life's arc

The secret to life is to try and manage its arc. Understanding that it bends so you cannot quite see where it’s going but that there is some predictability there.

We are about experiencing patterns in mood and events that when we live long enough start to breed familiarity. We know that we will get through this latest challenge because we have faced another of similar intensity and survived.

We are also, as Alain de Botton reminded me of late, strange and flawed creatures who have enough trouble understanding ourselves never mind anyone else.

Then we begin to see that life is an imperfect combination of the melancholy and the euphoric but not parsed out in equal measure. Our challenge as human beings is to find the nugget of truth inside the times of difficulty and the lessons contained therein. I have never heard of anyone having the perfect formula to existence but those who know that the light will return after the dark times will maybe suffer a little less.

As we age we tend to find more pleasure in the simpler things because the things we chased as valuable lost their luster upon getting them. Life becomes more about treasuring and having just what we need.

You may have heard of the story of the poor Mexican fisherman....

The 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 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.”

The American then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”

The Mexican said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s 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 siesta 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 Los Angeles and eventually New York where you will run your ever-expanding enterprise.”

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

To which the American replied, “15 to 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 siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


  1. Brilliant story, thanks. In hindsight during my career I worked around the clock and the world in an endless pursuit of $$$, paranoid that if I didn't I'd be sidelined. In my defense that's what I learned from my father: a noble sacrifice.

    As I sit thinking about this more, though, perhaps one could argue that many Americans have lived the lifestyle of the Mexican in the story, and now have little or nothing to support themselves during retirement.

  2. Great anecdote. I like your reflectiveness. Observations on life, gleaned from experience, have value.


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