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How to take your life’s journey

The crucial question you should ask yourself

Do you prefer quiet to loud, depth to superficiality, sensitivity to cool? Welcome to the
Kindred Letters - my (free) newsletter for 525,000+ kindred spirits drawn to quiet, depth, and beauty.

This is a space for finding a richer form of happiness: defining success on our own terms, and learning to thrive, as our deepest, truest selves.

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Dear Reader,

Where are you on your life journey and - maybe more to the point - where is your Ithaka?

As I mentioned last week, I’m on a Cavafy kick. Constantine Cavafy was a Greek poet who often wrote about events from ancient history and literature. Here’s another gorgeous one that I posted recently on social, and that merits further discussion here, in the Kindred Letters. This one is based on Homer’s Odyssey -- and Ulysses’ famous journey back to his homeland, Ithaka, after the Trojan war.

The poem is a metaphor for the journey of life itself, with Ithaka symbolizing the fulfilment of that life journey.

Read it through, and then I’ll give you my interpretation.




As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn't have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

As usual, Cavafy ends with a goosebump-inducing line: “you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”

And he’s already told us what they mean, with the OTHER goosebump-inducing line that preceded this final one: “Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.”

In other words: this poem conveys the timeless idea that the journey, not the destination, is the ultimate point. And that the destination's whole point is to facilitate the journey.

Today's sponsor of the Kindred Letters is Paula Prober, psychotherapist and author of three books about what she calls "The Rainforest Mind". You'll see in a minute why she wants her work to reach our community of Kindred readers!

Paula asks: Do you worry about the meaning of life, the future of the planet, the nature of reality, and how to contribute to a peaceful world? Do your sensitivities sometimes run amok? Do people tell you to lower your standards -- when you wish they'd raise theirs? Were you accused of being a know-it-all in school when you were really a want-to-know-it-all? Is your big, soft, lonely heart breaking on a regular basis?

If you tended to answer yes to these questions, then you probably have a rainforest mind. This is the metaphor that Paula uses to describe people who are highly sensitive, creative, resourceful, resilient, intense, smart, and misunderstood. She works with these clients to help them find self-acceptance, self-confidence, meaning/purpose, and to thrive in relationships and in life. I love the rainforest mind metaphor as a way of embracing ourselves, in all our bittersweet complexity! Visit Paula's popular blog,, to learn more about Paula and her three books, including her most recent: Saving Your Rainforest Mind: A Guided Journal for the Curious, Creative, Smart, & Sensitive.

But I think the poem has a spiritual element too, the same one that’s at the heart of my book Bittersweet and that I’ve been trying to share for years now. Early in Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey, we meet Ulysses, weeping on a beach, longing for home (Ithaka).

And the reader understands that it’s this very homesickness that sets his journey in motion; and that this longing for Ithaka represents the spiritual longing we all feel (whether we’re atheists, believers, or somewhere in between) to return to the perfect and beautiful world from whence we came.

Freud interpreted this longed-for world as the womb. The Judeo-Christian tradition calls it the Garden of Eden. The Sufis call it the Beloved of the Soul, with whom they long for union. The Wizard of Oz calls it Somewhere Over the Rainbow. But it’s all the same thing. And this longing is what J.R. Tolkien called “our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human.”

So please ask yourself: who or what do you long for, and where will your longing carry you?


Of course, there’s one big thing you have to overlook, in order to fully relish this poem: What about the people back home – Ulysses’ son, Telemachus, who longed for him, all the years of his absence, without the benefit of an exciting journey to distract and enrich him? What about Ulysses’ wife Penelope, trapped in her womanly role of weaving and unweaving all day and night, in an effort to fend off Ithaka’s would-be plunderers?

Many poets have addressed this question. One of my favorites is Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “An Ancient Gesture,” which I came across in my 9th grade literature textbook, and which immediately seized me.

An Ancient Gesture

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can't keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don't know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried.

“Penelope, who really cried.”

I think about that line, ALL THE TIME, when I see politicians or other public figures mimicking deep emotions for the crowd’s consumption.

False tears won’t carry us home – but Penelope’s tears might.


And one other person who has addressed Penelope’s situation is actually… me. My very first (unpublished) writing project, after leaving my law career at age 33 to become a writer, was a coming-of-age memoir. I wrote (parts of) it both in prose and sonnet form; and in the sonnet version, I rewrote Penelope’s story, imagining that she’d had many private, unrecorded, but equally glorious adventures of her own, during all the years she waited for Ulysses.

