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And after that?

A few years ago a dear friend of mine introduced me to this short story about “the fisherman”. It has traveled with me, tucked somewhere in the back of my mind… and also saved on a Pinterest board. I would like to share it with you today:

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small village. As he sat, he saw a local 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, “I already am.”

My mom tells a similar story about a server she met at a resort in the mountains. She is a [very] chatty mom and was waiting for the crew to come back from a hike. The server shared with her that she originally was going to school to become a lawyer and she wanted to make enough money to travel. Then, she got the bright idea that if her goal was to travel, she didn’t need to become a lawyer, she could do anything — and she could start right now. She moved, she got a job that was seasonal, and with her extra money, she traveled.

Here’s the thing, if your passion is to become a lawyer or become the owner of a fishing business, totally reach for that dream and make it happen. But if your passion is traveling or having a lot of freedom with your time, there are options. Sometimes, we confuse our goals with our tactics and how we plan to achieve those goals. Take a step back from some of your goals and see if they are your goals, or just your plan on how to achieve something else. I bet the answer will surprise you.

The story of the fisherman was originally written by Heinrich Böll in “Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral” (“Anecdote concerning the Lowering of Productivity”) and published in 1963.