One of my favorite parables illustrating differing visions of success is about a Mexican fisherman and an American banker. It goes like this:
An American investment banker was on a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with one fisherman docked.
The banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, "Only a little while." The banker asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish.
The fisherman replied 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 replied, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor."
The banker scoffed, "I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and buy a bigger boat with the proceeds, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually, you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman, you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution."
He added, "Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City to run your growing enterprise."
The fisherman asked, "But señor, how long will this all take?"
To which the banker replied, "15 to 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 could make millions."
"Millions, señor? Then what?"
To which the banker replied, "Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife and stroll to the village in the evenings, where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."
As I write this, I am in a coffee house in my hometown 40 miles west of Chicago, where I'm spending a few months at my mother's house -- the same house I grew up in. I'm texting with two childhood friends about meeting at local wine bar.
Why am I here? I sometimes ask myself. I earned my JD from Yale and spent 15 years in law, government and international affairs. As a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, I met with heads of state from around the world. I traveled to remote African villages with armed security guards to assess U.S. development programs and left on military jets from Andrews Air Force Base to attend donor conferences for reconstruction projects in Iraq. While advising the U.S. director on the World Bank board, I negotiated with international officials on pressing global issues on a weekly basis. Outside the office, I reconstructed my own house in the historic district of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Am I going backwards? Not in my mind. I am shifting my strategic focus to what is most valuable to me now. I am redefining success with my own yardstick by strengthening ties to family and friends, and aligning my professional work with more sustainable practices for my own wellbeing.
A few years ago, my mom was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. At that point, I had been in government and international service for over a decade; I had begun questioning whether exporting Western capitalism to developing countries was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Personally, I was fighting fatigue through Ayurvedic medicines and finding wise inspiration in Eastern spiritual practices.
Soon thereafter, I returned to the Midwest. While transitioning was not easy, I know that I am right where I am supposed to be right now. I'm spending time with my mother, a retired physician, who, even with her health challenges, has enough energy to give me Indian cooking lessons. I'm hitting golf balls with my niece and nephews, who were born while I was living inside the bubble of Washington's Beltway.
I'm reconnecting with childhood friends who happen to be here at this point in their lives. One recently returned from Switzerland, where her husband was posted, and may move again; the other is a professional musician who has traveled extensively with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and now, with four children, is considering a university teaching position in another state. We're re-bonding as we share similar visions about what it means to lead a fulfilling life.
I stay engaged with work in a way that reflects my evolving definition of success. I'm currently of counsel at a global law firm in Chicago and pro-bono counsel for nonprofits focused on community economic development. I'm studying mediation and yoga more deeply; I'm on the board of a local Zen meditation center and investing in a yoga eco-retreat center in Illinois farm country.
I also get on Skype regularly with my significant other as we find our path to be together on a daily basis. He understands this in-between space. He has taught me that life is less like a symphony with a preset score and more like a pick-up jazz quartet where improvisation is part of the process.
What the fisherman/banker parable teaches us is that one's measure of success depends on the metrics used. This is true for individuals, corporations (i.e., triple bottom line) and nations (i.e., Bhutan's gross national happiness index). "The Third Metric" is a visionary movement for all levels of this debate, and one that I support wholeheartedly.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.