Learn how to slow down, be present, and spend time with people that bring you peace and joy.
“An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.
“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.
“But … What do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”
He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”
To which the American replied, “15–20 years. 25 tops.”
“But what then, señor?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
“Then you would retire and 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, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos …” ”
– Titled “Fables and Fortune Hunters” in the The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
We are constantly in motion. It has become the default. Being still or silent has become a state of being only achievable by monks or gurus.
At least that’s how I felt.
Growing up, my mind was always occupied with to-do lists and goals. It was an obsession. I graduated from my university with Cum Laude honors while being awarded "Super Scholar Athlete” in tennis. I didn’t even make it to my graduation ceremony –– I had already moved to New York to start my master’s degree.
Then came the summer of 2012. I realized that if I didn’t take a break, my mind would explode. So, I bought a ticket to Spain.
I learned more about myself during this time than in my whole 26 years.
Spanish culture was so… different. I immediately felt it. People moved a little slower. Work was important, but it wasn’t the only, or even the most important thing –– relationships were.
I was living with my Catalan boyfriend at the time. We lived in a beautiful apartment with colorful tiling and a patio that overlooked the Sant Antoni market. I would wake up, walk to the corner cafe, and begin my work day. In the afternoon, the cafe would close for siesta. I felt annoyed, like they were interrupting my productivity.
My boyfriend would then call and ask to meet for coffee with his friends. I realized I couldn’t sit and talk over coffee for more than an hour without feeling anxious. God forbid the two or three hour dinners with his Spanish friends…
I envied them all. I envied that they could just BE. They could be present –– listen, talk, laugh –– and they could enjoy it for hours. They were so beautiful, so relaxed, so happy.
Me, on the other hand, had a to-do list on constant repeat in my head, and I couldn’t stop checking my phone every 5 seconds. Not so beautiful, not so relaxed, and definitely not so happy.
I knew that if I returned to the US, I would continue down the same robotic, individualistic path. So, I canceled my ticket, withdrew from my master’s program, and stayed in Barcelona for an entire year. It took time, but I eventually learned to just… be. I learned to be present in the moment. And I learned to prioritize my relationships above work. I felt happier and more connected to a community (not just my laptop).
I believe this happens to many of us. We go through the motions –– we get a degree and get funneled into a good job –– and thus begins what will encompass the next 30-40 years of our lives. For most smart, driven, goal-orientated people, it’s hard to slow down. We are so driven to hit our goals, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy a three-hour dinner without thinking about work. It’s like trying to switch from espresso to decaf.
However, if we take a step back and re-examine our lives, we might start asking the right questions… what I call the “what if?” questions. “What if I did things differently?” “What if my company could run itself without me?” “What if I didn’t have to work at all, what would I do with my time?” “What if I made more time for my relationships?” These types of questions tend to lead to what’s truly important to us.
Honestly, I’m still trying to answer these questions. To me, these answers are works in progress, always changing and evolving, because I am always changing and evolving. My answer at 26 years old isn’t the same as it is today, nearly a decade later at 34 years old. But I do know this –– every year goes by faster and faster. And when I slow down to appreciate life and to spend time with people that bring more color into my world, I feel more joy and peace. And I know I want more of that.