A Full Life

In the course of going through some old files in my office, I came across a yellowed printout of something I received about ten years ago. The author recounted a story he told his law students on the last day of class, knowing many of them were heading off to high-pressure jobs in an environment where earning more and wanting more were common.

The story told of a fisherman in a small Mexican village. When a young American tourist to the village noticed that the fisherman came back each day with his boat only about half full of fish, he asked the fisherman why. The fisherman responded that he caught only as much as he needed to take care of his family. In response to the tourist’s query what he did with the rest of his time, the fisherman said he had a very full life. After returning from fishing, he played with his kids, took an afternoon siesta with his wife and spent his evenings drinking wine and playing music with his friends.

The tourist (who had a business degree from a fancy North American university) explained that this just wasn’t satisfactory. Instead, he explained patiently, the fisherman should fish longer each day, which would allow him to save up enough money to buy a second boat. He could then hire some workers, which would allow him to continue making more money and buying more boats. The idea, explained the tourist, was to continue to expand to the point where he could take his business public, something that would take him about fifteen to twenty years, at the end of which he would be very rich.

The curious fisherman asked what he would do at that point, to which the tourist responded, Ah, then you could retire to a small, village, do a little fishing in the morning, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife in the afternoon and spend the evenings drinking wine and playing music with your friends.

There is a lesson in that story for all of us, not just end of semester law students.