The Business Man and The Mexican Fisherman

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

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Many of us are familiar with the story of the business man and the Mexican fisherman.  It’s a great story on balancing work and life, and the goals we hope to achieve.

Given that so much time on this website is spent writing about balancing the needs of here and now with our future goals, I felt it important to include the story below on this site, too.

Should my kids happen upon this website someday, I hope that they take this lesson to heart.

The Business Man and The Fisherman

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 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 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.”

Balancing work and life with the Mexican Fisherman

The Mexican fisherman story above teaches us all too well the importance of learning how to be content with what we currently have. It is truly an art learning the meaning of “enough.”  Money often doesn’t make us happier.

It wouldn’t serve you very well if I left it at that, though.  This site is all about providing practical advice that is helpful in reaching your personal and financial goals.

‘Cause let’s be real.  That fisherman doesn’t have any refinanced student loans to pay off, which is a very different situation than most of us. I’d love to be debt free, and enjoy my day doing exactly what he does.  Despite the dissimilarity in our debt situations, we can learn to be content now while preparing to live the life we want to live in the future.

Hopefully, every day brings us closer.

However, it’s tough balancing the here and now with our future goals. That’s where the The 10% Rule can be helpful.  Enjoy 10% of our increases in pay, bonuses, or windfall money.  The other 90% is put towards building wealth through destroying our debt and investing wisely.

This helps us to enjoy today, while preparing for tomorrow.  [Now that my wife and I have paid off all of our non-mortgage debt, this 10% rule may turn into something more like the 20-30% rule.]

I’ve used The 10% Rule to buy a new car, a country clubmembership to play golf with my family and friends, new tires for our swagger wagon, a new bed, a custom fitted golf driver, a grill, and even a couple of trips with some of our best friends to the beaches and mountains of St. Lucia.

I’ve also used The 10% Rule to increase our net worth by over $250,000 in one year.  Like the fisherman, we have never felt like we lacked for anything.  And that’s despite living on 20-30% of our income at times.

It’s all about balance.  Learn to be content now while preparing for the future. You can and should do both.  But this can only be done if you aren’t weighed down by the metal shackles of debt.

Don’t Forget to Enjoy Today

As health care professionals, we are all too aware of our mortality.

So, take this day to remember that life is about balance.  Spend your time intentionally.  Don’t say “yes” to things that you are not passionate about.  In fact, I encourage you and empower you to create a Hell Yes Policy. Learn to say no to things that don’t excite you!

Like the Mexican fisherman in the story above, remember that you can work hard to earn a good paycheck. But the more you work, the less likely it is that you are doing what you really want with your time.

You don’t have to wait to live the good life!

In the end, time is the true currency of life.  Not money.  Don’t ever forget that.

Build the life you want to live right now, and save so that you can continue to do it without earning a paycheck later.  You can and should accomplish both of these goals.

Go find your little coastal village, catch some fish, and teach others how to catch them, too.  That’s what this site is all about.

What does the story of the business man and fisherman mean to you? Are you able to balancing work and life? How can you apply those principles to your daily life? Leave a comment below.



  1. FiPhysician

    Googling the 10% rule it has to do with the energy pyramid, the 10% of fixed energy passed down from consuming food. Only 10% becomes flesh.

    Your 10% rule seems the opposite, where 10% of your energy (money) is used and the 90% become flesh.

    The inverse correlate would of course be the 80/20 rule (Pareto principal) where getting rid of 20% of the causes solves 80% of the effects. FI allows one to practice the 80/20 rule and look and attempt to eradicate root causes of discontent.

    Keep teaching others to fish!

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s an interesting take. I’d say the exact opposite. 10% is used by the flesh to buy things (or, 10% to consume energy spent earning a paycheck) while the other 90% is used to get that benefit you describe.

      I am a big fan of the Pareto Principle. Maybe I should have made it the 20% rule 🙂 I didn’t know about the other 10% rules until I came up with the idea for my personal spending. It wasn’t meant to be named after the others.

      That said, it’s worked exceedingly well for us!


  2. Dave @ Accidental FIRE

    I like your 10% rule. During my career I probably didn’t intentionally do that, but I likely did anyway. I always treated any raise or promotion as another opportunity to increase my stash. But every few years somehow a new bicycle showed up in my basement 🙂

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Hahahah that’s great, Dave! We all need to enjoy things every once in a while.

      And what a vice you have…. Exercising.

      Mine involves expensive golf clubs, beer, and eating ice cream 🙂 I need to learn from your example!

  3. Xrayvsn

    I always loved the fisherman parable because it does drive home the point of what is most important in life. If you are already doing it why try to win the game more and risk losing it or detract time from doing it at all.

    If people can indeed only use a minority of the raises and bonuses they receive throughout their career instead of taking part in the typical lifestyle creep they are well on the way to building a great net worth

  4. DA

    Every six months or so that I come across this parable it hits me a little differently. The story and idea is simple, but my interpretation is ever-changing.

