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Updating The Retirement Parable

Updating The Retirement Parable

By Mike Drak

A few years ago I read this parable for the first time in one of Ernie Zelinski’s retirement books and it really resonated with me. I was working in a bank at the time and the demanding work and associated stress was getting to me.

His story opened my eyes to the negative impact my work and the pursuit of more money was having on me and my family. It helped me find the courage to leave a well paying job late in my career something that many people who are unhappy with their work struggle to do.

I hope reading his story helps you like it did me.

The Mexican Fisherman

The protagonist of this little fable is a humble fisherman. The antagonist is a rich American investment banker who visits the fisherman’s pier located in a small coastal village of Mexico. A little boat with just one fisherman is docked by the pier.

Inside the boat are several large yellowfin tuna. The American compliments the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asks how long it took to catch them. “Only a little while,” replies the Mexican.

The banker is curious as to why he didn’t stay out longer to catch still more fish, and the fisherman replies that he has enough to support the immediate needs of his family. The American then asks, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”.

The fisherman replies, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas 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.”.

To this the banker – who among other things possesses a Harvard MBA-scoffs incredulously. He tells the fisherman he should spend more time fishing and 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.

Of course, there’s one small catch: to do all this the fisherman would have to leave his small costal fishing village, move to Mexico City and ultimately New York in order to run the thriving enterprise. Dismayed, the fisherman asks how long this will take. He’s told fifteen to twenty years.

But then what?” the fisherman persists.

The American laughs and says, “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?”.

Why then you could retire,” the banker replies triumphantly, pointing out that the fisherman could then move to a small coastal fishing village in Mexico, sleep late every day, fish whenever he wished, play with the kids, take siestas with Maria, stroll to the village to sip wine in the evenings and play guitar with his amigos.

This story resonated with me because it reminded me of what wealth is and isn’t.

It reminded me that true wealth has more to do with feeling wealthy rather than having accumulated a certain level of assets.

Wealthy to me means having good health, a loving wife, a good relationship with family and friends and having the freedom to do whatever I want to do. Throughout our lives, we have been taught that success is based on a person’s net worth and the accumulation of things and the truth is that it is not.

Another Time – Another Lesson

Now that I am no longer working full time this story has taken on new meaning for me now. Unlike when I was working so hard and so stressed out, the simple lifestyle of the Mexican fisherman is actually no longer attractive to me.

Living life without some challenges to face would make me just as unhappy as working in the bank did. While I don’t have a lot of money I have enough financial assets to retire and could sit back on the couch and watch the world go by if I wanted to.

But doing this would be a form of retirement hell for me.

I have discovered that I am wired to always need something meaningful to do and if I don’t have that I will be extremely bored. And as many retirees have also found out – being bored sucks!

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Mike Drak

Author, Retirement Coach and Public Speaker at Victory Lap Retirement
Mike Drak is a thirty-eight year veteran of the financial services and lives with his wife Melina in Toronto, Canada. Mike is the Author of the best-selling book Victory Lap Retirement and also an award winning blogger, retirement coach and public speaker. Mike has also appeared on BNN, CBC Radio and iHeart radio.