Stock Market Secrets: Ithaca

I wrote this article a few years ago and I reproduce it for my 60th Birthday. 

Ithaca is the island in Greece that Odysseus had so much trouble returning to in Homer’s Odyssey. On his way he survives run ins with the Cicones, Polyphemus (Cyclops to you), Circe, the Sirens, Scylla, the winds of Aeolus, the Laestrygonians, Zeus, Poseidon and Calypso.

A rough trot, and when he finally gets there no-one recognizes him, everyone’s after his wife, she won’t have him back and he has to kill everyone. Hardly a great homecoming. In fact you wonder why he bothered coming back at all.

Thankfully a Greek called Constantine Kavafis wrote a poem in 1911 explaining it. It was called “Ithaca”. You may know it. Here are a few clips from it.

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean

Constantine P. Kavafis (1911)

Turns out that life’s destination isn’t much. That Ithaca is no great reward, but it matters not. It is what you do along the way. That old chestnut. It’s better to travel than arrive. It is the journey not the destination and you should pray that the road is long, welcoming the hurdles along the way.

And so it is. We all sit on the road to Ithaca. I sit on the road to Ithaca.

My road consists of an office, in an industry that chose me, doing little more heroic than pushing electrons around on two computer screens that really can’t be healthy. In fact I’m doing it now. If Odysseus came into the office I, and all my colleagues, would rightly be shamed in his presence for all that we have not done. I’m sure Odysseus could have chosen the path of a stockbroker, but he didn’t. Our journey is not heroic.

Then there is my father. He finally passed on this year. He was a Wing Commander in the RAF, a fighter pilot no less who, as part of his journey spent a three year posting on an RAAF base in Sale in Victoria flashing around in de Havilland Vampire jets, spotting bush fires, teaching people to fly and generally ripping it up like Tom Cruise on valium.

He has his stories, his Cylcops, his Poseidon (the Suez Crisis) and a few Sirens I’m sure. He is closer to Odysseus than I and for that I am proud. Just to have had Dad as my example. He journeyed well and hopefully that made him “so full of experience” that when he arrived at Ithaca this year he was content, not with where it all got him, with the destination, but with how he got there and what he left behind. I can but hope.

Meanwhile, I have just hit my 61st Birthday and I am in the office still. An environment that doesn’t naturally offer me “rare excitement” and doesn’t generate a fear that “stirs my spirit and body” or lend itself to “a danger that will keep my thoughts raised high”. And it isn’t exactly a place “full of adventure” and “full of discovery”.

But here I am. And there you are.

We have no choice but to continue our journeys and whilst there is breath in our bodies we are still travelling and this is not the end. We are all on a miraculous journey, to a destination, that will not matter and we will not be measured by where we got to, but by what we did along the way.

So let me challenge you with a question. For all investors. For anyone who has picked up the Money Magazine and is still reading to this point.

Why are you here?

Have a think about that because if you make investment a part of your journey it has to make the journey better. You have to enjoy it not do it under sufferance in pursuit of a destination that does not matter.

Value the journey. And if that means giving away investment to one of the many products that now return you the averages with no effort, time, or stress, so be it.

Still here? Welcome.

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