When you depart for Ithaca,
Wish for the road to be long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
Don’t fear the Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon.
Constantine Cavafy; Ithaca (1911)
As a child, I longed to be an adult, in control of my own life. Perhaps I did not fully appreciate that with privileges come responsibilities, that one never truly attains that nirvana where “you aren’t the boss of me;” maybe it’s no longer your parents, or your teachers, but eventually it becomes a real boss whom you must satisfy, or a spectrum of customers or clients who expect and demand your best. Nevertheless, while young, I yearned for time to pass more quickly.
As a young adult, I floundered awhile, supporting an already growing family with careers that neither suited nor appealed to me. A brotherly “kick in the rear” helped me focus on a career path that required years of additional schooling. Thanks to the energy of youth that accommodated both work and school, those years passed, but in my mind, not quickly enough. I counted down the days and hours until graduation permitted an earnest start to a new career.
Our middle ages were busy years. Our businesses, though rewarding, were demanding and challenging. Also, one’s community requires time, nurturing and involvement to maintain its appeal. Then that growing family, though a source of pride, needed time and care; not merely running from game to game or event to event, but the time to plan and play, the time to travel, the time for protracted dinners discussing history, politics, and world events. The weeks were long and the weekends exhausting. No one could blame us for occasionally noting with some anticipation that light at the end of a long tunnel when the kids would be grown, the businesses mature, and life a little less stressful.
In later middle age, I must admit to some envy as friends and peers retired full time to their hobbies. More time for travel, reading, and golf held great appeal.
Eventually though, one reaches an age for reflection, where the years gone by, gone all too quickly in hindsight, hold a certain appeal of their own. Nostalgia dims the memory of the chaff and highlights the wheat: weekends consisted of trips to the park with the kids, water pistol ambushes, and Turkey Bowl football; internecine rivalry never raised its ugly head; weekdays involved launching businesses, designing office space, and meeting interesting new clients. Where once we longed for a reduced pace, now we think it would be fun to start something new again. How about a journal this time, an electronic magazine? Something dedicated to our interests, books, travel and wine, museums and golf? If only we had a little more energy. If only we were a little younger. If only, … if only.
As Cavafy suggests, life is a journey, not a destination. It’s the problems dealt with and the walls surmounted that give life its flavor, its meaning.
For some, meaning implies achievement, a goal sought and acquired, power and wealth accumulated, respect from peers. Others believe meaning requires service to your fellow man. Still others cannot divorce meaning from their knowledge of the divine and adherence to its dictates.
Perhaps all of these apply, but for me, life is meant to be enjoyed, and joy is in the simple things, good books, long walks, time with your family, your friends. Work is necessary for sustenance and self-esteem but work too is meant to be enjoyed. Most often when I see a person of success, I also see a person who enjoys the work and career they’ve chosen, who rises each morning excited to face the day’s problems and opportunities.
I think most good lives are likely divided in some ratio among those pursuits: family, work, and self. I would not quibble if some insisted faith be included in a separate slice of a pie chart, although I would allocate faith to family or self, but happiness lies in a healthy balance among those primary pursuits. Whether that healthy balance is in equal measure among them or in some unequal division is a question for each person to answer individually, but I would caution against neglecting any of the three, family, work and self.
Those who neglect work are a burden to society and fail to develop self-esteem. Those who neglect family will be the loneliest in the long run; one is a lonely number. Those who neglect self will abandon all hope for joy because if we do not know what we enjoy, how will we ever find it?
Regardless, what I know for sure is that life’s journey runs by all too quickly on its own, so there’s no value in wishing for the future to arrive sooner, and once arrived there’s no point in wishing you still had more time. You may as well take each day as it comes, work hard to fill it with adventure and knowledge, friends and loved ones, and face your demons with courage and resolve. The voyage to Ithaca will be long and joyous.
If some of your demons are financial, know that your friends at Coastal Wealth have long experience slaying such dragons. Stop on by and we’ll discuss your hopes and dreams.