Imagine you’re in fifth grade and you’re asked to write a paper about how you define success. What would you have described? My dream at that age was to live in a massive home, drive luxury cars, and be married to a man who, first and foremost, made lots and lots of money. I’m not sure where I picked up on these ideals but it was likely a combination of the media, people around me, and insecurities about what I didn’t have.
Fast forward three decades and those things have moved further down my list of priorities. I don’t think they’re bad things. If you have a big family and enjoy hosting holidays and house guests, by all means, enjoy your big beautiful home. I found that when I dug into what mattered most to me, my priorities seemed to revolve around good health and a happy marriage.
I followed the blueprint for the American Dream as I understood it for the first 30-some years of my life. I went to college, got a “good corporate job,” got married, bought a “starter house,” and was saving for retirement―that magical day when I could finally do all those things I’ve always dreamed of. In the meantime, I was neglecting the things that were truly important to me. I wasn’t very healthy, my marriage was just so-so, and I was working at a job I didn’t enjoy so I could take a three-week vacation to do what I love once a year. Could I really continue to do this for another 30 years in hopes of being able to live the life of my dreams in retirement? I knew there had to be a better way.
I spent several years seeking clarity. I journaled about what I valued and what I felt called to explore. During that time, I stumbled upon a parable about an American businessman and Mexican fisherman. There are many versions of the story, but they all make the same point. The story will challenge you to consider if you’re living your priorities and taking a direct path toward your most important dreams.
The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman
A tired and overworked American businessman was vacationing in Tehuamixtle, a remote fishing village on Mexico’s Pacific coast. A friend offered to let the businessman use his vacation home after a stress-related health scare. Having no cell service and unpredictable wi-fi, the businessman had nothing to do but walk up and down the beautiful bay.
While on an afternoon walk, the businessman stopped and watched a local fisherman pull his small boat up to the beach. The businessman noticed several large tuna, a couple of dorado, and an octopus in the boat. The businessman approached the fisherman and complimented him on his catch. He asked the fisherman how long it took him to catch all of that. The fisherman replied, “Only a little while, maybe two hours, mas o menos.” The businessman was impressed. He then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” The fisherman replied that he had more than enough to provide for his family.
Perplexed, the businessman asked, “Then what do you do with the rest of your time?” The fisherman looked confused. He replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll to the village each evening where I sip raicilla and play guitar with my friends. I have a full and wonderful life”
The businessman scoffed, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I could help you become a success.” “How so?” the fisherman asked. “First, you need to spend more time fishing so you can increase your earnings. Then you’ll be able to buy a bigger boat and catch more fish. As you catch more fish and make extra money, you can buy more boats. Eventually, you’d have a whole fleet and dozens of employees. Then you will be able to open your own cannery and move to Mexico City where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
“How long will this take?” The fisherman asked. “Probably about 20 years,” the businessman replied. “20 years? And then what?” asked the fisherman. The businessman laughed and said, “Then you sell your company and make millions.” “Then you can retire, move to a small remote fishing village where you’ll be able to sleep late, fish a little, play with your grandkids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village each evening to sip raicilla and play guitar with your friends.”
How do you define success?
Can you relate to the businessman? I sure can. I didn’t even need a Harvard MBA to make the same mistakes. And until I hit a similar wall, I didn’t even know what I wanted my life to look like.
I’m not saying that “success” is bad. We need people who are passionate about producing the goods and services we consume each day. But why do some of us take such an indirect path to our dreams? Why do we become accountants when our passion is fishing? Why do we work eighty hours a week when our priority is to spend time with our young family? The answer is because we let someone else define success instead of defining it for ourselves.If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. - Jim Rohn Click To Tweet
We need to define what success means to us and that’s not always easy. It took me several years to figure out what I valued and many people were disappointed along the way. It’s been a long journey and we’ve faced many challenges, but I never could have imagined my husband, Jer, and I would be living the lives we do today. We haven’t achieved all of our dreams, and I wonder if we ever will. As we continue to level up, so do our dreams. We have a full and wonderful life.
Over the years I’ve created a number of exercises to help you figure out what you want so you can start creating a life you love. The first is a questionnaire that will help you narrow down what you value most in life. I’ve narrowed my top two priorities down to my marriage and physical, spiritual, and emotional health. Next, I created a blueprint to help you design your dream life. Get really crazy with this one. Remember that your potential is truly limitless because each time you level up, so does your potential. Finally, I have a guide on creating a personal mission statement. If you’d like to learn more about creating a family vision statement, check out this post from my friend Ashley at Mama Says Namaste.
More Posts to help you define success
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October of 2015. It has been completely revamped for accuracy, comprehensiveness, and readability. Please enjoy and feel free to share this newly revised content.