What Would Sisyphus Do?
I think we’re supposed to pity Sisyphus. But to be perfectly honest, I envy him.
Sisyphus, as you might recall, was the ancient king of Ephyra, who, according to Greek mythology, was fated to spend the rest of eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll down the other side time and time again.
First of all, what WOULDN’T you do to live out an eternity? Heck, rolling a rock up a hill sounds like a very small price to pay for such a privilege. Think about it—should Sisyphus’ lifetime ambition have been to simply push a boulder up a mountaintop and, having succeeded, retire and live out his life as a mere mortal? Where’d the accomplishment be in that?
It certainly wouldn’t be the stuff of legends.
Anyone who’s sat through a session on Total Quality Management (TQM) knows that the more times you attempt something, the better you become at it, engineering new efficiencies that cut the task in half—or more. After all, an eternity is an awfully long time, much longer than the time it took the Colorado River to slice through the Rocky Mountains and carve out the Grand Canyon.
Relatively speaking, it wouldn’t take more than the blink of a geologically-timed eye for Sisyphus to wear a path through Mount Olympus or whichever mountain he served his penance, ultimately allowing him to roll his boulder downhill. And what about the boulder? After an eternity of wear and tear, I presume it’d become pretty hard to find a piece of it large enough to roll without the wind wafting it off into the distance.
But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume the forces of nature don’t work on Mount Olympus the way they do here, and Sisyphus’ boulder never shrinks and his path never flattens. What’s so torturous about Sisyphus’ assignment?
I guess what I am trying to say is that it is only torture if you allow it to be.
For instance, I suppose it could be considered torturous if you told Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals hockey team that his sole mission in life was to score as many goals as possible. Once he’d scored one, his only mission in life should be scoring another. Now, other than the fact that that perfectly describes his actual job title, if framed as some sort of punishment, if he allowed it, Ovechkin could easily come to see the puck as the gods intended Sisyphus to see his boulder—Stanley Cup be damned.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
Imagine the anger of the gods if, upon learning he’d spend the rest of eternity rolling a boulder up a hill, Sisyphus pledged to be the best damned rock roller the Earth had ever known.
Just think what you could accomplish if you were in Sisyphus’ shoes. It was Leonardo da Vinci, after all, who said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Sisyphus was in the envious position to perfect his rock rolling to an art form. Chances are a near-eternity perfecting his craft, Sisyphus, like an ancient-day “Minnesota Fats,” could have made a decent living enthralling crowds with his trick shots and rock-rolling abilities. Eons before Cirque du Soleil, imagine the squeal of delight from the multitudes of Athens as Sisyphus allowed his boulder to seemingly overpower him, only to use its momentum to propel him atop the rock and master it like a fast-footed lumberjack spinning logs in a stream. He could charge admission and promise multiple shows daily.
Of course, perspective works both ways.
Take your own daily grind, for instance—you know, that career you’ve dedicated your life to and probably put yourself through college for? If you let it, the simple routine of doing what it is you do day in and day out could easily come to resemble Sisyphus’ boulder. That is, if you let it.
Next time you get that inclination, put yourself in Sisyphus’ shoes and imagine what he’d do in yours. What would he do to change up the routine? What would he do to piss off the gods?
I could picture him giving his boulder a final shove over the crest of the mountain, throwing his hands high into the air, and shouting “Gooooooooooooooooooooal!”