Living Slow: The Hawaiian Fisherman and the Mexican Fisherman

I was in Hawaii this past week, and my family took a fishing trip up the coast of Kona on a beautiful sunny Tuesday. One of the crew members was a nice, happy man in his 60’s who has been a fisherman his whole career. We got to talking, and he proceeded to tell me that when he first made the decision to become a fisherman in his 20’s, his father was very disappointed in him. He went to UCLA and completed all his biology courses and was on his way to becoming a dentist. But he just couldn’t do it. He even worked as a lab technician and the margins gave him nightmares. It still gives him nightmares to this day, he joked. Shortly after working for a lab tech, he came to Hawaii and decided to become a fisherman for the rest of his life. His dad was embarrassed of this fact, because all the kids of his friends and family were becoming professionals. Lawyers, doctors, and engineers. And when his friends would ask him, “Hey, what’s Frankie up to?” He would have to tell them, “Fishing”.

Well eventually, his dad accepted it all when Frank caught the largest marlin on record. Over a thousand pounds! He even showed us the newspaper article of his catch. Well that day, they were walking back from the dock, and his dad said, “You know son, you did good.” At this point of his life, he had just bought his own boat, gotten married, bought a house and was about to have his first kid. And he got the record for catching the biggest fish. And he said, “Dad, I’m going to be just fine.”

I then asked Frank if he ever heard of the Mexican Fisherman parable. I had just read it on the flight to Hawaii from Erin’s Chasing Slow. He said he hadn’t, and so I told the following story to him:

An American investment banker was 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 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, 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 the processor, 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 told him I was glad he didn’t become a dentist. I told him that I was a dentist who looked forward to living a life like his. I love my job, and I can call my own hours and can pretty much do as I please. I pursued dentistry because I wanted to be in a profession that gives back to the community and helps others, that contributes to something past myself. But the loans tie me down. I am chasing the slow life, but it’s still a chase. He was already living the slow life and has always been. It’s nice to know that he was free from anything that could have tied him down. He said that a buddy of his says the same thing. His buddy is in his late 70’s and everyone keeps asking him, hey man, when are you going to retire? To which his buddy says, “Let’s see, when I retire, I would spend my days fishing and playing golf. Oh wait! That’s what I do now!”

We’ve all got an American Dream, but I am starting to think that some people have the dream all wrong.

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