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The Tale of the Business Man and the Fisherman

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

Over the last few weeks, I have been having some excellent conversations with people about what is the correct balance between one's working life and home life. The "Work-Life" balance as it is often referred to.

As far as I know, most people only get 24 hours in everyday. Let's assume 8 of those are spent sleeping. (For parents of young children out there, we know this is something we can only dream of!) So that leaves 16 hours in which to do stuff. Assuming an average 9-5 working day, with an hour either side for commuting/getting ready, then that is 10 hours of the 16 spent at work, which leaves only 6 hours to cram everything else in. So 10 hours "working" and 6 hours "living". A 10:6 hour ratio.

Now, if someone offered you a better job, but it would mean the ratio shifted to the left, ie more like 12:4, would you take it? Better financial rewards, promotion, bigger bonus, but less time to be with family, friends and relaxing activities. How much money would tempt you to shift the ratio to the left? Conversely, how much money would you forsake to shift the ratio to the right and enjoy less time working and more with family? If someone offered you 50% of your current salary, but you only needed to work 9-12, would you take it? Clearly the answer will be different for every single person and there are more factors than just money, work and family to consider. Age, health, wealth and many other personal circumstances will come into play here. However, whilst mulling this over, I was reminded of a fantastic parable called the Businessman and the Fisherman, which is thought to have been originally written by Heinrich Theodor Böll, one of Germany's foremost post World War II writers. I'd like to share this with you. It goes like this....... A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. A Businessman on holiday complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. "Not very long," answered the Mexican. "But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the Businessman. The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family. The Businessman asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?" "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs...I have a full life." The Businessman interrupted, "You are doing this all wrong. I have an MBA and can help you to become rich!"

"You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise." "How long would that take?" asked the Mexican. "Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the Businessman. "And after that?" "Afterwards? That's when it gets really interesting," answered the Businessman, laughing.

"When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!" "Millions? "Really? And after that?" "After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends!" David Stack is founder of Brightfrog, an IT consultancy business with a twist. David has over 20 years experience in the Pharmaceutical and FMCG industries and uses common sense, great dedication, enthusiasm and a pinch of social psychology to deliver great results. (

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