Today’s story begins far, far back in time, back in the farthest time-shrouded reaches of Greek myth. Our protagonist: Sisyphus, founder and first king of Corinth. A wise man, a sage man – and a master trickster. Not only does he manage to chain up Hades, God of the Underworld, he also tricks Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, into letting him back up to the mortal realm. Unsurprisingly, however, there’s only going to be one winner in a showdown with the Greek Gods, and today Sisyphus is most well known for his fate and punishment: To repeatedly roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll down again as soon as he has reached the top.
So why am I telling you this story, and what on Earth does it have to do with self development? Well, just think of the parallels we can draw. After all, self development is every bit as much a struggle without an end. We will never be the perfect person. Be all we want to be. Have the perfect life. Here we are, all of us Sisyphus, chasing after an unattainable end.
So, what do we do? Throw our hands up in the air and give in to the hopelessness of it all? Well, as you’ve probably guessed, absolutely not!
To explain why, we have to drag ourselves out of Greek mythology and firmly into the 20th century. Fast forward to 1942, and French writer Albert Camus has been inspired by the story of Sisyphus to write a philosophical essay on the subject, The Myth Of Sisyphus. What’s really interesting about this essay is how it departs from the standard interpretation of Sisyphus as a tale of woe. Instead, says Camus, we should think of Sisyphus as being happy! It’s a radical shift in interpretation – so what the heck’s going on here?
In the end, it all boils down to one key message: It is enough. The striving is enough. We find our meaning in the struggle, not the end.
Or, as Camus puts it: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”
What Camus is saying is that struggling and striving is what defines our existence quite apart from any of the higher questions of meaning or attainability.
And that, from Sisyphus to the present day, is what mankind has been about. Our history is a history of struggle – the struggle not only to survive, but to advance and develop, the endeavour to make sense of our world and constantly explore and push against the boundaries of what is possible.
Transferred across to a personal level, it is that struggle to carry on, and then to improve and to build, that defines us and defines our lives. That’s why personal development – the struggle towards the heights – is so crucial. Because the point at which we stop struggling, stop striving, is the point at which we have given up on life.
So today, I ask you only this: What are you striving for? And say: Keep on striving for the heights!
Cambridge graduate. Writer and thinker. Life enthusiast.