The Secret to Success

3 min read • Aug 20, 2012 • Ty Kiisel

The secret to success isn’t what you might think, but is very well illustrated by the story of the Magic Fish and the Fisherman.

A long time ago, there was an old man and his wife who lived on the shore of the ocean in a broken down old shack. After a tough day fishing with no success, he finally pulled in a single fish. “Put me back in the ocean,” said the fish, “and I will pay you a handsome ransom and give you whatever you wish.”

The fisherman, scared and astonished at a fish that could talk said, “God bless you little goldfish, thank you but I don’t need your ransom. go back to your ocean home,” as he threw him back into the ocean.

When he shared the story with his wife, she was irate. He went back to the ocean and called out to the goldfish who swam up to shore and said, “What is it old man, what do you want?”

The old man bowed and said, “Forgive me, but my wife has scolded me for not asking you for a wash tub to replace ours that is falling apart.”

The goldfish said, “Don’t worry old man, go home and you shall have a new wash-tub, God be with you!”

The fisherman’s wife was still angry when he came home. She wanted him to ask for a cottage, not just a tub. The old man went back to the sea and the scene repeated itself:

“Don’t worry old man,” said the goldfish, “now go home to your new house and God be with you.”

Still angry, the old women lamented that they were still peasants and that she wanted to be a fine lady. Yet again, he returned to the sea to ask of the goldfish.

“Don’t worry old man,” murmured the goldfish, “Go home and God be with you.”

Yet, the woman was still not satisfied. She wanted to be a queen. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, so he returned to the sea again—it was swollen and angry, yet the goldfish, unhappy at yet another encounter grumbled, “Don’t worry old man. Go home and your woman will be a Queen. God be with you.”

Arriving home he found a beautiful palace with servants and his wife sitting upon a throne. Yet, she was not content. After a time, she wanted to be the mistress of all the seas and oceans, with her home in the blue ocean waters. She demanded that the goldfish be her servant to do for her anything that she commanded.

As a storm raged over the ocean, the old man trudged yet again to the sea. The waters were black and angry, billowing and boiling with fury. When the fisherman related to the goldfish what his wife demanded, the goldfish said nothing—he just slipped away into the sea.

The old man waited for many hours before he returned to the palace, yet in it’s place was his old shack and his old woman with a broken down wash tub at her side.

“People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life,” writes Geoffrey James for “Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.”

I’ve observed this to be true.

James suggests that we spend some time every day exercising our “gratitude muscle.”

“The best time to exercise gratitude is just before bed. Take out your tablet (electronic or otherwise) and record the events of the day that created positive emotions, either in you or in those around you,” he suggests.

He argues, and I agree, that by doing so you’ll be reprogramming your brain to recognize the events of the day more positively. “More importantly, you’re also programming your brain to notice even more reasons to feel gratitude,” he writes. “You’ll quickly discover that even a ‘bad day’ is full of moments that are worthy of gratitude. Success becomes sweeter; failure, less sour.”

I can’t remember how many years ago it was that I first heard the story of the fisherman and the magic fish, but the lesson has stuck with me. I’ve noticed that when I’m doing my best to practice and exercise gratitude, I am more successful. “Over time,” says James, “your ‘gratitude muscle’ will become so strong that you’ll attract more success into your life, not to mention greater numbers of successful (i.e., grateful) people. You’ll also find yourself thanking people more often. That’s good for you and for them, too.”

He suggests, and I will too, that we conduct an experiment for a week to see if it really works. Give it a try. Report back here with your successes or failures. At the very least, we’ll all likely be easier to get along with at the end of the week.


Ty Kiisel

Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.