Don’t Quote Me: What Am I Saving My Energy For?

I’m a huge fan of Laura Vanderkam. She provides me with a steady stream of practical inspiration and many “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments.

Last weekend, in her Week’s Worth newsletter (highly recommend), she discussed a recent family vacation. She described the effort it took to arrange the logistics and identified some hiccups (a toddler wake-up at 3:30 am; a hurricane). Nevertheless, she encouraged readers to prolong the fun of summer by seeking out memory-making events.

Sometimes (often), it’s worthwhile to put in the extra effort. There will undoubtedly be obstacles (even without a toddler in tow) but almost certainly the memories created will endure far longer than opting out of adventure and sitting home on the couch binging Netflix (though a good binge session can be pretty fun).

And then she asked:

In the long run, what are we saving our energy for?

Laura Vanderkam

At various other points, Vanderkam has suggested that when we say we want more time, what we really want is more memories.

I keep circling back to values, but I think I underestimated their importance in determining the hierarchy of my priorities. What do I value? If it’s memories and relationships and connection and adventure then, at the end of the day, what am I saving my energy for when opportunities present themselves to pursue those ideals? Why put the kids to bed early to read a book on how to better connect with my kids when they’re awake?

This reminds me of one of my favourites modern parables. I’ve seen this produced in various formats (without a conclusive attributable author).

It’s a long one, but I think of it often.

the parable of the mexican fisherman

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin 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 American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said 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 said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas 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.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA 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 New York City, where you would run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But 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 would make millions!”

“Millions – 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 siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I know this parable encourages us to embrace what we already have, but more broadly I think it speaks to identifying what we value. What do we want out of life? What are we saving our energy for?

Maybe it is to announce an IPO. To launch a business and build an empire.

Maybe, like Laura Vanderkam, it’s a trip to Maine.

Or maybe it’s sleeping late, fishing, playing with the kids, enjoying an afternoon nap, and spending evenings in the village sipping wine and jamming with friends.

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