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Career and Life Choices - the Fisherman Story

A great article by Richard Lewis used this popular story about work life balance, revolving around a fisherman. I appreciated him re-framing it around a successful person, their analysis and recommendations.

The parable of a happy fisherman living a simple life on a small island. The fellow goes fishing for a few hours every day. He catches a few fish, sells them to his friends, and enjoys spending the rest of the day with his wife and children, and napping. He couldn’t imagine changing a thing in his relaxed and easy life.

Lewis made a slight to the story:

A recent M.B.A. visits this island and quickly sees how this fisherman could become rich. He could catch more fish, start up a business, market the fish, open a cannery, maybe even issue an I.P.O. Ultimately he would become truly successful. He could donate some of his fish to hungry children worldwide and might even save lives.

“And then what?” asks the fisherman.

“Then you could spend lots of time with your family,” replies the visitor. “Yet you would have made a difference in the world. You would have used your talents, and fed some poor children, instead of just lying around all day.”

The Key Question from this story:

Whats more important to you: less traditional success with a happier, more relaxed life or a hard working job that can make a significant impact?

Lewis explains they pose this to Harvard freshmen as they just enter. However, I believe it's a question to ask multiple times throughout your life.

We often change directions and priorities as we grow and learn. What's initially important may not be as we move though our life and career. This powerful questions can help reset and provide clarity.

Consider asking the question after a major change:

  • Company change like a merger, acquisition or restructuring.

  • Relationship changes either personally or professionally.

  • Achieving a significant accomplishment personally or professionally.

If your answer is different that before, what steps are needed to change your direction and focus?

This is where challenging, but very rewarding work comes into play as you transition to a more satisfying and rewarding career and life.

If you are open to changing, you may fish for enjoyment and other times fish to grow. The choice is yours - and the choice can change.


If you’d like to discuss the ideas in this post or other areas where Coaching might help - I’d love to help.

My email is

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