Our culture tends to be future-focused and goal oriented. We make schedules, we outline priorities, and we plan, plan, plan. But what is all the planning for?

Many times it is necessary. We have to schedule doctor’s appointments to make sure we are healthy. Projects need deadlines to get done. If we don’t set a date for a wedding, no one will show up!

 But overzealous planning can also make life messy. More than that, it puts us in a mindset where we set aside happiness for the future. We think that once our goals are achieved, then we’ll be able to truly enjoy ourselves.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

See if you’ve heard this one before…

There was once a businessman standing on the beach in a small fishing village. Looking out to sea, he noticed a local fisherman rowing his boat to shore. The businessman was impressed by all the fat, fresh fish that the fisherman had caught.

When the fisherman arrived on land, the businessman complimented his catch. Yet he was curious.

“How long does it take you to catch your fish?” he asked.

“About a few hours,” the fisherman replied.

“So why don’t you go out and catch more?” the businessman asked. 

“I have more than enough to feed my family,” he fisherman said.

“So what do you do for the rest of the day?” the businessman wanted to know.  

The fisherman smiled.

“Everyday I wake early and I catch fish for a bit. After that, I go home and I play with my children. In the afternoon I take a siesta with my wife. At night I meet my friends in the village. We chat, we play guitar, we share a few beers. ”

The businessman furrowed his brow

“Look,” he explained. “I have a degree in business management. I can help you. From now on, you should spend more time at sea so you can catch more fish. With the proceeds from that, you can buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish.”

“And then?” the fisherman asked.

“Using the money you earn from a bigger boat, you can then get a fleet of boats and hire men to operate them. You can cut out the middleman and start selling your fish directly to processors. You can even open your own cannery and eventually move your company to a big city like New York or Los Angeles. There you’ll be able to expand your enterprise.”

“Hmm, how long would that take?” The fisherman asked.

“About ten to fifteen years.” The businessman said.  

“And then?” The fisherman said. 

“That’s the best part,” the businessman said. “Once you’ve made enough, you can announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You’ll make millions!”

“Millions…and then?” the fisherman asked.

“With all that money, you can retire. You can move to a nice quiet area, maybe a small village by the beach. With all your free time you’ll be able to play with your kids. You can take siestas the afternoon with your wife. At night you can meet your friends in the village. You can chat, play guitar, share a few beers!”
 

Life Doesn’t Need to Be Complicated

There are many different versions of this tale*, but the message of simplicity rings clear every time. In the daily scramble to move forward, we easily lose sight of what is right in front of us. We mistakenly assume that planning and success will bring us what we really want. We reason that if we work hard, grapple for more, and keep our eyes on the future, we will eventually (finally!) be content. But more often than not, all we need to do is enjoy the simple pleasures we already have.

*Owen James Burke traces the original version of this story to German author and Nobel Prize Laureate, Heinrich Boll, who penned the tale in 1963.