted. As the sun faded, Joe and his new friends sang along to soothing sound of the fisherman’s guitar.“Ahhh,” Joe whispered. “The good life.”
From Harvard Joe to the island fisherman, success means different things to different people at different stages in life. Kids dream of becoming an artist, athlete, or rock῾n’ roller. Athletes hope to break records and win championships. Parents want the very best opportunities for their kids. Third-world villagers need food, shoes, clothing, shelter, education, medicine, and clean water. Volunteers and social entrepreneurs measure success by giving back. We all search for love, health, and happiness. Clearly, definitions vary. But successful people share a common thread. They define success with purpose behind passion and a journey without compromise. At some point, we all have to define it.
Are you there yet?