Fish to live or live to fish?

A lovely story that I have heard many times in different incarnations (nationalities and personalities differed slightly) has been doing the rounds on blogs again lately, perhaps as a criticism of the capitalist economic model:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his 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 enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

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

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

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

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

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?”

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.. Then what?”

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

But the truth is that some of us are driven by the money,  power and status symbols, and perhaps only regret life passing us by when it is too late.  What is also true, however, is that some of us love our work so much that we would do it even if we weren’t paid for it.  In fact, some of us subsidise our ‘real’ work by doing other, lesser work – so we actually ‘pay’ to be allowed to do the work we feel passionate about.

I know scientists and researchers who are so passionate about the work they do that they still come into the lab each day, even after they retire.  That is employee engagement!  That is what employers dream of!  But that is commitment to the work itself, to the profession, rather than to a specific organisation.

What kind of worker are you?  And how can an employer best capture that passion and commitment from its employees (or freelance associates, for that matter)?


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One response to “Fish to live or live to fish?

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