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The Banker and the Fisherman

I’m currently reading the book, Buddhist Boot Camp, by Timber Hawkeye, which is a wonderful compilation of blog posts and journal entries encompassing everything from mindfulness, love and relationships, religion and spirituality, to success.

His perspective on life is light hearted; he doesn’t take things too seriously and he genuinely enjoys all the moments of his life as if they could be his last. In one of his entries, he recounts a story that his father used to tell him when he was a little kid, one that is commonly heard among many, yet is a great reminder when read over again. He encourages that it should be read at every high school graduation around the world.

One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. He saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he had just caught. The businessman asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was out on the water for only a couple of hours.

“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?” asked the businessman.

The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then comes back.

“But it’s only 2 p.m.!” said the banker, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman smiled and said, “Well, I sleep late every day, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life.”

The banker scoffed at the young man, “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained, “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said, “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”

“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman. “Fifteen to twenty years!” replied the banker.

“And then what?”

The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take naps in the afternoon, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play the guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”

The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.

This was the first time I had read this story and I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s so simply put which is exactly the whole point of the tale; life could and should be simple.

Why do we intentionally over complicate things, glorifying having a “busy” life? I wonder where that will actually take us when we're old and gray, looking back at a life that was spent working extra hours in the office, stressfully reaching deadlines, and sacrificing personal or family time for work.

At the end of a person’s life, no one will ever wish they spent more time sitting at their desk or putting in more hours on the weekend. People will wish they lived more, doing the things they loved and that mattered most to them.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to strive and be motivated to have a career full of success and promotions, that’s certainly an exciting thing and can be fulfilling for many people. I just think that when the sole goal of our lives only equates success to a high paying job, large work load, and unnecessarily long, tiring days, that maybe we missed the point.

I believe you should spend your time enjoying yourself and what you’ve made of your life, and if you do have a job that you love, then that’s really amazing, because far too many people go to sleep every night and wake up every morning dreading the job they have to go to for the next eight or nine hours of their day.

Everybody has their own path. Each person is growing and evolving at whatever rate works best for them, because each person is truly doing the best they can, whether their best lives up to our expectations or not.

Instead of judging or criticizing another’s life decisions, comparing them and weighing them to our own standards of success and happiness, it’s better to let people figure their lives out on their own, because in truth, their path doesn’t have to be the same that we choose for ourselves.

How much easier and more graceful would it be to just let everything be, exactly as it is in this moment, without feeling the need to change it and mold it into our own ideas of perfection?

"Live simply so that others may simply live." -Gandhi

(Also excerpted from Timber Hawkeye’s book, Buddhist Boot Camp).


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