As our world becomes increasingly interconnected it seems as though our values are starting to blend into a muddied puddle of uncertainty. The rise of high speed, mobile communication and the mass dissemination of accessible data has resulted in a great deal of complacency in regards to the dangers of group thinking. While community formed from our shared humanity is a step closer to world peace, it also blinds the individual of their own unique needs and leads them to unwillingly pursue aspirations that might not best serve them.
Take for example the definitions of success or happiness. These terms will never be universal. That being said, if you ask any sample size of individuals to define these words they are likely to answer in relatively simplistic terms: health, family, friends, stability, shelter, fun and love. What they are less likely to say is: riches, fame, admiration, attention, popularity or the like. However, when we interact with strangers and with the world around us it seems that we tend to project the later rather than the former. We are wired to need to project a level of success & accomplishment and shamed if we cannot.
For the entrepreneur, this presents an interesting conundrum. The push & pull between the pursuit of a place in history... of legacy and the alternative: a lifestyle of quiet contentment. Today's advertising messages, media coverage and interpersonal communications via social platforms would have us believe that the pursuit of happiness is a pursuit of more. More consumption. More belongings. More experiences. MORE. We have created economies dependent upon such practices. We have created entire industries around fame and attention (see reality TV). It is more & more difficult to distinguish between what we value or need and what we want or think we have to have. This brings me to the story of The Fisherman and The Banker, which was recently sent to me by an entrepreneur & colleague who (like me) is always navigating the fine line between the desire for more success and a casual lifestyle of balanced contentment. I will not suggest that one is more virtuous than the other. I will instead share this proverbial tale and allow you to apply it to your own life as you see fit.
The Parable of The Fisherman And The Banker
An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.
The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, 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 investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”
Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
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 could make millions.”
“Millions, senor? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Being clear of the worst, I am now able to comfortably state that I spent the last year engaged in a medical crisis. As June approaches I am reminded of where I was this time a year ago and still surprised at how naive I really was when my body began to shut down on me. Then 27 and a lifelong athlete with no prior medical problems, I simply told myself that the strange dizzy spells, bouts of weakness in my legs and sudden shortness of breath I was experiencing had everything to do with my devotion to my business and lack of dedication to diet/exercise.
As a busy solo entrepreneur transitioning from part-time consultant/freelancer to full-time business owner it became the norm to grab whatever was convenient for meals- like a slice, burgers and burritos, drown each bite with caffeine and then neglect the gym in exchange for a few drinks at the bar to unwind.
As the strange symptoms went from occasional moments of oddity to blatantly obvious reasons for concern, I went through the excuses: I’m not eating that well, I’m not sleeping that well (I had a terrible habit of staying up until 4am working and starting again at 10am) or I’m not getting enough fitness. I was also devoting a considerable amount of time to my then girlfriend and ignoring my own needs in regards to time and emotional fulfillment from friends/family.
In other words, I was neglecting all of the critical factors for personal health: physical fitness, nutrition, human connection and rest. For the average person looking in it was pretty obvious that I was in need of a massive shift in lifestyle. As an entrepreneur I simply didn’t have the time to deal with it. If only I could go back and shake myself for such ignorance.
When I began feeling an aggressive and uncomfortable aching in my lower abdomen I knew that I had walked to the end of the line with whatever was impacting my health. On June 3rd, after weeks of encouragement from those close to me, I casually ventured into the emergency room. Of course, I had saved the trip for the end of the day- as I made time to take a lunch meeting with a friend and preview a venue for a client event with my intern first. Once again, taking care of me was my last priority.
When the ER nurse at check-in first looked at me she blurted out, ‘you look terrible’. I was pale, weak and immediately worried. It was becoming evident that my self-diagnosis of needing a simple prescription to correct some small dietary imbalance was far from reality. The average human has a hemoglobin level of 13-17, which is really a measure of the amount of oxygen in your blood. Tests indicated my level was 4.7 that day. I was later told I should have had a heart attack or stroke weeks before. I was admitted for a barrage of follow-up tests. It was already known that I was severely anemic. A few days later, like a silent bullet ripping through me while I walked down the sidewalk, the true diagnosis came.
‘You have leukemia’. I was no longer the founder of my own company, a soccer player or a writer… the only title that now resonated with my identity was the one that we all dread: cancer patient. It was a term I had heard before and immediately associated with death.
Fortunately, I was built for the battle that lay ahead and I had the support around me to fight through the 5 months of treatment, stem-cell transplant and on-going maintenance that followed. Luckily, I am able to write this blog feeling near normal health again and with a new found vigor for bringing C2Bseen services to socially-conscious and passionate entrepreneurs who are working to realize their own visions. However, without a mix of luck and miracle involved, my fortune could just as easily been tragedy.
In recent weeks I have had some transformative conversations with individuals exploring their deepest inner purpose and wishes for a life of fulfillment. While financial concerns, professional aspirations and ambitious tangible goals are a piece of that puzzle, our talks always seem to come back to the simple things that construct a real platform for happiness and success; the same things I was ignoring while blindly believing all my time and energy had to go toward my start-up.
The lesson I learned the hard way, but am richer for knowing, is that without self-preservation of your innate human needs you are depriving yourself of the possibility for professional longevity. A sick, exhausted, discontent and disconnected entrepreneur at the helm will only breed a similar culture. An absent entrepreneur forced into the hospital won’t be able to work at all. The rule is clear: when you ignore you the work will suffer, growth will be stunted and creativity will stall.
There are a thousand quotes that claim that the successful business person gets there by burying their head and digging in. In theory this is accurate: you will need to work as hard as or harder than everyone you know and most certainly your competition. However, there is such a thing as a business that fits your lifestyle and you should be open and honest about what you need on a personal level in order to build a prosperous company.
Entrepreneurs that fail to recognize the need for purity in mind, body and soul are setting themselves up for almost certain ruin. Heed my warning before an irreversible wake-up call does it for you.