Choose to be the fisherman

Choose to be the fisherman

It’s 5:00 on Wednesday, 13 July 2022. It is a clear morning and the full moon is gently lighting up Lombok. In case you missed it the full moon in July 2022 is known as the thunder full moon or supermoon and is the largest of the year.   In scientific terms, it was the closest full moon to the earth for this year. If you missed it, you will need to wait until August 2023 to see the full moon this close again. As I lower my gaze from the sky, I look across the Lombok Strait which separates Lombok from Bali; the same strait that connects the Java Sea to the Indian ocean. 

The dark mass of water is lit up like a Christmas tree with literally hundreds of sparkling little lights. Each sparkling light is actually a tiny fishing boat anchored in the strait ready for its early morning catch. After sunrise, you will see many more tiny fishing boats heading out to see from the numerous bays along the coast. Everywhere along the coast that you explore, you will encounter local fishermen. Those not going out on boats are pulling in large nets from the ocean. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown forced many locals to revert to fishing.  As you watch the locals, it is clear that this is a communal affair. This is artisanal fishing – small scale, low technology, low capital, fishing practices carried out by individuals or small groups of fishing households.

As I watch the local fishermen going about their work, I am often reminded of the story of the fisherman and the businessman. There are various adaptations of this story and you have probably heard one of the versions. I’m not sure who originally penned the story. Some say it is an adaptation of a short parable originally told by Heinrich Theodor Böll, a prominent German author in the mid-1950s. Paulo Coelho, one of my favourite authors, more recently did a Brazilian version of the story on his blog:

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.

As he sat, he saw a Brazilian 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, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

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Being an entrepreneur and having lived in the corporate world, I often have to remind myself to stop looking for every opportunity to scale something into a business. I have been operating this way for a long time. Your brain never rests; you are constantly running scenarios, exploring new ideas and envisioning something better… something bigger. STOP, pause, breathe, and ask: Why? Why do you want to scale this business into something bigger?  

Am I the businessman visiting the small fishing village?

Although I have heard different versions of this story many times, it was always just that. A fictional story to get across a deeper ‘meaning of life’ lesson. Until I arrived in Lombok.

We had been here for a few weeks and we decided to spend the weekend on one of the small islands close to Lombok.  On this island, I got to actually meet a real version of the “fisherman”.  Well, he wasn’t actually a fisherman.  He was renting out beach loungers and served a basic lunch menu on the beach. This was a typical Indonesian warung (a small family-owned retail kiosk) except that it was positioned on prime beachfront property.

A few years ago he was approached by a businessman to build an eight-bedroom guesthouse and restaurant on the property. The proposal included a large family home and a substantial upfront cash payment. When it came close to signing the agreement his wife called for a meeting with the businessman and what unfolded in that meeting was the story of the fisherman and the businessman. 

She started the meeting by asking the businessman: Why are you doing this? 

“To give you and your family a better life, a new house with disposable income.”

She explained to him that every day her husband watches the sunrise from his lounger on the beach with his children playing in the breaking waves in front of him. Every night they sit around the dinner table with their four children enjoying a home-cooked meal. She could see how all this money would change that. This big house would mean each child spending time in their own room with their new gadgets. The serenity of their lives would be disrupted by all the activity that would be taking place on the property. 

The deal was never signed.

In case you are wondering, this story was not related to me by the warung owner but by the businessman. He remembers that meeting very clearly. He was not only upset but also astonished that the wife could not see how this development was going to change their lives for the ‘better’. He left the meeting with his architect feeling angry that he had spent all his money and time nurturing this deal. Early the next morning on their way to the harbour they passed the land and he caught a glimpse of the warung owner sitting on his beach lounger. The sun was just coming up and everything was a beautiful tinge of orange and he could see the silhouettes of the children playing in the water. At that point it hit him. This is what the wife was asking. 

Why would we give this up?

The businessman now spends most of his time on the island and is part of the local community. He and the warung owner are good friends. I spent two mornings on the island with them…watching the sunrise, and yes it was special.

After this encounter, the story of the fisherman and the businessman has taken on a new meaning to me. I have started to reflect on it beyond just a story.  I have started to unpack its deeper meaning and the numerous lessons in this simple story. We often encounter these wonderful stories or phrases that make us pause and reflect for a moment. It touches us and speaks to our inner soul. What if we were brave enough to live them?

Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today.

Contentment is the greatest form of wealth.

Time isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing.

The journey is more important than the destination.

Make time for the people and things that matter most to you.

As a futurist, I am constantly envisioning a better future. Yes, this is important if we want to create a better world. We all do this on a micro scale with our own lives. If I can close this deal, get this job or meet this person then I will be able to….

And sometimes the anticipation of an event can create more satisfaction than the event itself. As we build towards this future state we sometimes forget to embrace the beauty of the current moment that we find ourselves in. Living in the moment means being content with what I have now. Some of us are blessed with wealth, others with good health and others with friends and family. 

Wherever you find yourself on your journey I hope that you find peace, contentment and happiness… today. 

For now, I choose to be the fisherman.

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