Startups and SisyphusMay 7, 2021
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra (later Corinth).
Lore has it that he was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.
We can surmise what motivated him to do so, but, who knows. It’s mythology after all.
At our best, we can derive a lesson.
Yes, as French author Albert Camus wrote in his “The Myth of Sisyphus” in 1942, “The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”
If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals…
Why? Camus said of Sisyphus,
“His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.”
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world.”
“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
How and When
So the startup entrepreneur enjoys the pursuit of rolling his or her rock, his or her way, up his or her hill.
In many ways it parallels the serendipitous life of Forrest Gump, where he is in the right, or wrong, place, at the right, or wrong, time; it also parallels Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, with an unwavering vision of Zihuatanejo motivating him to spend 20 years chipping away at a prison wall behind the poster art of Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and Raquel Welch.
We all have our rocks, or crosses or burdens or motivated dreams to carry, and perhaps one day the rock reaches the summit; one day the rock rolls backward for the last time, but the point is that it’s our rock, it’s our wall, it’s all for our Zihuatanejo.
For those entrepreneurs with very personal reasons for the pursuits of their dreams, they don’t need to think about the Why. They already know Why.
Herein, they are most concerned not with Why, but with How, and When.