The parable of the Mexican fisherman

welzijn of welvaart

No better story to illustrate the pursuit of prosperity and well-being than this parable of the Mexican fisherman. This parable is also sometimes called ‘the rat race paradox’. What lessons do you learn from this?

Fishing boat

An American businessman is on holiday in the south of Mexico. He stands on the pier of a picturesque fishing village, enjoying the sun, when a fishing boat enters. The young Mexican at the helm steers the boat to the jetty to unload his catch of the day. The American is curious to learn how long it took the fisherman to gather his loot. “About three hours,” the fisherman answers.

The businessman looks at the fisherman with incomprehension and asks why he’s already quitting for the day. It is after all only afternoon and there are still plenty of fish in the sea! The Mexican pushes his hat back a bit and replies: “I have caught enough to support my family”. The American nods to indicate that he understands, but what does the fisherman do for the rest of the day?

“I enjoy it,” the fisherman replied, “with my wife and children. We gather around the BBQ and eat the day’s catch. Followed by a siesta, a real joy in the afternoon, and at night, I go to the village, play a little guitar and have a beer with my friends.”

The American dismisses the Mexican’s words. “Look here, I graduated in economics. I can help you to improve your business.” Did the fisherman ever think of how much additional revenue he failed to collect? If he went out in the morning to provide for himself and his family, he could well work afternoons to expand his business? The fisherman would be amazed by the result!

A genuine business plan

The businessman makes a quick calculation and describes how the fisherman could raise the necessary money in six months’ time to buy a larger boat, so he could increase his fishing quota. It would only take a year before he would have enough money for a second boat, and then the sky would be the limit. His profit margin would more than double so that, in the short term, he could own a small fleet. According to the businessman, the fisherman could even start dreaming of a real empire. The businessman calculates how, after a decade, the fisherman no longer has to go fishing himself, but have his staff work for him, while he manages the business’ strategy moving forward. He could buy a house in Mexico City or even New York and continue to expand his business from there.

Now the fisherman stares at the businessman with incomprehension. What would be the objective of such an undertaking? “And then, Señor?” the Mexican asks.

Save the best for last

The American laughs loudly: “Then comes the best part! When the time is ripe, after about twenty years or so, you will sell your business, pocket several millions and then you will be rich beyond reason!” The American’s face beams with delight.

The fisherman scoffs and asks what he should do with all those millions. “With that amount of money, you can retire in no time, buy a nice place in a picturesque fishing village, enjoy a delicious BBQ with your wife and grandchildren, and at night, go to the village to play a little guitar and enjoy a beer with your friends. Heaven, right?”

Mexican wave or American dream?

If you read this story, what is your take on life? Do you recognise yourself in the Mexican or are you more like the American?

Curious to learn how you can work on your well-being and happiness at work? Be sure to have a look here.

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