Gone Fishing

From his office, a banker stood and watched a lone fisherman sitting on the edge of a bridge, carefully taking his time and casting a line into the water below. A few minutes later he caught a trout. The banker went back to work. An hour later, he got up and saw that the fisherman was in the same place and had caught more fish. Every so often he would get up from his desk and walk to the window and see the same guy doing exactly the same thing.

Mystified, he left his office, crossed the bridge and walked over to the fisherman. He asked him if had ever thought about selling the fish! He could be catching and cleaning fish and selling them to others.

The fisherman asked the banker, “Then what?” The banker said he could have more lines catching fish for him and he could be selling more fish.

The fisherman asked the banker, “Then what?”
The banker said, “You could franchise the whole thing and make lots of money.”

The fisherman asked the banker, “Then what?”
The banker replied, “Then you can go fishing.”

The moral of this story (told to me by Liam Casey of PCH International, who heard it in China) is that money and success aren’t everything, and that you need to know what you’re aiming for before beginning on an endeavor. We often get caught up in false ambition and forget why we wanted to do something in the first place. That lapse of memory costs us the joy of something that got us started.

Especially in Silicon Valley, we founders get wrapped up in the idea of success that others have drafted and imposed as a template. Why?

About a year ago I met a shoemaker in Italy. We got along famously, despite the obvious language barrier. He is as analog as they come, and when I asked him if I should help him set up an Instagram account or a Facebook page, he looked at me and said, “I want to make shoes for people who love shoes. I don’t want to run an industry.” He knew exactly how many shoes he could make in a month. And thus he knew how much money he could make in a year and what he could do with his life that wasn’t spent making shoes. His story has stayed with me, and as I have embarked on a process of simplification and cleansing of excesses from my life, I always ask myself, “Why is this important, and why should I spend my time on this?”

Today it is easy to learn about starting a business. You can get practical advice and to-do lists at the click of a button. However, what you can’t get from others is the understanding about why you are doing what you are doing and toward what end. If only I had heard this story earlier, I would have made fewer — or perhaps different — mistakes.

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