The Fable About a Mexican Fishing Village That Reshaped My Views on Money

Julianbasic

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A few weeks ago, I came across a fable in a book I was reading. I thought nothing of it at the time, I simply placed a bookmarker there and moved on. Placing that bookmark was a pivotal moment in how my attitude towards money shifted.

It outlines a rich American businessman on vacation in a small Mexican fishing village. He talks to the fisherman about his work, and how much money he could be making. The fable comes full circle at the end with a beautiful insight into how simple life can actually be.

It argues that money is not the end goal. Sometimes just living contently is enough to give you that satisfaction money chasing will never give you.

This fable got me asking myself, ‘what's the point of it all?’. It was eye-opening to finally validate my thoughts that money will never equate to happiness.

This fable is an excerpt taken from The 4-Hour Work Week’ by Tim Ferriss.

Fables & Fortune Hunters (An excerpt of The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss)
An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the 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 in surprisingly good English.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.
“But… What do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and 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 laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”
He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually to New York City, where you could run your expanded enterprise with proper management.
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, senor, how long will all this take?”
To which the American replied, “15–20 years, 25 tops.”
“But what then, señor?”
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 señor? Then what?”
“Then you would retire and 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, and stroll in to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Free Yourself From the Trap

Let me ask you this question, are you guilty of conforming to societal norms when it comes to money? This is a pretty easy answer for most of us. Yes, we are. 

The average retirement age in the US is 67.9 years of age. Think of all the people who worked for the sake of working from their 20s to their late 60s out of the sheer fear of being different.

Just like the American businessman in the fable stated, he thinks that everyone has the goal of building a multi-million dollar business empire. The sad truth is that most people consider this to be their ultimate goal. To make millions by working their ass off.

This is where I’m different. I don’t want millions. Why would I spend over half my life dragging myself through misery to then go on to retire? Have you ever considered that maybe that ‘retired’ life you seek is actually only a step away?

85% of the one billion people employed in full-time employment reported feeling unhappy in their jobs. Let that sink in.

Mr. Money Mustache retired at age 30 to go on to live on $22–27k a year. That’s all it took for him. The fact why this is so surprising is because 56% of US citizens believe that you need to earn over $100,000 a year to be considered ‘rich’. But then you look at figures like Mr. Money Mustache, who with a little bit of calculated frugality, get by comfortably on less than $30k a year.

Factor in Your End Goal

The reason why this fable is so impactful is that the businessman describes his ideal life after retirement as the current life that the Mexican fisherman is living.

The only difference is that the businessman is willing to work an extra 25 years to get to the position of fisherman. That’s 25 years wasted when there are people who automatically live that life without all the stress you endured to get there.

This is where thinking about your end goal is important, because it may not be as far away as it seems. It seems like society has set up two paths for everyone. One that goes around the forest, through treacherous snowstorms and cold weather, then a second path. This other path is hidden, goes straight through the forest, and is ladened with a red carpet. The simple route.

Just think about your end goal for a second. 

  • Where would you like to be after retirement?
  • What would you like to do?

Let’s say we aspire to retire to a small Mexican village by the sea as the fable describes. To live in relative luxury in Mexico will cost you $22,680 a year, or $1,890 a month. This factors in all living costs: food, gas, house, electricity, everything.

Now think about this. Do you really need to make millions by working for 25 disgustingly stressful years to live on less than $2,000 a month!?

When you break down your end goals like this, you may realize that they are a lot closer than you think and that the commonly trodden path will seem like lunacy when you just start to think outside the box.

Final Thoughts

Why chase something you can never catch when the better alternative is right under your nose? It’s a question I ponder on almost daily and find myself more than guilty of. It’s the paradox of overcomplication.

We overcomplicate everything, including personal finance and how much money we think we need.

This fable taught me that money isn't the end goal, and that a satisfied life doesn’t automatically require decades of grueling, torturous work. 

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I am an entrepreneur from London with a passion for reading and writing about self-improvement, productivity, fitness, history, philosophy, and happiness.

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