The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman and the Banker



Back in 2006, when I was a last year´s student at uni (Msc in Business Engineering) and my classmates and I were getting closer to the diploma ceremony, some fellow student sent us the story of the Mexican Fisherman and the Banker. By that time many of us (including myself) had already secured our first jobs and were simply ready to become future CEOs, Financial sharks in the City, “Masters of the Universe”, you name it…so the story came as surprising and as a refreshing view of what in life really matters.

I got the story in the back of my head since then but it is only recently that it surfaced again as I was reading Timothy Feriss´excellent book The 4-Hour Workweek (One of my best reads this year, I even offered a copy to a colleague!). The story is not new and has been around for a while. It offers a challenging view on how to set priorities in your life.

Here is the parable as told in the 4 Hours Workweek:

An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.

The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?

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

The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats until eventually, you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”

Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, 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 could make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Interesting story right?

Here are a few thoughts on it

  • Enjoy the simple life!

I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, señor

That simply sounds amazing, if you replace some parts here and there it is basically what I enjoy or look forward to. My ideal future is this: Sleep enough, write and read a little, spend time with my friends and family, eat well and sip good wine, play the guitar and as well go dive more. My cousin was in Paris with her little family and yesterday I invited her over for dinner, just the fact of buying food in the rue de Levis already made me happy (I love that street) and then at dinner we had a great time. I did not spend a fortune and we had a great moment, that is how it should be right? Simple pleasures of life.

  • Spend less than what you earn

What makes us happy does not need to cost a lot or eat our budgets. Focus on what you need and avoid spending your money on useless stuff that will not bring any long-term happiness. Does our Mexican friend need to live in a huge hacienda or live in a modest but decent house? Does he need that large 70″ flatscreen or the 999-channels cable package (including the Icelandic TV channels) to make him happy? Probably not, he earns less than the investor and probably worries less as well. For several reasons it is natural to spend more the more you earn, this allows you to afford more comfort and more luxuries, however at some point one needs to stop this endless cycle since it will not allow you to save for later days. This way of thinking keeps us as well in the rat race and stresses us out. The idea I want to convey is not to live in a shabby house or to eat canned ravioli every day but just to focus better on your spending habits and actual needs to get closer to the Fisherman´s simple lifestyle as soon as today. This simple lifestyle may not be what you are looking for right now but I am convinced that if not today the benefits, in the long run, are: less stress, gradual improvement of your financial situation, and even reach a point where you won´t need to work anymore.

  • Retire earlier

When re-reading the story in the 4-Hour Workweek I thought to myself: Why wait until you are 62-67 to go enjoy your pension to live the simple life you are dreaming of? So far two non-mutually exclusive ideas have emerged :

– A frugal lifestyle today will allow one to enjoy life today and save more with the positive consequence of accelerating the way to financial independence.

Another way which I have not yet experienced is to follow Tim Ferriss´concept of Mini-retirements :

I started to ask myself, “Why not take the usual 20–30-year retirement and redistribute it throughout life instead of saving it all for the end?” 

The mini-retirement—entails relocating to one place for one to six months before going home or moving to another locale. It is the anti-vacation in the most positive sense. Though it can be relaxing, the mini-retirement is not an escape from your life but a reexamination of it— the creation of a blank slate.

  • Do what you like

As Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) says in Vicky Cristina Barcelona: “Life is short, life is dull, life is full of pain. And this is the chance for something special“. Do you want to spend all your life working at a job you hate?  No one wants that, so spend your time doing what you love, what you are passionate about.  Why not start safely with a side “hustle”? It could be to sell your paintings, play as a freelance guitarist, or start a blog about a topic you are passionate about. I currently enjoy my corporate job but starting this blog is helping to develop additional skills, will generate income, and most importantly it gives me great satisfaction.  The key element is to start.

  • Which way to choose: The fisherman or the banker?

There is no correct pre-formatted answer for this, everyone will have a different opinion, I have created the post as well to make you think about priorities in life. What I personally take out from this story is that a sound balance between the two should do the trick. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life, live frugally like the Fisherman while making sure your income whether, from your employee job, entrepreneur job, and/or side hustle brings you more money than you spend so you can invest that excess as the banker would do.

Let me know your thoughts!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. That means I may make a small commission (at no cost to you) if you make a purchase. This will help to support Joney Talks!

6 thoughts on “The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman and the Banker

  1. This story makes us take things with distance. I think you have highlighted very good points. The question that is implied by the story, and which I think is important to understand, is why do we start as a banker in the first place, and why not take the shortcut directly to be a fisherman?

    1. Dear The Lean Fox, yes that is indeed the whole point of this parable to make you reflect on this. Is it consumerism that makes us “bankers”? Is it the need for status? The need to prove ourselves? Social pressure? Because we have been taught that one should aim at being a “banker” (or any other type of high-paid professional) and that it is the only way to succeed and be happy in life? There are so many reasons possible and imaginable! Anyway if you had not heard of the story before, this is an invitation to take a break and think.

    1. The good thing is you can already start today and from your blog and tweets I can see you are already signed up 😉

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