The previous post closed with a fundamental concept from Camus’ analysis of the myth of Sisyphus. From the author’s viewpoint, we mortals should come to recognize the absurd nature of life as a form of liberation.
This is one of the messages at the core of Camus’ writing, and of existential philosophy in general. If there is no intrinsic meaning to the tasks we are required to perform, and even if the work can sometimes seem as nonsensical as pushing a boulder up a mountain, we remain free in our minds. In any situation the world—or the gods or our bosses—imposes upon us, we remain the master of our attitudes and our approaches. As such, we all have the latitude to frame our own reality.
In the winery, I often thought about this difference—between the classic view of Sisyphus as a suffering individual and Camus’ assertion that he should be content with his fate. In the end, I decided, it was simply a matter of shifting one’s mindset.
Sisyphus can indeed consider himself happy and free. While the gods have the power to control his activity, they can not define his perspective toward performing his assignment. As such, he can remain in high spirits simply by choosing to engage in–and even relish in–the struggle. Performing his daily undertaking with aplomb is even a form of revenge against his tormentors.
If Camus’ Sisyphus became an inspiration to me, it was perhaps because I could draw parallels between his plight and some of the tasks I was called upon to perform. Even though our situations were obviously radically different, there were a number of broad lessons from his story that one might apply directly to my daily work.
As mentioned above, one of these realizations concerned the power of simple changes in mindset. Sisyphus can either experience his fate as a tedious ordeal and a condemnation for all eternity, or he can take joy in the moment, in his daily opportunity to climb toward the heights.
Particularly on the days when I had an onerous assignment, I could apply similar logic to myself. Instead of seeing these physical efforts as repetitive and tiresome, I began to challenge myself, to derive satisfaction from doing such cumbersome things with verve and vigor, even aspiring to enjoy excelling in the task itself.
Thus, what was true for Sisyphus became just as true for me. My physical effort, my “struggle toward the heights” came to be its own reward. Feeling that I had prevailed in an arduous physical endeavor was often a sufficient form of fulfillment at day’s end.
Camus’ interpretation of Sisyphus also led me to understand that I too enjoyed a large amount of freedom. Most of the time, our bosses told us only what needed to be done, leaving us at liberty to approach it any way we wanted. As long as our performance was satisfactory and the workplace tidy, we could choose our attitudes and our modes of interaction.
Though I surely did not use such terminology at the time, I soon found myself making my days more interesting by “extending the job description”. In other words, I began defining goals and challenges for myself, with respect to my performance and also in the ways I related to my co-workers.
Next time, I will expand a bit more on how I went about all this.
Image: Flickr user Luz Adriana Villa