The fisherman could live anywhere, I suppose, but in the version of the parable I heard, he lived in Mexico and was taking a business executive from the U.S. on a fishing trip.
Impressed by his guide’s skill, the businessman asks the fisherman why he doesn’t expand operations:
“You could buy more boats. Hire more fishermen. Catch more fish. Open up processing facilities. I could help you find investors, and you could build wealth beyond your wildest dreams. You’d eventually be able to afford anything you wanted. You could….”
At a certain point, the fisherman interjects:
“But I already have everything I want. I fish when we need food to eat. I play with my children. I drink beers and play mariachi with my friends in the evenings, and at night, I go home and sleep beside my wife who I love.”
The executive tried to convince the fisherman that he needed to build wealth (and complexity) in order to have a better life. But the fisherman already enjoyed his simple life. More wealth (and complexity) would not make it better. Go figure.
Why Hustling Doesn’t Always Work
When you are content, more isn’t more.
Chronic discontentment is the Achilles’ heel of most entrepreneurs. In the midst of frenetic pursuit, relentless hustle, and grind, we don’t slow down and enjoy the good, simple gifts we already have.
Bigger, louder, more complex blessings and rewards beckon from just around the corner. Rather than linger and savor, we run pellmell toward that ideal future.
The tension between my ambition and my desire for contentment and simplicity became apparent the other night when I was hanging out with my business partner, Nathan, and Closeup.fm’s acting CTO, Jordan.
Nathan is good at putting things in their proper place, and in all honesty, early in our partnership, after the honeymoon phase had ended, his habit of maintaining a healthy life rhythm irritated me. He’d go surfing, and I’d smolder. I’d smolder because I wanted to go fly fishing instead of answering emails. I thought I was sacrificing more. In fact, he would tell you that in that season, I worked harder on the company than he did—even when I didn’t want to.
More frustrating was the fact that, even then, I couldn’t have told you with total confidence that all that hustle was necessary. Hustling was more compulsion than tangible contribution.
This capacity to put my nose down and work hard was, I thought, a sign of my maturity and commitment. But I fought back exhaustion—all the time.
Suspending Common Sense
Basecamp’s Jason Fried said it well in a recent Medium post, entitled “The Calm Company (our next book)”:
“Long hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days. Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity.”
Time passed, adversity came and went, and Nathan and I grew both as individuals and as partners.
I gained perspective and saw that, in many respects, the very idea of “startup life” requires one to suspend common sense. Nathan and I have both run small businesses, and common sense—for example, “My company needs to make more money than it spends”—enabled both of us to achieve profitability.
The profitability of our respective businesses put both of us in a position to invest startup capital in Closeup.fm, and this capital fed our company during its infancy.
I already see abundance.
You’ve heard the saying, “He had more money than sense.” That applies to young founders of early-phase startups, as well as the nouveau riche. In our pursuit of some ideal of hockey-stick growth trajectory, we embraced irony and set aside the very habits and business practices that had secured our seats at the poker table and enabled us to ante up in the first place.
If nothing else, the startup world has a big population of people with strong opinions, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be trying to “scale” a service or a product before people are actually buying it.
You cannot multiply zero. Zero multiplied by a billion bags of unicorn glitter is still zero. Oops.
Here’s the thing: All those entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors were trying to help us after their own fashion. No one intentionally gave us bad advice. It’s not like we were enough of a threat to attract saboteurs.
No one is to blame for any ill-conceived notions of product development, go-to-market strategy, or lean startup methodology except the two men at the helm.
But after the smoke from the startup accelerators, funding warpath, and equity negotiations cleared, I gained more clarity: I really just want to help people. I want to make a tangible, positive impact on thousands of lives.
If building Closeup.fm into a billion-dollar company serves that bigger goal, great. But as far I as I’m concerned, wealth worth having comes as a by-product of making people’s lives better.
When I look around at my life, I see abundance already.
Maybe I can think more like the fisherman. That true and humbling observation brings me to the point that Nathan and Jordan were hammering: I have a choice.
Correction: We Have a Choice
We can choose chronic discontentment and run ourselves ragged. We can also choose to exercise contentment here and now.
