The Most Important Lesson in Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”


Spoiler warning — Okay, maybe there aren’t any spoilers. Because this book is over five decades old. And, it’s a pretty simple story anyway.

But as simple as it is, it brings forth its message so elegantly, which is part of Hemingway’s genius.

In the story we sail at the lonely, desolate sea with old man Santiago. He has been through a lot, we can tell. He lives alone in a small shack with no family. He had a wife, but she’d passed away long ago. His only company is a young boy who looks after him every now and then and goes fishing with him. But even that young boy has left him to sail in someone else’s boat since his parents didn’t want him to go fishing with a loser — Or a “salao” — A person with the worst form of luck there is. Santiago hasn’t caught a single fish for 84 days now.

Santiago doesn’t have the oversized ego of a Kanye West or a Donald Trump. He works hard in silence, he doesn’t give too much of a damn about making himself look good in front of other people. Life is life, filled with difficulties and challenges. Life is not a theatrical act.


” ‘But man is not made for defeat,’ he said. ‘A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’ “


If there were only one lesson that we could excavate from the story, it would be this : Stay on your own tracks.

When he sailed alone at sea, Santiago finally caught a fish — Not just a fish, but a big ass marlin fish. It was already hard enough to kill it, but it was even harder to protect it on his way back home. Sharks preyed after it like it was a rag doll, and ripped away every lump of flesh and skin.

All he brought home was the skeleton of the marlin. But, with scars and bruises on his body, Santiago slept soundly, because he knew he did the best he possibly could. And that was enough for him. The skeleton was now just garbage waiting to be disposed. The people in his village didn’t even know what it was. They thought it was the bones of a shark.

Victory isn’t a prerequisite for success. It doesn’t have to be.

One of the world’s greatest basketball coaches, John Wooden once said, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

The world doesn’t have to celebrate you or name you as “The greatest ____” in order for you to feel like you’re a winner, like you’ve done something worthwhile in your life. The world might not immediately understand the change that you’re trying to bring. It may take a very long time until that happens. Ask the men and women in history whose books were burned, who were called all kinds of hurtful labels, who were even killed before everyone realized they were right.

Like when Santiago brought home the skeleton, the people didn’t know what he went through. They didn’t see the struggles, just a piece of junk. They would’ve reacted differently if Santiago brought home a trophy, i.e the fish in good condition, but how long would they stay in awe until they become indifferent again?

Which is why you have to ask yourself, “Is this about me — Getting awards and praises, or is it about the work I’m dedicating myself to? If it were the latter, my own best efforts would make me feel good about myself. My own efforts fulfill me. My success isn’t about getting a trophy.”


” ‘If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy,’ he said aloud. ‘But since I am not crazy, I do not care.’ “


We’re busy keeping up with the Joneses, keeping with the Kardashians, keeping with whoever the hell — We forget that they’re probably trying to keep up with us.

No matter how successful you are, there will always be someone who will make you feel like absolute trash and make all your accomplishments seem like nothing.

Everyone values different things. Or they value certain things at a higher degree. Some value God more, some value relationships more, some value having a lot of money. Everyone has different things that they want to accomplish in their lives.

So do you.

You know what you care about most. You know what you value in life, so why would you compare yourself with another person who is more “successful” than you are?

Stay on your tracks. Once you really get to know yourself and what’s important to you, not anyone else, that you can opt out of those endless stupid races to get more and more than you actually want.






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