What if Sisyphus Shrugged?

You all may know of Sisyphus… the guy who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. Talk about laboring in futility!

Sure, he was given a particularly wicked punishment for what has been described as crimes against the gods, but there isn’t a day that goes by where someone in the working world isn’t feeling a wee bit like Sisyphus.

The “boulder” in business can encompass the myriad of tasks that need to be done usually in a short-staffed situation where “you’re it.” Your sense of progress rolls on by as more tasks get added to your list — and back to the bottom of the hill you go.

Feelings of frustration are accompanied by isolation –you are laboring alone for all intents and purposes, and rarely are you recognized for the task you just completed. Instead of “Awesome! Great job!” the laborer gets hit with “Why haven’t you…?” and “When will you…?” questions.

At some point, the worker must step back and wonder, “What did I do to deserve this?”


And then there is the story of Atlas who holds the world on his shoulders. From Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged

From Part Three / Chapter 7 This Is John Galt Speaking:

If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?

I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?

To shrug.

Get it? In other words, say “F–it, I’m outta here!”

A Meeting of the Minds

Now imagine that somehow Sisyphus and Atlas manage to slip away for a coffee break. They happen to stumble into a cafe where “the Thinker is hanging out.

The Thinker is in his familiar pose –right elbow forced over left knee– a posture some have interpreted as a conflict between the instinct of a “natural” man and the often interfering conscious mind of a “civilized” man, suffering from the contemporary disease of shallow, pedantic, over-rationality unconnected with any profound center of existence.

In my mind, Sisyphus and Atlas would do a tremendous amount of bonding as they shared stories about their woes. And The Thinker, would listen, ponder and after a while, speak up.

“No mas!”

“No mas? the guys replied.

No mas, no mas,” said The Thinker.

“Should we talk about sports or politics?” volunteered Atlas.



“You both should shrug. That’ss the answer.”

“Walk away?”

“Why not? Can’t be worse than what you are going through now.”



“But what about…?”

“And who will do…?”

“Shrug, man… Just shrug!”

With that, the twisted up Thinker got up, stretched, and left.

“Didn’t even think that was an option…”

“Me neither.”


If you employ a Sisytlas (Sisyphus-Atlas)…

Productivity in the workplace can be greatly diminished if the workers feel like “Sisytlas“ efforts are futile and not appreciated. The ideal condition is one of high energy and enablement (think happy elves).

So here’s a tip:  Take the time and acknowledge their efforts. Thank them. Solicit their input. And if you have an over-riding task, at let them know you recognize it is disruptive and has for their understanding on why you need this before the other things. Then circle back and let them know which of the tasks are okay to slip. They can’t all be done at once.
It’s a matter of bandwidth (or lack there of). Be more aware.

If you are a Sisytlas (Sisyphus-Atlas)…

It might seem awesome to be able to say, in the words immortalized by South Park’s Cartman, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” But in reality, that isn’t an option.


Gently pushing back in a manner that is respectful is a better idea.

For example, in the case of the boss who interrupts and piles on, you might want to say, “I’d be glad to take that on, but I could use your help in managing the expectations of the folks I am bumping to do your task.”

Putting the request in context of all the work may help the boss understand the enormity of what is on your plate. Much better than just “sucking it up.”

Then, if you have to pull a a “F—it, I’m outta here,”  because in the words of Stephen Covey, it is a “No Deal,” (as opposed to Win-Win or Win-Lose mentality) it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the boss is looped in on what you’ve got going on.

Anyway, that was my Sunday morning inspiration.
What do you think?


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  1. Robert Peate says:

    What do I think? I think this:


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