Santiago is a fisherman. He gains his livelihood by going out into the sea and catching fish which he can then sell at the market for money to purchase food for himself and bait for more fishing. However, when the story of The Old Man and the Sea opens, "he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish."
That's over two months of days without a catch. After a lifetime of fishing, earning a reputation for himself as a good fisherman, he was now considered to be "salao, which is the worst form of unlucky." The other fishermen felt sorry for him, laughed at him, and tried to avoid him. Manolin, the boy who had been helping him and learning to fish from him, had been forbidden by his parents to go out with Santiago any more.
But still, Santiago made his plans and gathered his gear and his bait and went out on the ocean every day, planning and hoping to have a good catch that day. His determination is the epitomy of "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."