Did you ever lose something that changed you completely? Something that obliterated your expectations, squashed your goals or undermined your existence? Did you ever run out of everything meaningful until you found yourself staring blankly into a void?
This common yet unsettling experience is a disguised blessing that only a few people recognize as such. Why a blessing?
Because it’s only when a slate is wiped clean that you can write on it. It’s only after a bully comes over and shakes your Etch-a-sketch that you start considering what to create next (sorry, 90s kid).
Life is complex, especially in today’s world where we can browse options to the point of paralysis. It’s no wonder that a lot of people find themselves in need of renewal or a serious self-assessment. But, that’s not a moment of failure. It’s a jumping off point for overcoming challenges.
Philosopher Albert Camus uses the Myth of Sisyphus as a metaphor for the human condition. You know Sisyphus, the guy in Greek mythology who was condemned to push a rock up a hill for eternity only to have it roll back down again? Yeah, he’s the one.
Camus refers to Sisyphus as the epitome of an “absurd hero” or a person who experiences, hopes and tries in spite of his undeniable mortality.
A lot of people might think of this “hero” as more of a loser, slaving and living a foolish life in vain. But, that’s a misunderstanding, because a hero has the opportunity to first change himself and then the world. He doesn’t have to be useless or hopeless. Rather, he can grow, learn and thrive against all odds and that makes victory even sweeter.
Sisyphus has a powerful weapon in his arsenal: radical acceptance. The hero understands that he is but a speck in existence with no special significance. He accepts it without a hint of denial and, most importantly, he doesn’t give up after becoming aware of this. He doesn’t give himself away to a “default” life. Simply, he makes the choice to keep himself and all the burdens that come with him.
“The one truly serious philosophical problem is suicide.” – Camus
Sounds morbid? It really isn’t. What it means is that when we’re faced with life-altering events, questions and even despair, that’s when we actually choose life. We suddenly realize what kind of life we want and why. Prior to that, we’re just existing.
So, you might think, “What do all these metaphors really have to do with me?”.
They can serve as a guide in overcoming challenges, handling transitions and going through hardships.
Calling this crazy, rock-pushing fellow Sisyphus a hero shatters every common notion we have about what a hero is. He’s not glamorous, flawless or doing anything remarkable at first glance. He’s not even saving people. So, then why is he (aka. YOU) a hero?
Camus calls him the “Absurd Hero” because of his persistence in the face of absolute struggle. He feels and he doubts, but he continues in spite of the oblivion staring him in the face each day. This concept of a hero is much more realistic than Superman or the Green Lantern.
People aren’t exactly eager to become the Absurd Hero. It’s challenging.
So, when does a plain old person become an “Absurd hero?”.
It could be after a divorce, confusing college years or a long-term job loss. While all are generally unpleasant experiences, all of them have one thing in common- they force you to reassess yourself, your goals and your plan of action. They force you to face major life questions that most people don’t think about often.
It feels something like plunging into a dunk tank after some lucky pitcher finally hits the target. It’s not the asshole target-hitter that you should be focusing on. It’s the plunge.
When everything at the core of you is in question, you find an answer.
I’m talking about moments of total lucidity. That’s when Sisyphus (aka you) is at the top of the hill, pitifully watching his big dumb boulder roll all the way back to the bottom. Feeling helpless and depressed is often unavoidable but contrary to what society tells us, there’s no need to be ashamed of negative feelings. They are catalysts that keep us alive and choosing.
You thought your big dumb boulder (marriage, business, friendship, whatever) meant something. Well, it doesn’t anymore or maybe it never did. Now, you’re dumbfounded.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
No one ever wants to face things like uncertainty, being miserable, or starting over. Yet, these are the exact things that will lead you to clarity because they’ll force you to find it.
Some of us can remember these moments right down to the date they happened while for others, everything just belongs to a blurry time frame. For some, these kinds of moments never happened yet or maybe they never will.
It can be confusing, excruciating, or simply unpleasant. You could spend a moment in it or maybe a few years. Regardless, it ends in choice. Once becoming conscious of a dilemma, some choice is inevitable, even if you choose inaction.
In other words, you have to choose your own rock—your boulder that you’d be willing to push up that giant, eternal hill. This might sound torturous, but it won’t be. Once you’ve found the right thing to push for, you’ll always be fueled.
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” – Camus
So, how do you find a reason to live when all of the obvious ones were exhausted, didn’t work out or weren’t fulfilling?
Get back to the basics.
Think of the things that you never tire of. The things that always provide you with inspiration and the things you could see yourself helping others with on a broad scale.
There’s your rock. Now start pushing.