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A Simple Life... How do we measure success?

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When I lived in Greece, working lots of hours, a bit stressed and without a tan, a Greek friend told me this story...

An American tourist is staying on a small Greek island and goes into a small taverna one evening. Takes a table outside and after a while orders a carafe of local wine and some plates of Greek mezes. The order is taken by a middle aged Greek man, who after a short time brings him his order and leaves the American to enjoy. During the evening a few locals and tourist come into the taverna, either to drink, enjoy the delicious Greek dishes from the small menu and/or see Kosta their friend, the owner of the taverna. The American leaves around midnight.

The next morning the tourist passes by the taverna and notices it is closed and so he finds another place to take morning coffee. Whilst he sits, watching the world go by, a little later he sees the Greek man from the taverna leaving the harbour in a small boat.

The American sees Kosta return a few hours later, with a small catch of fish. He is surprised to see him back so soon as he presumes that the catch of fish is his food supply for the taverna for the evening. He passes by and asks if he had a good fishing trip. The Greek man says he had a great morning and was just going home to have lunch with his family, play with his children, take a siesta and see some of his friends before he opened the taverna for the evening.

The American ponders what he has seen and is a little confused by what he thinks is the Greek man’s lacking of business opportunities, so he returns to the taverna that evening to give the Greek some ‘free advice’.

The America boasted "I run a very successful business in the USA and I could help you. This is what you should do - You should open your taverna for more hours and with the increase in profits after a while you could buy a bigger taverna and employ more staff. Then after a few more years you could buy a bigger boat, takes on some crew, fish more and increase your profit margins more. Then you could open another taverna, employ more staff and then you would be able to purchase another boat, more crew and increase your profits even more. In fact you could buy several boats and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of just using your catch in just your taverna with these extra boats you could sell to other tavernas and restaurants, you could even export.”

The Greek man smiles and says “Then what would I do?”

“Well with all this extra income, you could leave this small island and move to Athens, and run a distribution centre for your expanding enterprise."

The Greek man smiles and says “Then what would I do?”

The American replies “Well with all this hard work, you would have people working for you who could run your successful business, so giving you more free time for you to enjoy life”.

The Greek man asks, "My friend, how long will this all take?" To which the American businessman replies, "15-20 years."

"But what then?" The businessman laughs and says, "That is the best part! When the time is right you would sell your company and become very rich. You would make millions."

Kosta smiles and says “Millions! And then what would I do?”

The American joyfully announces "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your children, take a daily siesta, stroll into the village and see your friends”.

The Greek man still smiling, looked up and said, "Isn't that what I'm doing right now? I am already rich"

My thoughts…

We live in a world in which to some being successful is everything – but what is success? Too many it is measured by your job title, the car you drive, the control you have on others, the plush offices you work from, rather than how happy and healthy you are.

Is having more material things really a successful life? I know that some of the happiest times in my life (and the most lessons learnt) have been when I had a low income job and lived very basically; however I had a happy and healthy life, surrounded by friends, family and life.

In the story above, the businessman measures success by his own expectations, wealth, materialistic life and status. It is a thought process of many in this day and age that "The person with the most new and shiny toys wins”. I myself was once crititzed for have a very out of date phone (it only made calls and sent texts – shame on me) by someone who had hand-made boots, expensive suits, the latest mobile phone and dined in fine restaurants, smoozing to get business, however was in lots of debt to have this lifestyle and had not had a holiday in years. He was not happy when I pointed out that even though my brick of a phone was embarrassing for him, it did not bother the locals when I was on my last holiday a few weeks previously!

In the past few years I have seen a few people who have a great business, which is run on a very basic budget and idea. These include a bloke on a beach in Cuba who drives up and down a beach in a little truck, selling Pino Coladas to all-inclusive guests for £6. At first you would think - How can he sell those to people who are on All-inclusive? Then he pulls up and you watch him make what was 'the' best Pino I have 'ever' had. Made in front of you from fresh pineapples, laced with quality rum, sprinkled with fresh coconut and served to you while you lounge on a white sandy beach. I think he made an average days wage for a Cuban in 2 hours one day. Was he happy? What do you think! Not only was he happy but his job involved meeting peple who were happy and pleased to see him.

I also read recently of a business which had two very nice shops in affluent areas of Cheshire selling hade-made chocolates, with high rents, wages, vat, etc., who was closing (on the verge of bankruptcy) who had wished he had stayed in the small factory outlet he started from, selling to others, rather than run his own shops, which he had done as he felt it was the way forward and would make his business more successful. On the surface this man was rich and succesful, however the reality is the man on the beach is Cuba is richer.

I have in the last few months had conversations with a couple of people in business which I find interesting to compair. One told me he was shutting his business for a few weeks as he did not want to go over the level for which he would pay vat, mainly for the extra work involved so he was jetting off to Australia for a couple of months. Another who was just starting and wanted to be known as a 'Director' of a business, so rather than start small and grow (making sure his business idea would work) he was going into lots of debt to start, taking legal advise, getting plush offices, getting suits hand-made and dangerously presumming that he was already a brand to compete with Coca-Cola! I did want to share some words of wisdom with Mr Director, however remained tight-lipped and wished him well, just as I wished 'Mr I am off to Oz for the winter' a great trip AND I meant it.

There is a danger in waiting to live the life that you really want to live, when you could actually do it now, by making a few sacrifices or by not just succumbing to the pressures of today’s sociality of materialistic possessions and job titles!

As Christmas draws nearer I am reminded of the best Christmas present I had as a child, (as an adult only Mr S's pressie of a Lonely Planet book of Thailand with a plane ticket inside comes anyway close)  which probably gave me a lot of my thought processes and not be materialistic... I wanted a new red and gold bicycle and so my father bought a 2nd hand one, stripped it of the colour, rubbed it down and then spray painted it in the colours I wanted, bought new wheels, saddle bag and a brand new shiny bell. I loved that bike - and did not even think that it was not new, I was just so happy that my father had made that much of an effort.

So do what makes you happy, trust your instincts and never presume that your own expectations of life and possesions are what will work for others!

Right, I’m off to the pound shop…


A Simple Life... How do we measure success?

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