The Story of the Mexican Fisherman


Recently I read this great little story by Heinrich Böll. It’s simple, yet profound. It serves as a nice reminder that the life we dream of can be had without millions in the bank. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.

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 could buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, and 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, “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 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…”

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8 Replies to “The Story of the Mexican Fisherman”

  1. haha awesome story! I agree…who really is happier? The person who doesn’t make a lot of money, but is free to spend his time how he wishes. Or the person who makes a ton of money and works constantly?

    I’m sure they’re each happy in their own way because they are different people with different priorities. But you CAN be happy with or without a ton of money.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. It is a great story that slips the truth right up beside you before you know it. But what if you truly enjoyed your job? I spent over thirty years with one company rising from entry level into the top job and that competition and that growing responsibility was a big part of making me who I am now. I learned self confidence and developed courage and integrity from really difficult situations I had to face and overcome at work. Due to the nature of the job I saved a life and counseled and helped many others through personal problems and felt like I added humanity to the indifference of corporate life. When I retired early people were truly sad to see me go and when I run into my old team members they invariably tell me how much they miss the days when I was there. I truly love my retirement even more than my career but at the time of life when I worked I think that was the best place I could have been and I don’t regret working for so long. I think you need to enjoy every day, just like the fisherman in the story. If you can’t manage to enjoy the trip then you might not enjoy the destination either. Great post!

    1. That’s awesome that you had such a fulfilling career! I think it’s all about contributing and growing in life. If you’re able to contribute and grow at a traditional job, there’s really no reason to quit that job. But for most people, they aren’t as fortunate and they don’t finding meaning and fulfillment at their job. For these people, it can help to see that they can gain back their time by retiring early so they can actually pursue things that make them feel fulfilled. I agree – the trip lasts much longer than the destination so it’s important to enjoy the trip. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Thank you, Zach!!! I have retold that story so many times but never could figure out how to find the source! You have made me very happy today! Simple pleasures, Kate

  4. Well this is a romantic little story and it does give a warm feeling deep inside.
    However, it over simplifies things a little. What happens if the fisherman himself, or someone in his family is afflicted by a terminal illness such as cancer?
    What happens if due to over fishing, he’s not able to get enough fish in his village and has to move somewhere else?
    Fact is – there are a lot of things that can add a lot of stress in your life – unless you have some money stashed in the bank for emergencies (big and small). And I doubt the fisherman in this story pays though to things like those.

    1. I agree with you, there’s no doubt money in the bank is great to have to throw at life’s problems and stresses. I think the main theme in this story is that we often need far less than we think to live a “rich” life. Chasing status, excessive wealth, and “stuff” often doesn’t lead to happiness like we think it does. Obviously the story doesn’t touch on the reality that unfortunate circumstances may come our way, but I think it’s a great story with an important message nonetheless.

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