More With Less: The Importance of Strengthening What Matters

Fishing Boat

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” –Socrates


Have you ever shared the the experience of frantically searching for something that, ironically when you find it, has been right in front of you the entire time? Perhaps a set of keys? Glasses?  A favorite hat?

There’s a name for this phenomenon. It’s called a schotoma – a fancy sounding term for a mental blind spot. Subconsciously, we all build mental blind spots in our lives. The causes are varied, most often innocent and harmless. Most schotomas are rooted in pre-existing beliefs or triggered by our penchant of moving too fast to recognize the simplicity of a solution at hand.

A couple of weeks back, I experienced a friendship schotoma with a small group of old friends. It was perfect timing. Nearly the end of 2016. Year end. Inevitably, a time for reflection on the joys, difficulties, triumphs, and most meaningful events of the past year. This moment was no exception.

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for literally everyone I know. Perhaps it’s just my peer group, and the stage of life we’re in, but everyone seemed overwhelmingly busy with work obligations, family matters, caught up in a frenzied fuss of community and world affairs.

In the United States, we’re coming off a toxic election year, responsible for draining the positive energy from many. Post-election attitudes continue to fuel feelings of fear, resentment, anger, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, nurture prejudicial surges of boldness and entitlement. Our country is more divided and dangerous than it has existed in generations.

So many people seem constantly stressed. Not just stressed. Overstressed. Struggling through and from crisis to crisis. Searching for the next clear sunrise and stretch of calm waters that will signify everything will be okay. A recent study showed 1 in 5 American adults regularly use anti-anxiety medications. That statistic is not okay!

Amidst all the busyness (or business) of life, the simplicity of what really matters is too often being lost.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” –Mahatma Gandhi

A couple week’s back, in casual conversation, I shared the frustration of ‘being busy being busy’ with an old friend. We soon realized our schedules were mirror images, and neither of us had spent in-person time with our core group of friends for way too long. We agreed it was time to get a small group of friends together…for simply no reason at all.

The next weekend we made it a point to connect at one of our homes. Five friends. Simple fellowship. Fresh food, authentic conversations, liberating libations, and a whole lot of trash talking over the pool table. It was fun, fulfilling, healing. It was human.

The experience reminded me of a story I first heard many years ago, originally written by Heinrich Boll. It’s a fable about the interaction between a humble Mexican fisherman and a driving American businessman. This quick parable is an absolute gem of one-minute-wisdom.

The Mexican Fisherman & the Harvard MBA

A vacationing American businessman standing on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village in southern Mexico watched as a small boat with just one young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American casually asked.

“Oh, a few hours,” the Mexican fisherman replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American businessman then asked.

The Mexican warmly replied, “With this I have more than enough to meet my family’s needs.”

The businessman then became serious, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

Responding with a smile, the Mexican fisherman answered, “I sleep late, play with my children, watch ball games, and take siesta with my wife. Sometimes in the evenings I take a stroll into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, sing a few songs…”

The American businessman impatiently interrupted, “Look, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you to be more profitable. You can start by fishing several hours longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the additional income that larger boat will bring, before long you can buy a second boat, then a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats.”

Proud of his own sharp thinking, he excitedly elaborated a grand scheme which could bring even bigger profits, “Then, instead of selling your catch to a middleman you’ll be able to sell your fish directly to the processor, or even open your own cannery. Eventually, you could control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this tiny coastal village and move to Mexico City, or possibly even Los Angeles or New York City, where you could even further expand your enterprise.”

Having never thought of such things, the Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will all this take?”

After a rapid mental calculation, the Harvard MBA pronounced, “Probably about 15-20 years, maybe less if you work really hard.”

“And then what, señor?” asked the fisherman.

“Why, that’s the best part!” answered the businessman with a laugh. “When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions? Really? What would I do with it all?” asked the young fisherman in disbelief.

The businessman boasted, “Then you could happily retire with all the money you’ve made. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your grandchildren, watch ball games, and take siesta with your wife. You could stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play the guitar and sing with your friends all you want.”

This lesson of this tall tale is powerful: What really matters may be simpler and closer than what we think. Or, in schotoma thinking, it may be existing right in front of us the entire time.

For the sake of our collective mental health, we should seek to identify and claim our happiness-hampering schotomas on a regular basis, while perhaps simultaneously re-thinking society-ingrained beliefs that bigger is always better, more is necessary, and faster is the best way.

Sometimes simplicity, and our ability to recognize what is most important in the simplest manner possible, is the most important thing of all.

What really matters to you? What is of paramount importance in your life? Is it family? Friendships? An evolving relationship with Creator? Money or career? Happiness? Joy? Physical fitness?  Mental health? Love and relationships?

After identifying aspects of life that are most important, a great next step will be to prioritize these items from most important to least important. Then proceed to live life forward with greater simplicity and focus on top priorities…or, what really matters.

While it may seem contradictory, having a lot of everything is about as fulfilling as having nothing at all. It’s better to go deep than go wide. We must seek to recognize and solidify the simple strengths in our lives.

For however tall and wide a tree grows, its roots and underground support system grow equally deep and wide. This is what allows that tree to stand strong, weather storms, and grow to even greater heights. This is an amazing image to visualize as we seek to recognize, simplify, and strengthen what is most important in our lives.

In some small way, I hope this article has sparked a desire within someone to better seek and recognize the most important ingredients in life, and strengthen what truly matters.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J