Butterfly, Innovation

Startups and the Myth of Sisyphus

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Sisyphus, by @gapingvoid

This weekend I was doing some thinking about Sisyphus. In the past couple of weeks I’ve come across a couple of cartoons referencing him (one above, one at the end of this post), and these got me thinking of the actual myth of Sisyphus as I recalled it from my undergrad philosophy degree.

As retold by Camus, Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a giant boulder up a steep mountain every day for eternity in the underworld. Whenever he would near the top, the weight of the rock would cause it to roll back down to the bottom, where it would wait for Sisyphus to start over. Sisyphus was condemned to this fate because – long story short – he cheated death and wished to remain on earth.

“His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.” (Camus)

Camus states that not much is told about Sisyphus’s time in the underworld, so he imagines Sisyphus happy – not because of his fate, but in spite of it – that the struggle is what makes Sisyphus joyful, that his rock belongs to him. That his rock is of his own creation – the manifestation of his actions and representing his fate – and that only he can push it up a lonely mountain in negation of the gods.

So, why compare this myth to startups? If you do not decide to roll a boulder of your own making, what will you be left doing? Will you help roll someone else’s? Will you opt out entirely and stay in one place for eternity (or for at least what feels like an eternity, waiting for the clock to strike 5)?

Anyway, this is what was on my mind this weekend. Thanks for reading.


from Entrepreneurfail.com




3 thoughts on “Startups and the Myth of Sisyphus

  1. I’ve been thinking about this, too, ever since I struck out on my own. It’s a heartbreaking myth, for sure, and sometimes when I’m making a call or banging out an email, I can’t help but think, “This boulder is just gonna roll back down as soon as I’m done…so what’s the point?”

    What I’ve also discovered, however, is that following my passion (comedy) involves pushing a boulder that I’m in love with. And even though I know that once the thrill of a new joke is gone, I’ll be right back here, staring at a blank screen, I’ve recognized the joy is in the doing (karma yoga, if you will).

    I no longer lament the death of the thrill of a burst of insight that leaves me laughing all alone in this apartment, because I know that inspiration is right around the corner, and as much as I fear sometimes that I’ll never come up with something better than my last best joke, I know I will.

    So whether you’re following your passion in the employ of someone else, or practicing your craft for yourself, Seneca would have us, ‘…above all else, learn how to experience joy.’

    Ugh, that sounds kinda preachy! My bad. 🙂

    Posted by Michael Jagdeo | February 12, 2015, 8:27 am
    • Not preachy at all Michael! Comedy, in my opinion, is very much like this. I saw Aziz Ansari on Charlie Rose one time, and he was speaking about how he develops his material. It is very reminiscent of Sisyphus, as well as your comments.

      Thanks for reading!

      Posted by Chris Loewen | February 13, 2015, 12:08 pm


  1. Pingback: Sisyphus & Start-Up - October 27, 2015

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