Personal Finance 

Work To Live or Live To Work? [VIDEO]

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My wife and I recently returned from the most amazing trip to Europe. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime, whirlwind trips where you have a ridiculous amount of fun, meet all manner of interesting people, and come back more cultured, educated, and open-minded than you ever expected.

In this video, I talk about the idea of whether we are working to live or living to work and how it’s important to take a step back, from time to time, to think about our situation.

I want to reiterate that I don’t believe one lifestyle is better than another, only that you need to take stock of what you have and what you’re doing. Stop and smell the roses sometimes, you might realize you need to slow down or that you’re better off going full speed now and stopping later.

Mexican Fisherman Joke

Here’s the joke (or at least one version of it) I recapped in the video:

An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.

“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.

“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”

{ 28 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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28 Responses to “Work To Live or Live To Work? [VIDEO]”

  1. Terry says:


  2. The Mexican fisherman story was in The 4-Hour Workweek, but that’s probably not the origin.

    This is a great message Jim. And you’re right we all need to step back and consider it from time to time.

    Just my personal opinion, I think we work to live, but we get caught up in the work side, thinking that if we can accumulate more money that life will be easier and we won’t have to work as much. After a while, you’re running like a chipmunk on a wheel and you’ve lost site of what it is you’re doing.

    Just a guess, but if we could find a way to lead a happy, or at least contented life, only working 20-30 hours a week, I think most people would. Of course we’d be happier if the culture around us shared that goal, since it’s hard to be happy on less when everyone around you is striving for more. We live up or down to the standard around us.

    It’s actually mind boggling to consider what we might be able to accomplish if we could slow down, get out of the rat race, and actually have some truly unecumbered time to pursue our passions.

  3. ctreit says:

    I read this story in business school, when the story was published by the socialist student body. There is no question that there is a lot of truth and wisdom in this story. But as Terry suggests, this story ignores the uncertainty the future holds for all of us.

  4. Jef Claes says:

    That’s a great story. Hits the nail by on the head!

  5. That story has been around for a long time, but is nonetheless a good one.

    There’s a happy medium where you’re saving for a rainy day while still not ignoring the enjoyable aspects of life. Would I work 80 hours/week for 2-3 times my current salary? No.

  6. Caitlin says:

    I’ve never heard that story, but I liked it!

    I do wish the North American culture focused a little more on actually living life and a little less on simply working all the time.

    • Carla says:

      I totally agree with you Caitlin. People think my life is over because I’m on disability from my “9-5”. No, its just starting!

  7. Michael says:

    Great post! I think there needs to be a balance if possible. Many people have to work all the time to cover the essentials like food, water, and shelter. But most Americans really don’t need to. We work hard so we can have the bigger house, the newer car, the better bling. But most of the rush from that consumer stuff fades in a matter of days or months. True happiness comes from doing something well and getting satisfaction out of it and growing wonderful relationships around you. I think it’s good to re-evaluate every few months what you are working for.

  8. JJ says:

    I work for health insurance 🙁

    • Moneymonk says:

      I’m like JJ, health insurance and traveling is what keeps me working

      • Anonymous says:

        Why do you like to travel? Is it because you home community lack cultural, social, and environmental richness? Is it because you don’t know how to pass time enjoyably without spending money

  9. Michael–Very valid point! Happiness is mostly what we do with our lives, and not what we have.

    The whole marketing culture probably has a big hand in how this has been distorted, and being perhaps the most media saturated society on the planet, we really are vulnerable to following a life’s plan laid out by someone else, as opposed to pursuing true happiness.

  10. eric says:

    Nothing like a whirlwind European trip…jealous. 🙂

  11. ming says:

    I think it should be live to work, if you are really passionate about your work and work to live otherwise together with be happy on less.

  12. bert says:

    This is a great blog entry. Thanks Jim for posting this!

  13. Very funny joke! Ah . . . the rat race!

  14. Captain Rob says:

    Ahoy mateys,

    The “Mexican Fisherman” story, more correctly titled – The Good Life Parable

    was written by my friend, Dr Mark Albion when he was a professor at Harvard. You may google his name to find out more….


  15. Workersusa says:

    Life is not simple. As my Zoology professor said many moons ago: “life, at the core of it all, is nothing but a constant struggle for survival in order to make useful that which is in between your legs just like any other organism. Everything else is man’s attempts to hide that raw reality.”

    WORK TO LIVE has its own problem. Care to guess? One has to “work to live” even when one gets to her/his golden years when one is less mobile, less flexible and less pretty/handsome! Americans do have it best as long as they have the discipline to keep a decent work-life balance.

  16. TR says:


    Fantastic commentary. This is something I think about all the time. I work about 70-80 hours a week and make more money than I ever expected I would make but I keep wondering if I am doing what I should be doing with my life.

  17. Tony says:

    The trick is to do both! that is bust your hump for 5-10-15 years. Find a high-paying career or business (probably high stress position) , be super frugal , save an invest aggressively, then if you had luck on your side (luck does play a part, good health, no marital discourse, no tanking economy, etc.) retire at 40, 50.

    The key is to live to work for the shortest amount of time until your financial goals are met. The concept of working till your 62 is silly, you should only work (hard) as just as long as you need to and no more, get your financial freedom (which is different for everyone.) then savor life.

  18. aua868s says:

    my ambitions keep me going at work!

  19. FlyFisher says:

    Great insight and much needed step back from it all.

  20. Jool says:

    Life is about living – NOW. Why ‘bust our guts’ to retire/slow down from working when in 5,10,15 years we may not be here anymore to enjoy the ‘fruits of our labour’?

    Work is good, work gives us purpose. When we do something we enjoy, or at least do what we do with passion, then work is a pleasant and beneficial past-time. Just don’t fill our day/week/years with work – take time for relationships, relaxation, and for our souls.

    Don’t ignore tomorrow (not saving, etc), but don’t fear tomorrow – it’s much more likely than not that it’ll all work out anyway!

    Enjoy today. Living is in the journey.

  21. cdiver says:

    me want to be mexican fisherman too.

  22. Tasneem Ismail says:

    Amigo is spending a satisfied life,has no stress or depression and once you be greedy,your greed never stops and messes up everything and family has a greater importance and should be taken that way,Money is important but money is not everything and One should try to keep a balance between work/money and family.

  23. Eleni says:

    I have been saying this for so long!! I totally agree with you.

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