To be sure, we inherit a certain diagnosis of success from parents and public figures, pastors and major players in our industries, and then we start looking for the symptoms in our own companies.
Am I successful? So-and-so seems to be growing at a faster clip. I thought we’d be in a different place by now. What are we doing wrong?
There’s certainly room for reflection, for closer examination of one’s raison d’être and the company’s too.
But what if that diagnosis is wrong from the start?
What if, like the fisherman, a deeper, more tranquil enjoyment of your life is already within reach?
What if you don’t want a whole fleet of boats, massive canning operations, and luxurious homes in twelve countries? What if you’d prefer to take more naps on the beach and sleep next to your faithful wife in the modest bungalow you share? What if you come to believe that your children need your presence and undivided attention more than they need more electronics and pricey life programming?
A fundamental part of the human condition is the quest for more, but even so, all of us can choose to practice contentment along the way. We can establish a regular cadence of thankfulness. We can stop and savor. Hustling doesn’t solve the problem.
It can wait until Monday.
Whatever the ripe opportunity or rotten situation, it can wait until Monday.
- The live grenade of an email tossed your way by an irate client
- The foreboding letter from the IRS
- The voicemail from the concerned investor
In the past I have obsessed over such situations. They catch like burrs in the wool of my mind. I would have no peace until I bring them to some resolution.
More from Jason Fried:
“Stress is an infection passed down from organization to employee, from employee to employee, and then from employee to customer.”
“Stress can not be contained. It never stops at the edge of work. It always bleeds into life. It infects your relationships with your friends, your family, your kids.”
I have experienced this firsthand. Nose glued to my iPhone, I’m so preoccupied with maneuvering for a potential deal or putting out a client’s fire that I ignore my daughter trying to show me her drawing. That isn’t wisdom.
Can I still find a center of peace and live out of it in the Unresolved? Yes. I am not a victim.
Living Out of the Best Version
I can choose peace in the midst of loose ends and open loops. What about the piqued sense of fairness and the anxious static that I feel after reading an email full of passive-aggressive jabs?
Chances are, I never should have opened my email in the first place. But without thinking, I did, and now I can address it the way I would other tasks. Jordan said he opens a voice memo and speaks his response. To take that simple action enables him to hush the negative emotion that the email caused. Later, once the initial heat has passed, he can send a quick, dispassionate reply: “Received. Will ponder and respond in-depth or call on Monday.”
When the time comes to remedy the situation, he can do so with a mind not muddied by anger or resentment. He can stay true to his commitment to maintain poise and respond with integrity and kindness even to rude, aggressive, and vindictive people.
The deeper disappointment comes not from faith lost in other people but from not living out of the best versions of ourselves.
I will not reduce my life to a series of knee-jerk reactions. I choose instead to live out of the best version of myself.
In her book, The Barefoot Executive, Carrie Wilkerson talks about how her business needs her to be at her best. In order to avoid getting bushwhacked by trolls, she has designed little protocols and systems. For example, rather than respond to support emails from cranky customers herself, she loops in her assistant. Because her assistant is not emotionally invested in the product like Carrie, the product’s creator, she can engage with cranks and trolls without allowing the injustice of it all to shut her down.
Wilkerson also talks about scheduling a quarterly review, identifying consistently negative people, and cutting them out of her business and life.
Whatever you think of that particular practice, you can see the value of taking a step back from your life and business, remembering your real goals, and then changing your perspective on the urgency of this task or that request.
What if, like the fisherman, you already have what you want? Or most of what you want? And by failing to recognize that you not only fail to enjoy the present but you allow anxiety to shape the future?
You have a choice.
You don’t have to pursue someone else’s definition of success.
You don’t have to entertain misplaced opinions.
You can choose to practice gratitude, peace, and contentment at this very moment.
Nettlesome situations can wait until Monday.
In fact, you can design little protocols and workflows to protect your creativity and optimism.
Your capacity for hustle is a gift, a gift that you can waste, and the real disappointment stems from not acting out of the best version of yourself.
So today I hope you’ll join me in choosing to be at peace and to enjoy the simple gifts already in your life.
“Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress.” – Jason Fried
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