Saturday, 12 August 2017

What qualifies as being productive?


Most of you have probably read or heard some variation of the parable reproduced here but the value of the message doesn’t diminish with repetition.

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.  As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.  “I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

This story serves to highlight the differences between the things people value in both the immediate and long term, and also speaks to the value of work-life balance.  We tend to identify closely with this story because we have found a way to live a life where all of our time is ours, to be spent on the things we value. 

We have seen firsthand examples of people who could fill the role of the Brazilian fisherman in countries from Greece to the Caribbean.  These people appear to have found a balance between providing for their families and spending time with their families.  Sure the two hour siestas in the Med would drive me crazy.  Spending the morning torturing the girls with school, eating lunch and finally getting off the boat to explore only to discover that everything is shut down was frustrating.  Ultimately though, siestas put families and people ahead of making a buck.  At least that is what it appears to me without digging into the financials of businesses and families, and evaluating the country’s economy.  

Of late I have been part of conversations where people have made offhanded comments about how the locals are lazy or could be more productive.

What does it mean to be productive?  What qualifies as lazy?  Some would certainly be justified in saying that our family here on Maple is lazy and unproductive, but I think it all depends on what you want to accomplish.  For us, spending this time together as a family is productive and valuable use of our time. 

In North America, the standard is to work for decades with the carrot of a carefree retirement and it can be hard to let go of the standards of productivity that we as North Americans assume should be universal.  Unfortunately, the standard of productivity that we are used to requires giving up large swaths of your time in exchange for time in the future, a trade off that is increasingly becoming less appealing for many.

What’s worse, there are no guarantees that being more productive now will let you enjoy your retirement.  I often share with others my dad’s story where after working 40 years he had only nine healthy years in retirement before cancer ravaged his body for nearly two years before it took his life.  That ratio of working time to leisure time did not appeal to me.  And now I get to visit countries that in some cases appear to have the balance I craved. 

In Grenada, we buy our fruit from a local who wanders around a specific street.  He strikes up a conversation with people he meets.  I got to learn about his family and in return I shared a little about where we are from.  And now, every time he sees us on the street, he remembers us, engages us in conversation and offers to pick fruit for us.  He will then hustle off, pick literally a box full of gorgeous mangoes and passion fruit for 20EC (equivalent of $10 CAD).  Is this lazy?  Unproductive?  Or does he simply value time spent with friends and family over money? 

What do we need in life?  As Maslow likes to remind us, it is all fairly basic: food and shelter.  In North America we like to take what we “need” to a whole other level.  We need two cars, a large house filled to the brim with stuff.  In fact, we also need to rent additional storage to fill that as well with more stuff.  Here in Grenada, we have learned that generally the family home just gets passed down from generation to generation.  So living expenses are minimal.  Sure it might not be the prettiest from our North American lenses, but does it check off that critical “shelter” requirement? It sure does!

As far as we can tell, we have just this one life.  Shouldn’t it be up to each one of us to decide on how we live it?  If one chooses to have that 6,000 sq ft. home, work for four decades to pay it off and enjoy it in retirement, then that is a viable choice.  By the same right, someone who chooses to engage in leisure activities and shorter periods of work engaging people they meet on the street and selling fruit, is also making a viable choice.  I suppose the real beauty in all this is that so many of us have the freedom to choose.


  1. Excellent post. I love that you share your reflections with us. I, in turn, reflect, gratefully.

  2. Hey there! First of all, I love your blog! I've enjoyed reading through it all. I'm in the process of buying a 2010 Leopard 38(384) from Moorings and I loved your blog about ex-charter boats. Do you happen to know of other blogs where people are sailing the same boat? I really enjoy reading about the adventures on the boat we are about to purchase. Thanks and keep up the travels and good times!

  3. Congrats on your new purchase! We do love our Leopard 384. We know two families who both own newer Leopard 48s, not exactly the same boat, but good reads: and All the best as you get settled onto your new boat.