The Mexican Fisherman Story – How Much Is Enough?
I recently ran across a story I’d heard years ago called, “The Parable of The Mexican Fisherman Story.”
Here’s the story both in audio and text form:
The Mexican Fisherman Story
An American businessman was standing 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 American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
“How long did it take you to catch them?” The American asked.
“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.
“But,” The American then asked, “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 a 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, senor.”
The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and 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 consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. 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 NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “About 15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions, senor? Then what?”
The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”
4 Lessons Learned
This story teaches some great lessons about life and money.
1) How To Think About Money
The first thing I thought about after reading this story was how it puts life in perspective.
What are we really working for anyway?
Jonathan Clements said it best, “We aren’t very good at figuring out what will make us happy.”
It’s true. Remember the hedonic treadmill? It’s a theory stating that people repeatedly return to their baseline level of happiness, regardless of what happens to them.
We adapt and get used to our “stuff” over a period of time.
Can you remember the last time you were dreaming of buying a new car or moving into a bigger home? Do you remember fantasizing about how happy you’d be if you attained those things?
Once you got them, what happened? That “boost in happiness” probably didn’t last as long or wasn’t as intense as you’d imagined. Most of us have gone through this cycle. I know I have.
2) Balancing Work & Life
The Mexican Fisherman story teaches us about contentment.
Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
Most studies about money and happiness state that earning more won’t make us happier. (I guess they didn’t interview my wife :)) I get that, but most readers of this blog should strive to make as much as they can during the “paying off debt” phase of their careers.
It also doesn’t appear that the Mexican fisherman had any debt. If that’s the case, he’s at a much different stage of his life that the debt-laden doctor.
What should we do instead?
3) The 10% Rule
My good friend Jimmy over at The Physician Philosopher created a new way to help in these situations. He calls it The 10% Rule.
This is where we decide to enjoy 10% of our increases in such things as:
- windfall money
It’s like applying the phrase “Take time to smell the roses” to becoming financially free.
An example of using this rule would be the resident making $5,000 per month to making $20,000 per month starting private practice. By applying the rule, he’d take ∼10% of this post-tax raise (or ∼$1,500) and apply it towards a moderately lifestyle creep. The other $13,500 would go towards debt reduction and/or investing.
It’s all about balance. As you are on the road to preparing your household for the future, be intentional about focusing on contentment. You can and should do both.
4) Don’t Forget to Enjoy Today
I know too many people that can’t seem to ever say the word, “No.” Each day, we’re constantly being pulled in several different directions at once and trying to say “yes” to everyone isn’t possible. Parents, you know what I’m talking about.
Spend your time intentionally. Don’t say “yes” to things that you aren’t passionate about. There’s power in saying “No!“
Like the Mexican fisherman, remember that you can work hard to earn a good paycheck. But the more you work, the less likely it is that you’re doing what you really want with your time.
The Physician Philosopher teaches this:
“In the end, time is the true currency of life. Not money. Don’t ever forget that.
Build the life you want to live right now, and save so that you can continue to do it without earning a paycheck later. You can and should accomplish both of these goals.”
Questions To Ponder
So here are some questions for you to ponder as you develop your own life plans for financial freedom:
- What’s your meaning of financial freedom?
- What really makes you happy?
- How much money do you need to retire?
- Would a simpler life allow you to retire sooner?
- What’s keeping you from living out your dreams today?
These are some of the questions I ask clients as part of the financial coaching process.
Only after gaining clarity around issues like these can you develop a financial plan.