Nobody Like Odysseus

“My name is Nobody…” – Homer

In the Greek Epic Odyssey, the ever-adaptable Odysseus finds himself faced with a fierce Cyclops who has his mind set on eating him and his men. When the Cyclops asked Odysseus for his name, he responded that his name was “Nobody” and with that the stage was set for his escape.

That evening as the Cyclops slept, drunk from sweet wine gifted to him by Odysseus, he stabbed him in his lone eye. The Cyclops cried out that “Nobody had stabbed him” and his pleas for help were ignored by the other Cyclops, as nobody is nothing to worry about. Odysseus then led his men to safety by hiding them under the Cyclops’ sheep to avoid his touch.

Adaptability equates survivability in life. It is the same for plants and animals as it is for people. Those who can adapt to the world around them as it really is – not how they would like it to be – are the ones who survive – even when faced with terrible odds.

Odyssey calling himself “Nobody” is a simple thoughtful response but with layers that demonstrate powerful mental prowess and humility. To refer to yourself as nobody is not something that is in line with human nature. We are all somebody to someone and to think or speak otherwise is generally regarded as a manifestation of inverted ego. However, none of that came into focus with the story of Odysseus. The words flowed easily as it was his destiny to survive.

When I think about adaptability in my own life, it is much more attainable when I only have one goal. When the goal is to survive, I will survive. When the goal is to find food for my hungry two-year-old child, I will find food.  

However, when the goal is to find food for my hungry two-year-old child, that is also dairy free and organic and it would be nice if it was vegan or at least vegetarian, life gets a bit more complicated. The further I drift from the main goal or purpose set in front of me, the more convoluted my efforts become – the worse the outcome will be.

The plaque of humanity lies in the conflict between wants not needs. The nemesis of adaptability is desire. The solution to these self-inflicted woes is to want less. The path to want less is to first recognize what you already have and develop a practice of gratitude.

In a world where hot water comes from the tap, cold air from the wall, and heat without smoke are all common place, it can be difficult to discern our wants from our needs. The more accustom we are to the comforts of the modern world, the more shocking it is when they are removed.

The quest to live apart from the material world has been documented through the ages. Over 2000 years ago Seneca wrote about the joy he found in losing all his worldly belonging in a shipwreck, as it forced him to recalibrate his priorities. He even went as far as recommending that everyone lose all their belongings, preferability in a shipwreck, at least once in their life.

It’s been a little over eight months since I left the work force to focus on my writing and to better prioritize my family. The itch to return to the corporate world is growing stronger as I find myself losing focus on the creative dream from the distractions of life. These emotions are complicated by the reality that raising two young children requires an immense amount of time, energy, and patience.

The truth however is much less complex. I have conflicting wants. When I set out to write my first book, I focused on writing the book. One goal, one path. However, while working on my second book, I started blogging and now I have more ideas for more projects, and my publisher has ideas, and then there’s the PR guy who says I need a website, and an online presence. The more I strive for success, the more paths appear to take me away from what I originally set out to do. With each new variable met to assist my career, my goal of writing becomes diluted.

I’d like to follow Seneca’s advice and metaphorically shipwreck my expectations. A renewed focus of priorities and motivation for wordsmithing would rise from the ruins, and all would be simpler. At least for a little while. Until the next want came into view. However, it seems a better use of time striving for gratitude for my current position and humility to be Nobody like Odysseus.

Today, I will take comfort in the stories of those who went before me and that nothing that I could encounter in this lifetime is unique to me. I will remember that my adaptability is directly proportionate to my gratitude and that when I feel stuck, I only need to count my blessings and lower my expectations to be happy.

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