“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.