Ithaca, a Life Lesson by Constantine Cavafy (via Jonah Hill)

Ithaca, a poem by Constantine Cavafy recently found it’s way into my life.

I was listening to Jonah Hill being interviewed by Howard Stern. Jonah mentioned that he turned down a huge amount of money to appear in a movie, simply because he didn’t think it was very good. He said he was able to turn it down because he doesn’t care about the money. (A lot of people say they don’t care about money, but when the big offer comes, they take it).

Side Note: On the flip side, he also did Wolf of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio for just $60,000 because he liked the movie so much.

When asked why he only does movies he loves vs doing the movie that makes him the most money, Jonah said that he was given a poem many years ago by David Geffen that changed his life. The poem was ‘Ithaca’ by Constantine Cavafy.

I did some research and found that Ithaca uses the story of the Odyssey as a metaphor for the journey of life. It hit me so hard that I felt I had to share it. Here it is.

Ithaca, by Constantine P. Cavafy

Ithaca, by Constantine Cavafy

When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy –
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithakas mean

Whether you’re in a band, doing online marketing, trying to get in shape or just trying to get through day-to-day life, Ithaca applies.

  • In A Band. Instead of focusing on fame and fortune, focus on writing great music and having fun with your friends. If fame is the only goal, and it never comes you’re good time will look like failure.
  • Online Marketing. Instead of focusing on making a certain amount of money, enjoy the game of launching campaigns and split testings ads and landing pages and copywriting. Most of the top guys I know would be playing around online whether they made money or not.
  • Getting in Shape. Instead of focusing on getting ripped / losing weight as fast as possible, enjoy the process of going to the gym, getting exercise and feeling a better each week.
  • Day to Day Life. Don’t regret things that happened in the past, even the terrible stuff, because it’s part of the process that got you where you are today. And you never know where it will lead you next.

Ithaca reminds us to live for the journey rather than the expected results... A concept that is very simple to understand yet very hard at times (for me) to do.

Now, it’s your turn. What does Ithaca mean to you?

  • Debra

    Sometimes we are so focused on the difficulties of life, the hardship, the loss…that we don’t recognize the blessings received of strength, wisdom, compassion and experience that only this journey could have given…..and surprisingly you become capable of reaching out as soneone else comes along your path….sharing, inspiring and rescuing all along your way.

    • Malan Darras

      nice. yeah it’s hard to do… the past and future are like magnets for my thoughts.

  • Petre Veluda

    It’s true. When I was writing content for blogs, there was always this formula coming up: write for your audience. Focus on content, quality and write for your readers not for traffic. The results will come faster this way and with a better response rate.

    I guess it applies for everything and that you gave this example, it gets another validation. It’s hard though to do it when you are first starting out, but at least if you know about it I think it’s good to apply it from time to time than not at all.

  • Ting

    Beautiful.. and I’m listening to a motivational video while reading this, which makes me feel even more overwhelmed.
    I chose a path less traveled 3years ago, which was faced with lots of objection from family. Started an ‘unglamorous’ business, don’t have stable income, away from home in a developing country and people always ask why we make this seemingly stupid choice. Not an easy road.. but I have never grown so much or have been happier my life. 🙂

    • Malan Darras

      wow Ting, thanks for sharing your story. that’s the coolest thing i’ve read all day. enjoy the ride.

  • Dan Gempesaw

    Amor Fati 🙂

    • Malan Darras

      I just looked this up 🙂 Love it, thanks Dan

      Amor fati is a Latin phrase loosely translating to “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate”. It is used to describe an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good. Moreover, it is characterized by an acceptance of the events or situations that occur in one’s life.

      • Dan Gempesaw

        You’re welcome! Nietzsche has always been my favorite when in comes to reveling on the difficult tasks.

        • Malan Darras

          one of my favorites too. been a while since I’ve read his stuff tho

  • Jon Tam

    I remember reading this poem in high school while taking a standardized test. I ignored the test and read the poem 🙂 Living in the present is always a struggle

    • Malan Darras

      I should have paid more attention in school haha. And yes Jon Tam, like I said it’s a simple concept but not easy to do. My brain constantly goes backwards and forwards in time… rarely ever settling on the now. I’m working on it though… getting a little better all the time.

  • kNk

    This entire article can be summed up to: “Focus on the process rather than the result”

    Your posts are getting better and better, Malan. Keep it up.

    • Malan Darras

      #boom right on kNk. and thanks for the compliment. i’m glad they’re not getting worse 🙂

  • Edgar Ochoa

    Wow. Deep stuff Malan, thank you for sharing this. I had never heard of this poem before…

    It reminded me of the book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho… somewhere in the book it said “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

    And so I wrote this down to remind me whenever I might be feeling like “giving up” — so I just try to enjoy the process, the journey… and continue learning and applying everything that will lead to my goal/s.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Malan Darras

      yeah Edgar, now that you mention it they’re very similar. I read The Alchemist a long time ago, might have to break it out again, just on Kindle this time 🙂

  • Andrew

    It’s a great poem. I have read it like 50 times already and still can’t digest it fully… I know what it is about… but this thought is not 100% clear yet (if you know what I mean..). But I always knew that the goal is to enjoy the road itself. Post of the year Malan.