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Dave Brisbin

Fishermen and Businessmen

A businessman watches a fisherman come in with a great catch. Asks how long it took to catch so much. Only a short while. Why not stay out longer and catch more? It’s enough to feed his family for the day: he gets up early to fish, plays with his children, takes a nap with his wife, then plays guitar at night with friends.

The businessman schools the fisherman to stay out longer, catch more, sell, save, buy more boats, build distribution companies, invest in stocks, and after twenty or twenty five years, retire to do exactly what he is doing each day right now.

Why doesn’t the businessman see the obvious? Why isn’t the fisherman tempted by the businessman’s plan? The businessman represents the first half of life with its focus on deriving meaning from acquisition. The fisherman represents the second half of life with its realization that lasting meaning only comes from within, not from circumstance.

The fisherman takes what is needed each day from an inexhaustible sea, feels no need to own storehouses, trusts the sea and doesn’t fear the future. For the businessman, each day’s work is calculated to create a specific outcome. Against all contingencies, he must carve out and protect assets he hopes will avert the possible futures he fears.

The story is contrasting two phases of life. One is not wrong and the other right—both are necessary and complementary. We begin life in the simplicity of the child, grow into the complexity of the adult, and if we’re aware and willing, fall back into the simplicity of the elder. The fisherman may more represent the child than the elder—someone who intuitively loves simplicity—but for Jesus, the child holds the wisdom of the elder. For us, invested in complexity, this is hard to accept.

How many of us really admire the fisherman? Isn’t he a poster boy for lost potential? First half mentality can never see the wisdom of the second half, yet second half mentality includes the first half…as a tool for living physical life, not an identity. The difference between the businessman and fisherman is a vanquished ego.

We can’t acquire that. It can only be relinquished.


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