Is It Really Important?

“In 20 years you will be more disappointed by what you didn’t do than by what you did.” ~ Mark Twain

You may have heard this story…

A U.S. businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican fishing village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the 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 Mexican replied, “Only a little while, senor.” The American asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican said that he had enough to supply his family’s immediate needs.

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

The fisherman said, “I play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Alaria, 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 smiled, “I am a Harvard MBA – that’s a degree in business studies – I 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. Then 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, of course, need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually New York City where you would run your expanding enterprise.”

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

The American replied, “Fifteen to twenty years.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you sell your stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? But then what?”

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

With just a hint of a twinkle in his eye, the fisherman said, “Senor – are these business degrees hard to get?”

As someone with a MBA degree, two things struck me as I was retyping this story: 1) The U.S. businessman’s use of the word “should” and; 2) His getting the fisherman’s wife’s name wrong.

I spent the majority of my career running several sizable business units. There was no greater feeling than when productivity and profitability reports came out and quantitative goals where achieved or exceeded. Life was good!

That was success – at least as defined by traditional, Western measures. Darren Hardy, Editorial Director of SUCCESS magazine once said, “You can be successful but not significant, but you cannot be significant without being successful.” Hardy goes on to say, “As a society, I think we often misunderstand the word success. Our society celebrates those who obtain fame, wealth, power, and celebrity no matter the means – ethical or not – and we call them successful. Success is often equated to an achieved status, rather than to a measure of value of contribution.”

Among several definitions, significance is defined as “having the quality of being significant – meaningful and important.” Significance starts with the word sign for a reason. An item’s significance is a sign of its importance. Unlike my former P&L reports which quickly faded because of the next targets, the story of the Mexican fisherman has stayed with me and illuminated meaning and importance.

When tomorrow never comes, my hope is that I gave back more than I took, and lead a life of significance in my community and the world. This is an achievable feat; it merely requires awareness, passion, and focused action.

And you?

51 thoughts on “Is It Really Important?

    • It’s not mine, yet I am choosing to align with it. πŸ™‚ Please feel free to adopt anything that is shared in these posts. That’s measurably why I write them. Your reading and commenting is appreciated!

  1. Eric, I believe you and your blog posts came into my life at this time for a reason. I’m at a crossroads in my mid-50s professional life and have never been more content with decisions I’ve made to live a more authentic life. For many years I too measured my success in business by dry measures such as “revenue attained”. I’m measuring my life now in terms of “smiles attained”, “human connections that click”, and the openness of my heart. Thank you for this post. Confirmation is good for the soul. Bless you for sharing your aha moments – they resonate with me!

    • Love, love, love your “new measures.” πŸ™‚ Comment and experiences such as yours make sharing what I do all the more worth the effort. It is my hope that others will have similar “a-ha” moments and appreciate the shift to significance. So glad the message resonates!

  2. Hi Eric, nice story and poignant reminder to live for the now as well as for significance. It seems as though you do both. You certainly contribute to this community, and I suspect many other areas, including your coaching clients. Me, I still don’t seem to know what’s most important for me, so it’s kind of hard to set career and life goals!

    • If I may, I believe you do know what’s most important to you. Most of us do. It’s just that we permit so many other ‘things’ to get in the way of being our core values, true self, and then living lives aligned authentically with our hearts. Having clarity about our ‘purpose’ is secondary to simply using our natural gifts and skills to help others (i.e., the significance focus). Consider being less hard on yourself, Brad. Go with flow and just be. πŸ™‚

    • Personally knowing many Harvard MBA’s, I can easily see how the importance of a qualitative facet (i.e., her name) was lost in the transaction. Harvard MBA’s are not wired to manage non-business values. My sense is the ‘MBA’ could easily discount the wife’s name because it wasn’t essential to his envisioned solution. I also get the “imperative!” πŸ™‚

  3. My hope is to touch others in a positive way along my journey. I don’t measure other people’s success by monetary gain or their significance by celebrity status, but by their contribution to society.

    • Thanks for agreeing. We know there are some out there who do not and that’s their choice. Me, and I suspect you, are open to receiving and learning. I appreciate your creating time to comment. πŸ™‚

    • Actually, my friend in the Far East, New Mexico is land-locked, While we share a border with Mexico, we don’t get to enjoy/appreciate their coastlines or fishing harbors. πŸ™‚ Thanks for your kind comment!

  4. Great story, this story has definitely become a part of me now. I also liked your commentary on this. I have already contributed more to the society than I’ve got through many volunteering works though I still want to contribute more so I think I’m leading quite a significant life. πŸ™‚

    • Bravo and kudos for choosing to contribute to society! There is an abundance of opportunities to give back, whether through volunteering or via other means. Glad you appreciated and embraced the essence of the story!

  5. I’ve always loved this story…it’s a good one to remember because I feel it will help us not to stress so much! And it is kinda silly isn’t it? If you don’t take into account savings for the kids education and all (but even this may not be a “need”) then…really….15 to 20 years of surviving just to come back full circle to what we could have done all a long?

    Yup…I’m going to remember this story even more now!

    • Shree, I believe and am hopeful that more will become familiar with the story and its lesson. It is equal parts profound and important to our personal and collective growth. Thanks for adding the the conversation. πŸ™‚

  6. Great article and timely reminder with the story. There’s also a great book by Dan Clark called The Art of Significance: Achieving the Level Beyond Success. I highly recommend it.

  7. Always important to periodically re-evaluate your definitions of “success”. I see this a lot in people who have been given a terminal prognosis… priorities quickly change when the end is in sight. Great post.

    • While unsure what you do, professionally, I’m sensing it is challenging to the heart and emotions. It takes a strong, caring individual to be involved with your ‘work world.’ Thank you for what you do and for taking time to share your thoughts.

  8. I love this story πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    What we believe we should aspire to is just crazy. We used to struggle to stay afloat on two wages and felt the stress of trying to live as we thought we should. My forced year off work through ill health changed that and we now live very well on one wage…I have just applied for a full time job and IF I get it hubby will take a year off to assess what he would like to do rather than what he feels pressured to do for the wage packet. There is plenty to do here and I am secretly hoping he will embrace his creative side while he has the time.
    We get once chance at life – we should be loving it!

    • I am holding positive intentions for a favorable job outcome for you! Wouldn’t that be a wonderful opening for you and your family! And, unsolicited, I am secretly hoping that your hubby get an opportunity to explore and thrive with his passion(s).

      Thanks for appreciating the story. I like it, too. πŸ™‚

  9. Thank you for sharing this story. I vaguely remembered it and I am sad that it was put so far away in my mind. There are so many lessons in the story…many I needed to be reminded of, especially during this season.

  10. Now that’s a meaningful and worthwhile story! Thanks, Eric! I feel like the fisherman. Although, I probably would have openly laughed at the businessman. Good on him for being more restrained.

    • You know, I used to be a fisherman. Then I acquired the powerful MBA and became the all-knowing U.S. businessman. And now (in the last several years) I have (figuratively) come full circle to the coastal fishing and its simple, yet authentic way of life. Glad you side with the fisherman, EJ!

  11. Reblogged this on mrsugarbears and commented:
    I guess it was bound to happen…this is my first ever reblog. I was reminded of a beautiful story yesterday by Eric Tonningsen. I hope each of you is touched by the story in the same way. Happy Holidays dear friends!

    • Logan and Bailey would like Mr. Sugarbears to know that they appreciate their human’s post being reblogged. That is most kind of you! Thanks for your gesture and action. Signed, Logan and Bailey’s dad. πŸ™‚

  12. Pingback: A Double “A Ha!” Moment | Spirit Lights The Way

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