10 Meaningful Lessons from The Story of the Mexican Fisherman

Everything I learned from the Story of the Mexican Fisherman

One of the first posts I wrote for Be More with Less was The Story of the Mexican Fisherman. This story gave me great inspiration to simplify my life. It’s a story that was pinned to my bulletin board in my office, in my house, next to sales reports and goal sheets from my job, reminding me of what was most important.

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin 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. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “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.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and 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 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. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

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

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “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?”

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

Every time I read this, I feel even more inspired to live simply and direct my love and energy to what matters most. I’ve learned so much from this story including these 10 meaningful lessons …

10 Meaningful Lessons from the Story of the Mexican Fisherman


1. Stories are powerful.
This little story inspired change in my life and work, and still makes me think about what matters most. It also encourages me to share personal stories and invite you to share yours. You have so much to offer the world by sharing who you are, what you’ve experienced, and what it all means to you.

2. Change takes time.
Even though I was working to make more and own more when I found this story, it kept working on me. When I’d look at my sales numbers, my eyes would run over these words. I wasn’t ready at first, but I was curious and then I was committed. If there is a story working on your life, give it room and take the time you need. It will be there when you are ready.

3. Small is beautiful.
In the Story of the Mexican Fisherman, a small boat provided a beautiful life. You don’t need an impressive title, big car (or boat), or big business to live a beautiful life and be a beautiful person. In my experience a smaller living space and fewer obligations has made life even sweeter.

4. You already have it all.
If you have a nagging feeling that you could do better, make more, and deserve to upgrade, remember that the secret to having it all is recognizing that you already do.

5. Advice is nice, but intuition is better.
The Harvard grad had plenty of advice, and we are faced with an endless amount of advice on a daily basis, but as Danielle LaPorte says so simply and thoughtfully, “it’s ok to want what you want.” Read, research and listen to advice, and then do what you know will be best for your life. If you don’t know, make time and space to listen, because you probably do know, but have been too busy/stressed/worried to trust your voice.

6. The time is now.
Do you want to enjoy your work and life now or work a job you hate and endure a stressful life so you might find joy in 20 years? It has to start now. That doesn’t mean that everything has to change immediately, but start building joy into your life today. You deserve that.

7. You can’t put a price on a happy life.
Not even a million dollars.

8. Spend time with your amigos. 
The wife, children and amigos were all an integral part of the fisherman’s life. Spend time with people who lift you up and quietly distance yourself from those who don’t.

9. Smarter isn’t wiser.
Catching more fish and growing the business was very logical advice, but offered little wisdom. In Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive she says, “Ours is a generation bloated with information and starved for wisdom.” Aim to weed through the information for the wisdom. Usually that comes back to knowing what you know to be true for you.

10. Protect less and share more.
This Story of the Mexican Fisherman was originally told by Heinrich Böll about an encounter between an enterprising tourist and a small fisherman on a European coast, in which the tourist suggests how the fisherman can improve his life. It’s been told, re-told and adapted. I’m so grateful that a version finally found me. Let’s keep sharing meaningful stories.


I don’t have a bulletin board, office, or a house anymore. I don’t have the job with the sales reports and goals either. Instead, I have a happy marriage, thriving microbusiness, and time to enjoy coffee and writing with my amigos or a hike with my dog. Instead of a big job, big car and big expense account, I have a big, beautiful life and I’m so grateful.

Live small so you can live big.


  1. says

    Thank you for sharing this story again. I do remember reading it when you originally posted it, but it resonates even more with me now. This story inspires me to achieve my goal of a small and wonderful life!

  2. Muntaha says

    My father told me this story when I was a little girl, he’s the simplest man I know, a joy in my life. I’ve told this story to my husband and soon to my daughter. Thanks for the sweet reminder Courtney!

  3. Dawn says

    I love this story! Does anyone have advice for #8 – particularly the part about distancing yourself from people who don’t. It’s hard enough to get rid of “things.” How do you quietly and gracefully get rid of the people in your life who are not bringing you joy?

  4. says

    This is so great! I am a new blogger, a hobbyist, fledgling writer and I love it! I love my little space. Lots of people seem so focused on growth that I wonder if just the thrill of pressing PUBLISH is gone too soon?
    Thank you for sharing this story and the lessons in it.

  5. says

    Thanks for this post. I have never heard that story before but I really like it. Accepting the present for what it is rather than expecting something else is so important for happiness.

  6. Chad Petroff says

    Thanks so much for sharing this story…. I will be hanging copies of it everywhere now.

  7. says

    Oh one of my favourites Courtney, this story stirs up so much in me! I can’t even find the words but yours sum it up beautifully, “I feel even more inspired to live simply and direct my love and energy to what matters most.”

    It hadn’t even occurred to me to share this story with others. I’m so glad you did.

  8. Dominique says

    I love this post. It reminds me of when my husband and I were in the Cinque Terre in Italy a few years ago in the lovely little beach town of Monterosso. Every morning this older gentleman who worked at the beach set up the chairs and umbrellas, singing “amore, amore” just so happy with what he was doing, assisting people on this small little beach on the Mediterranean. Every morning from our hotel room we would hear him singing “amore amore” when he was setting up and then singing again when he was taking everything down. Out of all the things we did on that trip, we remember this lovely Italian man so vividly, so happy with his work and with his life. Very similar to your story. Thanks for sharing this post.

  9. says

    The eureka moment for me was when I realised I didn’t have to be “doing” all the time. If it was sunny, I could take a book and a glass of cordial into the garden and lie around with the dogs. If it was snowy I could walk away from the invoices for a couple of hours and build snowmen and igloos with my daughters. Not being “busy” doing “constructive” stuff wasn’t just not bad, it was good, for all of us.

  10. says

    What a wonderful story and to have it all! The simplicity to life …to live the life you want and you are happy with it as it is!

  11. Jason Todd Ipson says

    Hi Courtney,

    I love your website and think you are a fantastic writer. I mean that – so it is with a little reservation that I write this…

    However, respecting artists and their work, I felt it was important to say that this story was written by Heinrich Boll in 1963. It is called “Anekdote Zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral.” I am not sure where you originally got the “Mexican Fisherman” story, but whomever wrote it stole it from Boll.

    It’s still a great story, but I felt the proper author should be credited.

    Otherwise, as I said above, I think you are hands down the best of the “minimalist writers.”

    Best Wishes,

    • Bailey says

      Hi Jason… please read #10. Proper credit was given to the author. Thank you for providing the title of the work.

  12. varuni says

    Hi Courtney,
    Thanks for the thought provoking post. In fact I was just thinking of ” buying a bigger boat ” and contemplating on whether the time spent on it is really worth. and after reading your post I decided against it
    Thank you.

  13. Ron says

    I did the #6 and then some. Worked 33 years at work I didn’t like, but I saved money so that some day I could chill and play the guitar so to speak. Which I did…. but then, I asked myself “Is this what life is about? Is this what I want to do? Chill? That’s it?” . So I allowed passion to take me.