    This time it’s the realization that what’s important to me isn’t the same as what’s important to you. Find what drives you, and do what is necessary to accomplish that. And there’s no need to change the finish line once you’ve already won your race. Unless, of course, that’s what’s important to you.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s a great point. It really is. You have to design the life that is right for you, and not necessarily for me.

      The point of the story only makes sense if the businessman and the fisherman have the same plans for their perfect day. If the Harvard business man gets joy only from being successful the fisherman’s life probably wouldn’t cut it for him.

  5. Steveark

    I fish a lot and I think that is why this parable never resonated with me. Bass fishing is kind of brutal in a way, you get up before 5 AM. You have to hook up a heavy trailer and pull your boat to a lake that might be an hour or two away from home. You launch and fish most of the day and if you are catching fish you’ll generally get a few puncture wounds from the fish’s fins or the hooks on your lure. You are standing up the whole day throwing hundreds of casts generally fighting tennis elbow and a sore wrist. The weather ranges from sweltering heat to blue norther cold fronts. Something always breaks on the boat or with your fishing reels. Finally you go home and if you had a good day you are in your backyard cleaning fish after dark which sometimes adds to the injury count with an electric knife wound. It is fun as recreation but if someone paid you to do it you’d be turning them into OSHA or the department of labor for unsafe and ridiculously uncomfortable working conditions. The rich guy who fishes on occasion finds it crazy fun but the fisherman who does it for a living, its just hard manual labor to him. But most parables break down for anyone who knows the reality behind the story.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s certainly true. Shoot, I am a doctor. I can tell you right now it’s not what people outside of medicine think it’s like.

      Completely relate to what you are saying.

  6. M

    Over the years, I’ve had an increasing appreciation for this parable. As a Type A personality who has been conditioned for “success”, I always find a way to complicate my life in an effort to increase happiness through achievement.

    Scaling back has been an…. experience. But I’m in whole-hearted agreement with you – we should build the lives we want now instead of delaying that for some distant future.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Yeah, my type A personality does the same to me. I have found, though, that there are other ways I like to be productive that don’t limit my time. Given that time is the ultimate commodity we seek, I am starting to gravitate towards those things.

  7. Wealthy Doc

    I feel that way sometimes when at FinCon people were telling me I must expand as an “online entrepreneur.” I need a podcast and to monetize…
    And why? How will I then spend my time? What will I do with the extra money? I have enough or maybe too much of everything now. I do want to expand my reach and positive impact but not for the reasons commonly given.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I think that you are spot on, Wealthy Doc. You need to do what’s important to you. Your message is an important one, but not at the personal expense of putting hours upon hours into it if your time could be better spent elsewhere!

      It’s tough when people are not financially independent to imagine what it would be like to be there and not have money be a target or goal of theirs. Keep up the good work!

  8. MattTheRNMentor

    I always have distress when reminded of the parable.
    I’m an ICU RN, completely engaged and love my job, and work three days a week.
    I blog to learn skills, build a brand, and monetizing is a long shot.
    I continually battle with how much time I put into the side hustle. It engages and interests me, but what am I sacrificing in order to build it (being more present with family, prioritizing self care, etc)?
    Although your discussion is based on your 10% with finances and enjoying the present, I only look at it with respect to time – our most precious resource.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      You are a wise man, Matt! Time is the ultimate commodity, not money. So, I am absolutely about leveraging your time doing what you love with who you love. Almost all of my writing on this site is done when my kids are either at school (and I am off), napping, or after they go to bed. I try and prioritize them when they are awake.

      Good job keeping your priorities straight!


  9. Dr. McFrugal

    Man… I want to move to a small coastal fishing village where I would sleep late, play with my kids, take siestas with my wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where I could sip wine and play guitar with my amigos.

    I great story about finding balance in life. It’s so important to enjoy the here and now because tomorrow may never come.

    Excellent post 🙂

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks, Dr. McFrugal! I agree.

      The more I think about it all the more likely I am to go part time early and design the life we want instead of crushing it for years to hope to be able to live it later.

  10. Donovan Sanchez

    It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that parable. It’s so important to keep life in perspective.

    Excellent post. I’m glad you’re out spreading your message about focusing on what’s important!

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      Thanks, Donovan.

      I have to remind myself of these ideas, too. Otherwise, I become very much like the businessman!

  11. Brent Lacey

    It’s a great reminder that we should take time to stop and enjoy life. After all, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? What do we do with tremendous wealth if we don’t enjoy some and give a lot away? It’s no coincidence that “miser” and “miserable” share a common linguistic root.

  12. Physician, Heal Thyself

    Well said TPP. Contentment with today doesn’t mean you can’t still save and strive for tomorrow. Contentment is often mistaken for passivity. It’s as if some people believe that happiness today means that you won’t be motivated to work harder for later. But that attitude keeps you from appreciating what you have right now. Which is probably more than you realize.

    If you don’t learn to be content with today, it’s not likely that you’ll be content with tomorrow either!


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