I read this story in Tim Ferriss’ “The Four Hour Workweek,” and it’s a great parable about being happy in life. I’ve got more thoughts, but if you aren’t familiar with the story, read it first here:
An American consultant was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied only a little while.
The consultant then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked the Mexican how he spent the rest of his time.
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, 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 American consultant scoffed, “I am business consultant and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.
“You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American consultant replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?” asked the fisherman.
The consultant 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. You’ll become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions, senor?” replied the Mexican. “Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. 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.”
Great story, right? Well, it’s a nice reminder to basically enjoy life while you’re living it – but if you’re like me when I was in school, it seems like a load of BS.
When I was going through art school, I was taking four studio classes plus working twenty hours a week at my retail job. I was sleeping between 3-5 hours a night on weekdays and maaaaybe get 7 hours or so on weekends. It was exhausting juggling a crazy amount of classes, projects, work, plus outside projects I would try and take on. Add that to financial instability (hello weeks of P+B sandwiches and instant ramen*!) and I’d say it’s safe to say that I didn’t really have time to smell the roses, let alone play guitar and sip wine.
That said, even when you’re in the thick of it and working your ass off to graduate, or to revise that portfolio, or finish that new project, keep in mind that you do need to take time for yourself.
When art becomes your job, you’ll find that there may be times when you don’t even want to make art. Often times, this is due to when you haven’t been nourishing your creative soul.
Think back to why you started pursuing art in the first place? Why do you create? If you don’t take time to work on art that is purely personal – that is for YOU and not a client – it’s easy to burn yourself out. If I don’t paint for myself for a few weeks, I start getting easily irritable, and grumpy, and I generally hate life. Once I carve out some time to prioritize painting something purely for myself, it’s surprising how much calmer I immediately become.
Really, if our goal in life is to just make art and live life, it’s important to give yourself tastes of your ideal life now, so you remember what it is you’re fighting for. And while I obviously would love to help you get a job in the arts – it might not be right for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with being an artist who doesn’t do it for a living, so make sure you have your priorities straight and that you’re hustling for the right reasons.
*Ramen pro-tip – get a shitload of frozen veggies, and just throw them into the pot when you cook your ramen. It makes it much better, and doesn’t cost a lot more. Also, a bit of sesame oil goes a long way, as does sriracha if you’re into the spicy thing like we are. Variety is the spice of life!