Why are you sweating your ass off in work when you could be fishing right now?

Posted on October 13 2011 by frank

Have you heard the famous story about a Harvard business graduate and a poor fisherman? If not, start by reading it. Because already twice this trip I have felt that I’ve met a living example from that story. Yesterday, finding myself in the home of a twenty-something fisherman on the small coral island of Caye Caulker and learning that he goes fishing three or four times a week I asked what does he do on the other days. “Hang out with friends, eat good food, drink some rum, go partying, hook up with girls, have sex” was his answer.

I would imagine that many young guys would dream about that kind of simple life filled with earthly pleasures and taking place on the stunningly beautiful Caribbean coast of Belize. But if you find that kind of lifestyle attractive ask yourself why are you not living it?

The 'Budgetman' selling lobster on the main road of Caye Caulker
The 'Budgetman' selling lobster on the main road of Caye Caulker

For most of the young western guys living that dream would be possible: There seemed to be plenty of fish in the ocean and the skill needed to get it up from there is not exactly any rocket science. Besides, living in Belize is cheap compared to western countries so one can make ends meet with going out fishing only a few times a week. Many western travelers staying on the island were saying that living here is awesome and that they would like to stay for a longer time – yet everyone of them were going back home to get back into the corporate treadmill. What is holding us back? I’ll tell you in a minute.

The second encounter with happy fishermen was perhaps even more ‘authentic’ and happened in the tiny, remote and rural village of Orinoco on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where I was the only tourist. Observing their daily living I couldn’t help but being impressed by their life. Here they are, living in extreme poverty by all Western standards. Yet they don’t seem to be lacking much: their food is good by any standard – fresh seafood, organic fruits and vegetables -, they live close to their extended families and friends with a strong sense of community, and the weather is pleasant. And above all, to achieve this lifestyle they work much less hours per day than we ‘wealthy’ westerners.

The reason me and other travelers impressed by the coastal lifestyle of Nicaragua and Belize are not relocating is that the western standards of proper living have an internal hold of us. I couldn’t enjoy being a fisherman in the long run, despite the beauty of that way of living. Why? Because certain sense of progress, achievement and career advancement is lacking from that life. With that way of living I would ‘already be there’ and we in the west are told that what we want in life is always ‘behind the next achievement’. Ours is a world of go-getters, hunger is what keeps the wheels greased. Be a tiger, not a happy sloth! It is this attitude we carry in our souls even on our vacations. We are able to chill out only because we know that it is only a temporary break-off from the ‘real life’. And real life is a life where you should have a clear sense of progress.

Living the simple life in Orinoco
Living the simple life in Orinoco

There was not a trace of this strive for achievement in the village of Orinoco – they were happy to work only to the extent that they have some food on the table. Some days a few hours, on others more, some days not at all. And on Caye Caulker the fellow tourists I met were all telling how the slow pace and chilled out atmosphere grows on you from the moment you step your foot on the island. They learned not to look at the watch and many of them realized at some point that they had spent much more days on the island than they had planned for. Yet when their time was up they returned to their home countries with the more achievement-oriented lifestyle again grabbing a hold of them.

So what is the takeaway? Am I suggesting that every western person should break the chains our culture has captured us with and escape into a more easy, less stressed and happier lifestyle? If I would, I would be practicing hypocrisy because I myself am still possessed with a strong urge to achieve something in my life. But awakening to the knowledge that there are alternatives available is relieving in itself. With alternatives in view one can take a more relaxed attitude towards one’s choice of living. If at some point I realize that I am not achieving what I want to achieve that is not the end of the world. Winning the rat race is not the only way towards fulfillment. By changing the way I want to live my life I can be as happy or even happier in that new situation.

And most importantly, when you truly realize the existence of other ways of living you loose your innocence. From that moment onwards you are making a conscious choice about which of the alternatives you are committing yourself to. I know that with enough time spent on this island I could internalize its way of living and from that moment onwards the western striving would seem alien to me. So change is possible even thought it requires time and effort. The fact that I am not trying to change is already a choice, a commitment to my current way of living. So ask yourself, is life of ease your cup of tea or are you willing to consciously commit yourself to a more stressing lifestyle of pursuit?

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5 responses to “Why are you sweating your ass off in work when you could be fishing right now?”

  1. Arttu says:

    An interesting post! Leaving Babylon is certainly a dream of many. But just some additional points from the society point of view:

    First of all, healthy young men can manage just about everywhere, but that is always not possible for other people.

    Secondly, these people living the “alternatively lifestyle” still use clothing, tools and medicine etc. provided by the western industrial economics. And because rest of us doing mass production, technology and science, these accessories can be provided cheaply.

    I am not saying it is wrong to do live the alternative lifestyle. But if most of the people suddenly decided to become tropical fishermen, the prices for high-tech tools and medicine would jump real high. And then it would not be so nice to be a tropical fisherman anymore – you would have to work with more primitive tools, would die earlier and so forth.

    So I think there is a kind of deep game theory paradox here – the hard work of many makes it possible the easy living of some people, but if we all choice the “easy living”, it would not be so easy no more. Actually it is quite the same discussion that is related to people deliberately living on the social welfare in Nordic countries. I am not trying to make a judgement here, just want to point out that individual decisions have often wider impact as well.

  2. Arttu says:

    And just to look it the other way: if all tropical fishermen suddenly turned into full-blown modern western consumers, that would create a bigger sustainability crisis for Earth.

  3. frank says:

    Thanks Arttu for the comment! Individual decisions indeed have wider political impacts and if there would be a sudden and dramatic mass movement from one way of living into another it surely would have some serious political and economic consequences.

    This kind of mass escape to a simple lifestyle is, however, not what I am offering in this blog post. I am merely suggesting that people should make a more conscious choice about how to live their lives – instead of just following the average path given by one’s society. In making this more conscious choice some might opt to become the easy-living fisherman but quite many would happily continue with their current lifestyle. So if more people made a more authentic choice about their chosen lifestyle it would surely have some impact on both political and economical levels but not as dramatic as one might think.

  4. frank says:

    A friend of a friend suggested that his answer to the headline question of this post is: “Because I love my work!”

    And that is indeed a perfectly valid answer. As said, I am not suggesting that everyone should become a fisherman. What I am suggesting is that everyone should make sure that they do what they love and not what the society expects from them. So when you love what you do you are on the right track, whether it is fishing, accounting, writing, nursing, or something completely different.

  5. Arttu says:

    That is exactly true Mikko and well put! Choosing the “traditional” career path should always be a conscious choice.

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