“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet. – James Oppenheim
The Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus is familiar to most of us even if we don’t remember his name. He’s the poor guy that was doomed by the gods to eternal pointless labor. Each morning, Sisyphus would wake up at the base of a mountain and was tasked with rolling a ginormous rock to the summit. Each day, Sisyphus would perform this duty. Exhausted, Sisyphus would fall asleep at the mountaintop. The next morning, he awakened to a boulder at the bottom of the mountain just to do it over again.
The plight of Sisyphus has been used in countless texts as a cautionary reference to pointless work tasks. There’s a different way to look at Sisyphus, however. Albert Camus, the 1957 Nobel laureate for literature, postulated in his 1940 essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” that we are looking at Sisyphus from the wrong side up. Camus wrote:
“If the descent [Sisyphus waking up at the bottom of the mountain] is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Is it possible for Sisyphus to be happy in his labors without the appearance of success?
I would argue that Sisyphus was successful and experienced a daily reward. Every day he was successful in pushing the rock into the highlands. The reward for his labors was reaching a mountaintop with a view that few, if any, had ever seen. When we change our point of view, we can appreciate the summits we’ve reached no matter how repetitive or doleful the labor might seem. If we don’t push a few rocks uphill, there is no chance of seeing anything but the bottom of the mountain.
Pushing Rocks Uphill: Accelerators
- Where do you feel like you’re “pushing a rock uphill”? What’s the specific circumstance?
- How might you look at that experience differently? What are the positives in that process and what are the negatives?
- Taking the new perspective, focus on making the critical changes to the process while being careful not to remove the positive parts of the process.