Then I told my own story as a modern-day version of hers, concluding:

“I’m Penelope’s descendant

Heiress to a life transcendent.”

And this I believe: whoever you are, and wherever you are on your journey, you are heir to Homer’s Ulysses. And, you are Penelope’s descendant.

And you will come to understand, if you don’t already, what all these Ithakas mean.


Since today’s newsletter is already so long, I’m going to skip the Reader Share for this week. But this feature will be back next week!

I’d love to hear what your “marvelous journey” looks like right now, and where your Ithaka is, and who or what you long for.

You can share, just by hitting “Reply” to this e-mail. I’ll do my best to read as many of your replies as I can, and to answer some of them.

Btw: I treasure ALL your letters, and pick the ones I reply to at random. So, if you’ve written back but haven’t yet received a reply from me, please don’t take it personally!

And, if you’re not signed up for the Kindred Letters yet, please do that now!

You may also want to check out my QUIET and BITTERSWEET books and courses (info below), all of which deal deeply with the mysteries of our journey through this life.

I’m always very glad you’re here, and do not take it lightly,


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Want more like this? You might love my books and courses.

Do you react intensely to music, art or nature? Do you love sad songs? Do you draw comfort or inspiration from a rainy day?

If this sounds like you, you might like to check out my book, BITTERSWEET: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, which was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 43 languages!

The book explores the power of a bittersweet outlook on life, and why we’ve been so blind to its value.

Bittersweet Course

For those who've signed up for my interactive SMS course (audio and written texts from me, delivered straight to your phone–see below for more info!) I hope you're loving it so far! If you finished the course and wish to take it again, simply hit "restart" on the last text message you received. Here's what some of you have had to say:

"I treasured the was life-giving...I looked forward to Susan's offering every day. The course helped me anchor into the beauty and goodness all around me."

"Susan's course transformed my mindset to one of total acceptance of the world as it is: a beautiful combination of dark and light."

The course is the perfect companion to the Bittersweet book, which was named a Best Book of 2022 by Amazon and Audible!

The course is designed to help you turn pain into creativity or healing, and to incorporate more joy and beauty into your daily life. The best part? It’s delivered straight to your phone, via text message or WhatsApp. You’ll get audio and written texts from me: my voice in your ear, my words on your screen, every morning for thirty days. Join me for 30 days of exploration, through audio lessons, guided meditations, reflections on art and music: all curated and designed to help you unlock the transformative power of bittersweetness.

Public Speaking for Quiet Speakers

A 24-day Interactive Journey with Susan Cain

In my book Quiet, I wrote about my intense fear of public speaking – and how I overcame it. This touched a chord with people all over the world, because public speaking is one of humanity’s greatest fears. And quiet people especially wonder how to excel at an activity that seems to require loudness.

In this course, I want to help you tackle one of the world’s most dreaded activities for quiet people—public speaking.

I understand the fear and anxiety that often comes with public speaking, because I’ve been there myself. But over the last decade, I’ve given hundreds, maybe thousands, of talks, including a TED talk with over 40 million views. And I’m excited to share that public speaking is a fear you can overcome, and a skill you can master.

“The best business / management / leadership book of the century.”
— Tom Peters, legendary author and management thinker

Read the book that started the Quiet movement, spent nine years on the New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into over 40 languages.

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

Quiet at Work Course

I'm excited to share my SMS course designed to empower you at work (at home or in the office): as an employee, as a colleague, and as a leader. Every morning for 30 days, through a combination of exercises, strategies, and audio teachings from me, all of which I’ll send directly to your phone, you’ll get the tools you need to communicate, to network, and to lead as an introvert – without having to pretend to be someone else. Instead, you’ll learn to tap the unique and powerful gifts you already have. Would you like to join me? If so, you can sign up below (and choose your own start date)! If you finished the course and wish to take it again, simply hit "restart" on the last text message you received.

The purpose of my work is to help you to make changes in and to better understand your life, through supportive guidance. The information I offer is for educational purposes only, and is based on my life and work experience as a writer, researcher, and speaker. By participating in my talks or consulting sessions, joining my courses and podcasts, or reading my books, newsletters or other writings, you acknowledge that I am not a licensed psychologist, medical doctor or mental health care professional, and that my services don’t constitute medical or psychological advice; they also don’t replace the advice offered by these professionals! Thank you so much for being here, and I wish you all good things.

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