Fourteen months have passed since I last worked full time. Everybody around me told me that I wouldn’t last six months before I was going crazy and had to jump back into something. Most were sure I’d start another business. A few thought I’d rest in corporate America for a while. None thought I’d be content to remain gainfully unemployed.
At the six month point, I was in the middle of training for my cross country bike ride. The thought of finding work never entered my mind. People told me the bike ride was a distraction, but I’d still be jonesing for a job once I got back. Not so much.
One of the things I discovered during my 45 day ride is that society puts a huge effort into defining us. Marketers tell us how much happier we’ll be when we own a new whatever, or how sated the new burger will make us, or how we’ll never find our soulmate unless we wear their clothing. Our family and friends also have definitions for us. These are usually less manipulative, but forceful nonetheless. They want us to be the person they need us to be. Oftentimes we are that person, which is why we are a part of their lives. Often we force ourselves to be that person just like we buy the whatever or eat the burger or wear the clothes.
The corollary to the societal defining forces is you. You should be the person who defines you. I have had several conversations with myself in which I challenged my happiness without a job. If everyone tells me that I should be miserable without work, then what is wrong with me that I’m not?
Zig Ziglar called that Stinkin’ Thinkin’. I decided to write my own definition of me. That definition includes my being able to be happy without working for money. I’m not just sitting around wasting my time, or hiding my candle under a bushel. I just fast-forwarded to my end game. I’ve become the Mexican fisherman. And you can too.
I’m not suggesting that you quit working and start doing the things I do. I’m suggesting, imploring, that you define yourself instead of letting others do it for you. You might find that leads to more fulfillment without changing anything about your life but your attitude. You might find yourself riding a bicycle across the country.
The Mexican Fisherman
An American tourist 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 tourist 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 fisherman.
“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the tourist.
The fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.
The tourist asked, “But what do you do with all 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 tourist interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, 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 middle man, 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, then Los Angeles, and eventually New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the fisherman.
“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the tourist.
“And after that?”
“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the tourist, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can sell your stock and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?”
“After that — and this is the best part — you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends!”