Sisyphus & The Importance of the Struggle
Sisyphus has been on the mind a lot lately. He’s the Greek lad who was made to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again. When it rolled back down he’d walk down after it and begin to push once more. This was his existence forever, to push that boulder up that hill over and over again.
The natural inclination is to be horrified by that story. It seems to be a torturous existence. One that we’d not wish upon our worst enemy. But that existence is our existence, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For the longest time I just assumed Sisyphus had to be miserable. Working that hard only to have it all crumble beneath him. Putting so much effort into a task for it to inevitably fail, forcing you to start all over. That’s tough, but it doesn’t mean misery is mandatory.
Life is suffering. Life is a Sisyphean toil. You work your ass off and you get rejected. You’re relationships break down. You fail over and over again. We suffer far more than we don’t, but it’s absolutely necessary in order to be grateful for those rare fleeting days when the going isn’t so tough. We fail constantly for hours in order to succeed for seconds. That’s no small thing.
The problem arises when we frame the struggle and failure as a bad thing. If failure and struggle takes up a large portion of our lives then there’s no reason to conclude that it’s out of the ordinary.
Failure is a necessary normality. I think what happens is that the struggle makes us uncomfortable, and we now live in a world that has conditioned us to crave comfort. We’d much rather take the path of least resistance, watch TV for hours and not struggle towards something more ambitious than mediocrity.
The part of the myth of Sisyphus that is rarely acknowledged is the walk back down the hill. The struggle is done with and the boulder has rolled to the bottom. Sisyphus has to walk back down to start again. I like to think that in those minutes on the walk back down, Sisyphus is at peace rather than tormented.
He’s in the place between failures. He’s understanding that the journey is the struggle, and when the struggle is done, if only for a few short minutes, we really get to take stock and appreciate the struggle, because without it we wouldn’t be who we are.
Sisyphus isn’t Sisyphus without his pushing of that boulder. You are not you without all your scars. We like to complain and despise the struggle, but none of us would wish to be anyone but ourselves. We’ve convinced ourselves that we hate our struggles and our failures, when in reality it’s the struggle that makes the happy moments so sweet. In that sense, deep down we love our struggles because they make the biggest impact on us.
So, continue to push your boulder, and when it inevitably rolls back down the hill, make sure you enjoy the freedom of the walk back down the slope to start all over again.