Financial Freedom and The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman

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mexfishIn the rush of our everyday lives, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reasons why we work and toil every day. Money is a tool, not the end.

I’ve seen several versions of this parable in various books and blog posts (like here and here), but haven’t been able to pin down the original source. Here’s my favorite variation:

An American investment banker took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village, on doctors orders due to his stress-related health problems. Unable to sleep, he took a walk along the pair and saw a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American 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 American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American 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 siestas 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 American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could 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 consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

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 siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I also use this story to remember to live and enjoy things now and not focus solely on the future.

Image credit: gogeid of Flickr

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  1. Longtime reader. Is it a coincidence that the website Early Retirement Extreme posted a nearly identical post just 6 hours before this? Or are you “borrowing” content?


    • Just coincidence, this parable is even older than Jacob’s 2010 post. As noted, this was most recently inspired by Om Malik’s post but scheduled and held for a “light” Friday post while I am on summer vacation.

  2. Definitely puts a lot into perspective here. Working on finances is great, but you still do need to live life and appreciate other things in it. Thanks for sharing this lovely story!

  3. brilliant..
    in the mad rush to riches, we shouldn’t forget to live all the beautiful experiences that life has to offer.

    don’t blow up the bank but go out to eat once or twice a week, grab a drink with colleagues, spend time with family, take an annual vacation for a week or two… These are the things I do – I am 30 and have ~200k in net worth but without all these experiences, my life would be incomplete.

    when I am 90 and counting my last years,
    these experiences will be more valuable to me than whether I have 2 or 3 million remaining.

  4. Great Post!

    You can replace the Mexican with any ethnicity, but the parable is a bit revealing of what the “American” represents. Who teaches us (I’m American) what it means to seize, capitalize, and crush it at life? Who is the American trying to compete or outdo against… the Mexican, other Americans, himself? Why does he make the recommendation to make millions to the Mexican? Who is happier? Who is naive?

  5. i don’t know any Americans like this, outside of sitcoms and bad TV dramas.
    Maybe Donald Trump, LoL.

    • Italiangirl2020 says

      I know a few Americans who have MBAs. That’s what they teach in the university. Yes, it’s exaggerated to make a point, but there are definitely people who think like that. Thanks for the story. Live life well beyond the physical stuff and relax. Who knows how long we’re here to enjoy it?

  6. The reason why I still keep my web design business VERY small (i work and sometimes hire a freelancer or two). This allows me to work from home (or anywhere – which means longer trips for us) and really focus on our family time. With a small kid, I really don’t want to miss the chance to see her grow.

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