The Businessman and the Fisherman – What’s Your Perspective?


The following is a classic Brazilian story, which I first heard my son tell during a presentation he was giving, and which I later found at Paulo Coelho’s web site.

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

My initial reaction when hearing this story was that I was on the side of the fisherman; if you’re already doing something that makes you happy, why would you want to change? You should be happy with what you’ve got.

But then upon further reflection I started to think that perhaps there’s more to life than just making yourself happy. If you have a gift, shouldn’t you share that with the world? If you have the chance to make the world a better place, shouldn’t you do so?

This fisherman could have grown his business and as a result employed several people, thus helping those individuals to pursue their goals in life.

Just think about life would be like if Walt Disney just drew his cartoons for his local newspaper, and then went out drinking each night. No Disneyland, no Disneyworld, none of those thousands of jobs at Disney, no booming town of Orlando.

What if Steve Jobs just let his and Wozniak’s idea for a personal computer be a fun little hack for the members of the Homebrew Computer Club, and then they went out for some pizza and soda afterwards? No Macintosh, no iPhone, and the thousands of jobs that were created at not only Apple, but the whole Apple ecosystem.

When I discussed this with my son, he told me that his perspective on the story was that you should not let someone else tell you what to do with your life.

So I guess that’s what makes the story such a classic. There’s multiple lessons to be learned from such a simple tale, and they are all valid viewpoints:

  • be satisfied with what you have
  • share your talents; serve others
  • live your own life, not someone’s else’s

I think it’s possible for the fisherman to do all of these at the same time, if that’s what he wanted to do. I think most people, when presented with the opportunity to potentially make a difference, would welcome such a challenge.

Rather than trying to persuade the fisherman with monetary riches, perhaps the businessman should have tried a different approach.

As Steve Jobs said to John Sculley, “Do you want to sell sugar water the rest of your life, or join Apple and change the world?”

I think even a fisherman would bite at that bait.

N.B. As one example of someone who is leading a simple life, on his own terms, but making a difference in the world, take a look at Leo Babauta’s web site.


One thought on “The Businessman and the Fisherman – What’s Your Perspective?

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