The Fisherman Story: How to Live Intentionally

The fisherman story: A humble fisherman peacefully catches fish

The fisherman story is a variation on the short story Anecdote Concerning the Lowering of Productivity (also known as To Work or Not to Work), originally written in German (Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral) by German author Heinrich Böll.


A businessman was at the pier of a Mexican coastal village when a small boat with a single fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large, high quality tuna. The businessman complimented the fisherman on the fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

“Only a little while,” replied the fisherman.

The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s needs.

“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” asked the businessman.

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, then stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos,” the fisherman replied. “I have a full and busy life.”

The businessman scoffed.

“Listen, I can help you,” the businessman said. “You should spend more time fishing—with the money you earn, you could buy a bigger boat. Then, several boats. Eventually you’d have a whole fleet!”

“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you could sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You could move to Mexico City, or L.A., or New York, where you would run your global enterprise.”

“But, how long will this all take?” the fisherman asked.

“About 15 to 20 years,” replied the businessman.

“And what then?” asked the fisherman.

The businessman laughed.

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

“Millions? Then what?” inquired the fisherman.

“Then you’d retire. Move to a small fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings, where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The fisherman just smiled.

“Thank you for your advice.”

The lesson for business owners

The parable  of the Mexican fisherman gained special meaning to me when I started working for myself.

I never planned to be an entrepreneur. I worked for the same organization for 13 years, and I loved my work. But when my wife and I had children, we decided to move closer to her family, in her home country of Germany. As I struggled to find work, I eventually started my own business.

The beginning was tough. My company was like my child. I raised it. Nurtured it. Watched it grow. It taught me lessons that I never would have learned otherwise, and for this I’m thankful. It was a very rewarding experience.

But it became dangerous. Because eventually…

I started to love it.

I loved it so much I wanted to work all the time. If I was away from work for more than a couple of hours, I felt uncomfortable. As soon as I got an opportunity, I was back in front of the computer.

After time, I realized this is a major problem. I already had children—real children. And a wife. And other things in life that I care about more than my business. I think most of you do, too. But when you own a business, and especially when you enjoy the work, all of those things start to play second fiddle.

It’s not who I wanted to become.

But the great thing about life is that we all have freedom of choice. What we do with our choices shapes not only who we are today, but also who we will become.

Some company owners say you have to eat, breathe, and sleep your business. If you don’t, the competitors who do will eat you alive.

But that’s not true.

Don’t get me wrong—starting and maintaining a business is hard work. But I know those who have done it while keeping a good balance.

Business owners who were also good husbands, and fathers. In fact, they were good husbands and fathers first, business owners second. I wanted to be one of them.

If you want to create the next Unicorn, then you’re probably going to have to work all the time. That’s your choice. I chose another direction.

I chose the path of the fisherman.


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