There is a popular parable, The Tourist & The Mexican Fisherman, that I want to paraphrase for you. It goes something like this: an American tourist visits Mexico and sees a lone fisherman bringing in his catch for the day. Curious, he asks him why he doesn’t stay out longer and put in more time, to catch more and go on to build a large fishing business.
The Mexican responds by saying that what he is doing now is enough to support his family and give him the lifestyle that he wants. Instead of working harder and harder to make more money, he has made happiness his priority and by default lives a rich life.
If you are like most entrepreneurs, you want to start your own business because of the freedom it offers. Heck, we all do! Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that dream, or the dream of winning the lottery. Having your own business gives us the ability to do what we want, when we want it. At least, that’s what we think when we first have the entrepreneurial dream.
Reality Sets In
It turns out, the customers will tell us what to do and when we need to do it. Our dreams of flexibility and doing what we want will fade away, lost in the shadow of doing what the market demands in order to make a lot of money. And when we aren’t serving clients, we are working our butts off to make more sales. Needless to say, it’s not exactly the comfortable paradise we had imagined.
Spinning Your Wheels
The idea of starting a business to have freedom turns into a whole new story -- one we never saw coming! You believe you are going to work like mad now, so that you can have “financial freedom” later. And then, when that happens, you believe you will be successful and be able to do what you want.
This may work, but it is very rare!
The problem is that the belief of financial freedom becomes a trap. Or perhaps, a habit. You do more to get more, which seems to result in a perpetual loop of doing more and more so that “one day” you will have the freedom because, after all, that is all we know how to do.
Unfortunately, I know people who have been caught up in this cycle for years, even decades. They keep working themselves to the bone, yet their dream of financial freedom is farther away than ever.
I think we can all learn an important lesson from the old story of The Mexican Fisherman -- namely that freedom is really a drive for happiness. And while money seems like it has the potential to bring happiness, it really does not.
What money has is the potential to amplify your core feelings. When you have more money, and you are already happy, you can grow that happiness. But the reverse is true, too. If you are angry, depressed, or unhappy, money is not going to do much to help. In fact, it can lead you down a path of disaster. Just think of all those overnight celebrity success stories about people who are unhappy at their core. They get the money, or financial freedom… and what happens? Two words: Lindsay Lohan.
Change the Goal
So here is the deal: sacrificing your happiness today for the dream that financial freedom will come your way is a huge mistake. I know that hearing me say this may come as a surprise to many, but it’s true!
Instead, modify your business to do what makes you most happy today. Yeah, maybe it isn’t the most financially healthy practice, but if you are happy, day in and day out, it is definitely the healthiest practice.
Besides, I don’t think there is much to applaud in being the richest guy in the graveyard. There is a lot more value to being the guy who squeezed all the juice out of life.
Mike Michalowicz is the Author of the business cult-classic, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Michalowicz has built three multi-million dollar companies, is a frequent expert guest on MSNBC, CNBC, ABC and other television networks, and is a nationally renowned speaker. His website is www.ToiletPaperEntrepreneur.com and his book is available at Amazon.com and all major book stores.