Play BIG: Give Your Life Meaning By Inventing And Struggling For Your Ithaca

Have you read Homer’s The Odyssey? If you have you will know that the hero, Odysseus, undergoes ten years of struggle/hardship to return to Ithaca – his kingdom, his home, where his family awaits him.  His ten years are not years of ease, pleasure and happiness. The ten years are full of everything that life offers. Even in his darkest hours, Odysseus does not give up hope. Why?  He lives to return to Ithaca: to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus.

In an age where most people, when they allow themselves to get present to it, find that their living (and the society they live in) lacks meaning, it occurs to me that it is up to you/i to create our own Ithaca.  And strive for it.  In the process turning a meaningless existence into one that is meaningful.  Does it matter what this Ithaca is?  No. You/i can choose and indeed have to choose.  Yes, it is great if it is an Ithaca that really calls to you/me. And yet, one invented for the sake of invention, can also provide meaning. What do I mean by that?  Allow me to give you an example – a real example from my own life.

For more than three weeks my back has been playing up. And I have been in pretty much constant pain. At the start I could not sit at my desk at all. Somewhere along week 2 I could sit for some 15 minutes. Now I can sit for as much as 30 minutes.  There were nights where I was in so much pain that I could not sleep.  Amidst this pain, I chose to create-invent an Ithaca: learn more about marketing automation and take/pass the exam to become a Certified Pardot Consultant.  So I found myself lying on back, MacBook open, watching videos. I found myself sitting at my desk for 15 minutes at a time, making notes. I found myself printing stuff off so that I could walk around read stuff. learn it, memorise it.  I found myself with a sense of mission, engaged, and in the process the bad back was merely an obstacle.  The first time I took the exam, I failed. Did I lose heart? No!

The mission was still intact – in fact stronger than before.  Now, I found myself wiser: I knew what I had not learned. So that very day, the day I failed the exam, I started studying again. A week later, still in pain, I drove to the test centre (despite my wife’s concern-protests) in pain, and sat the exam again: I passed, I attained my Ithaca.  Is it a big deal that I passed the exam and find myself a Certified Pardot Consultant. No, not really: it has not transformed my life. Yet, the journey over the three weeks did give me meaning. And allowed me to show up as an author of my life rather than the victim: the poor victim of incapacitating back pain. That is what matters to me – the experience of living whilst walking the path.

Why did I share that with you? To provide the context that will allow you to make sense of and hopefully resonate with the following poem:

Ithaca

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean.

– C.P. Cavafy

Finally, I wish to acknowledge and thank my dear “old” friend: James Harvey.  James, I thank you for reaching out to me after my last conversation here. I have been working with my Chiropractor (Sandra) to get my back fit for a normal life. As Sandra and I have been working together for 5+years, she was able to make a big difference quickly. And I will treasure the care/love that I experienced as a result of you reaching out to me. I want you to know that I am truly grateful that you exist; i find this world to be a richer place as a result of your existence.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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