Climbing the ladder: How high is high enough?

What is the good life?
What is the good life?

As I state clearly on my about page,” If you are looking for a new job or career—or want to advance in the one you have—then this site is for you.” I believe strongly in personal and professional development, and that achieving the life you want is about hustle, hard work and good planning.

But sometimes it isn’t.

I think we can all benefit from taking a step back now and then to re-evaluate what is important to us and readjust the life plan as it were. With this is mind I wanted to share a little story that has bounced around the internet for a while. I have no idea what its origin is, or how factual its tale, but the message is quite appropriate to today’s topic.

One day a well off, but over-worked, investment banker took an adventure traveling trip to a small island in Indonesia where he happened upon a fisherman in a local village. The two struck up a casual conversation at a little street side cafe. Over a cup of strong coffee the banker mused aloud about whether or not he could live life at this kind of relaxed pace.

“I come from a large city with lots of people, noise, distractions, you name it. This past week has been so different for me. Really eye-opening. The peace and quiet I have experienced on your island have been completely restorative. I feel like I can go conquer the world. But, I wonder if I could really live like this full-time. Life seems so simple. What is it that you do here day after day?”

After pausing a moment while seeming to look to the open blue sky for an answer, the fishermen leveled his gaze on the banker and replied.

“Well, I fish in the morning. Then, I go into town to drink and play cards with my friends. I take a nap in the afternoon and then spend the rest of the day with my wife and family eating, talking and relaxing.”

Their conversation went on from there for a few pleasant minutes but then, as he was starving from an afternoon of trekking, the banker asked the fisherman if he knew of someplace where he could buy a filling meal. The fisherman told him that his wife, in fact, had a small stand down the street where she cooked and sold his catch of the day to tourists. The investment banker thanked him and headed down the street.

A half an hour later, after eating the best tasting fish of his life, he was back at the cafe looking for that fisherman. After inquiring of the locals for a few minutes he found his new acquaintance at a small bar with a few friends.

“That fish was absolutely amazing! I have never heard of, or tasted, anything like it before. You must be one of the only fisherman in the world to catch and prepare it. Do you sell it to the mainland?” he asked.

“No, it is only sold here, on the island.”

“I really think I could help you here. With a little marketing and entrepreneurship you could market this fish throughout all of Indonesia, maybe even the world if you got lucky.”

“How would I do that?”

“Well, first you’d need to go to the mainland and into the city to find some investors buy more boats and hire some additional fisherman to increase your yield. If you started fishing both morning and afternoon with extra boats you could catch enough to supply more than one food stand for local tourists. Your wife could manage that part of the operation in the beginning. She would need to find a few more local areas to set up shop and she would need to hire and manage a few more employees to work as cooks and servers.”

“OK, then what?”

“Then you’d need to start aggressively marketing your brand throughout the region. You’d take the extra money you made from the additional food stands and hire a marketing firm to raise brand consciousness. As more and more people grew to love your fish, and trust me they will, you’ll probably have to step up production. From what I understand island fish tend to be more plentiful the deeper out to sea you look, so you may need to start multi-day excursions to meet demand.”

“How long will this take?”

Well between ramping up production, opening new stands and then spreading throughout the region, you are probably looking at about a ten-year project. But then once this type of fish catches on with buyers you could think about franchising the operation. Setting up a successful franchise that expands globally could take another 10 years. However, with a little good fortune along the way you could be looking at a world-wide franchise. Then you could just sit back and watch the profits roll in. Believe me, I do this for a living; it could work. All in all you are looking at 20 years tops to build a business that allows you the freedom to do anything!”

“Like what?”

“Well, you could relax, drink with your friends and enjoy your family for the rest of your days.”

At which point the fisherman thanked the banker for his advice and returned to his friends none the wiser.

So why did I share this? Because sometimes we climb the career success ladder just for the sake of climbing. Sometimes a truly successful and fulfilling life can be found by standing still. The key is to give yourself the time to at least ask the question: What is the good life?