The Mexican Fisherman (amazing short story)


The short story of The Mexican Fisherman was originally told by Heinrich Böll about an encounter between a tourist and a small fisherman on a European coast.

I remember first hearing this inspiring story when I was in my “dream job” as a Dean of Students. I shared the story with my students to encourage them to keep perspective about pursuing what makes them most passionate in life … and why.

The more I shared this story with others, the more I realized how much perspective I had lost myself. Soon thereafter, I resigned that amazing dream job to pursue another dream of motivational professional speaking. A lot of people thought I was crazy.

A lot more people thought I was crazy when I decided to move out of my home and buy a sailboat. I named her “Why Knot?”

I lived on that sailboat for nearly two years, anchoring her in Oriental, NC, New Bern, NC, and then Carolina Beach, NC where she now resides.

The Story of the Mexican Fisherman changed my life, and I have a feeling it might just change yours too.

The story has been told, re-told, and adapted through the years. I’ve shortened it for you – you’re welcome. If you’ve never heard this story, you’re in for a real treat.

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village late one morning when a small boat docked. Inside the small boat was just one fisherman who had already caught several large fish. The American complimented the fisherman on the fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman 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 caught plenty enough to provide for his family’s needs for quite a while and even to give some fish away to others in the village.

The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, and stroll into the village where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed. “I am an experienced businessman and can help you,” he said. “You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could have a fleet of fishing boats, open up your own cannery and control all of the distribution,” he said. “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to a bigger city to run the expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will that all take?”

To which the American replied, “Oh, 15 to 20 years or so.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time was right, you would sell your company and become very rich. You would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?” asked the Mexican.

The American said, “Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”

“I already do that,” said the Mexican fisherman.

There are so many lessons to take away from this story. A few of mine are below…

You don’t need to wait until “someday” or until you make more money, have a big car (or boat), or own your own successful business to have a better life and be an even more beautiful person.

In fact, Airbnb a “tiny house” somewhere to experience a smaller living space. Or make fewer obligations for just one week. What you likely will find is that life becomes a bit sweeter when you do what is in your control, and power, to keep things simple. It’ll have an effect on other aspects of your life as well.

** When I was 12 years old, I went on a mission trip to Costa Rica with my church youth group. Our “mission” was to help build a church for this small, tiny village. I don’t remember much from that trip, but I remember those people we met had practically nothing. Yet, and more importantly, I remember them being the happiest people I had ever met.

Sometimes the simple, basic things that can give us true happiness are right in front of us, if we could only keep perspective to find happiness and gratitude in “enough.”

The story of The Mexican Fisherman offers us an opportunity to reflect on what makes us most grateful and happy. And we could be doing more of those things right now.

You don’t need to wait for retirement to do what you love.

You don’t need to wait for “someday” to write that book. (btw, I recommend Write Way Publishing Company)

You don’t need to wait to start a new hobby or build a skill. Dream BIG now and start small.

Find someone who is already doing what you want to do more of and ask them questions about how they did it … for example, if you want to write a book or build your speaking skills, let’s have a conversation!

The time is now. Plant new seeds now so that opportunity will begin to grow. Living the life you dream of can be lived without having millions in the bank or waiting for “someday,” respectfully.

Now this story can be critiqued for the fisherman living “paycheck to paycheck” or “what if the fish disappear?” or “what if his boat is damaged?” But I hope that’s not the takeaway you have for reading this story.

Instead of asking yourself “what if?” instead ask yourself “Why Knot?”

We started Airbnb’ing our sailboat last year and our guests staying aboard or that we’ve taken out on sailing charters have shared it has been an amazing experience. A few guests like Jody have even bought their own sailboat afterwards!  Visit our Airbnb sailboat link here!

Your time is now.

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