Lately, I have felt like Sisyphus.
For all of you who weren’t nerdy enough to take Mythology as your high school elective, Sisyphus is a character in Greek mythology who was doomed to roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this pointless effort for all of eternity. (If you were nerdy enough to get that reference, then you might be tempted to split hairs and argue that Sisyphus was kind of a jerk and deserved it, but just stick with me for a bit.)
This past year has been a bit of a roller coaster for many of my close friends and family. I feel like all the decent people I know are struggling, whether it’s personally, professionally, financially, with their relationships, health, or a multitude of other things. I have felt like no matter how hard I try, I can’t push myself or those I care about off this precarious plateau, where we seem to be hanging in limbo – grateful for everything wonderful in our lives (and I’ll admit there is much for which to be grateful) – and yet waiting, apprehensively, for the boulder to roll back down and crush all of our meager efforts thus far.
It’s frustrating and exhausting to watch those you care about struggle fruitlessly, and to be unable to do much about it. It’s also terribly disheartening . . . why even bother to do the right thing when it seems like, as Billy Joel so famously put it, “only the good die young?”
I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. In some ways, I think social media has complicated perceptions for all of us, and made us feel isolated in our failures and fights. People tend to see our “highlight reels” and assume that all of our lives are perfect. This, of course, isn’t true for anyone, and we do ourselves a disservice when we forget that there is more to a person’s life than Instagrammable images and carefully worded status updates.
As someone who’s intentionally upbeat in nearly all of their online interactions, the irony of this statement isn’t lost on me. To be clear – I’m not saying that we all need to bare our souls on the internet, or blather on about our personal problems because the world is owed some sort of misplaced transparency. In fact, I tend to do the exact opposite because: 1) I’m a surprisingly private person about the stuff that actually matters, and 2) I’m a big believer in mostly using social media as a way to brighten someone’s day. I think that the majority of us lean this way as well, and so sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the notion that everyone else’s lives are much more together than our own.
But the social media skewing aside, the stark reality remains that there are times when all of us – no matter how together, accomplished, fortunate, successful, healthy, or loved we are – tend to feel as though our tasks are Sisyphean, and perhaps it’s easier to simply let the boulder stay put.
Yes, there is absolutely power in knowing when it is time to move on from something, and I believe everyone should be able to identify and embrace healthy limits. But those scenarios notwithstanding, here are a few tips for those times when you feel like quitting:
- Put It In Perspective: Perspective is perhaps the most powerful tool we have when it comes to motivation, positivity, and our general outlook on life. Whenever I find myself overwhelmed with something, I have to give it context. Is the world going to end? Is it life or death? Is it the worst thing that’s ever happened to me? 99% of the time, the answer is an obvious no. And when it’s that other 1% of the time, I take it a step further. . . is there someone out there who would trade my absolute worst day for their best one, and consider it an upgrade? Yes. Granted, this technique doesn’t actually solve your problems, nor should it undermine their validity. If you’re dealing with the death of a loved one or facing a bad diagnosis, someone else’s struggles aren’t really relevant in those moments, nor can they negate the pain you’re experiencing. But tragedies aside, often perspective allows us to focus on the good things in our lives, to conquer the day-to-day challenges, and to remember that we can get through almost anything.
- Break It Down: I once had a kickboxing instructor (yeah, I know, me kickboxing is a hilarious mental image) who said, “you can do anything for one more minute,” and she was right. Maybe what you’re facing isn’t sixty more seconds of sit-ups, but I know that if you break it down – minute by minute if you have to – you can hang on a little longer. When I’m overwhelmed, I try to make a list and focus on just a single item that I have to tackle that day. If I can knock it out, I feel a bit better about the dozens of other items still yet to be accomplished, or the dilemmas that are completely out of my control.
- Find An Outlet: For some people, blasting music in the car ride helps clear their heads. For others, an intense workout can achieve the same thing. Still some desire a good book, a long conversation with a close friend, or a few minutes spent soaking up the sunshine. If you’re like me, you sometimes do all these things in one day. Whatever it is for you, find it and use it.
- Remember That You’re Not Alone: The upside to this whole strange, uncomfortable, unpredictable human experience thing is that we’re all sort of stuck figuring it out together. Chances are, whatever you’re facing, no matter how awful or intense it is, someone else has gone through something similar. And even if they haven’t, I’m betting they’re willing to listen to you vent, or break out the ice cream and commiserate via caloric intake. Seek out the people who inspire you, or who simply remind you that you will survive this, and that you’re not alone in your feelings and fears.
- Ask For Help: I suck at this. I suck so badly at this one that it almost seems improper to list it. And yet, the rare moments when I get over myself and ask somebody to give me a hand, often turn out to be the moments that make the biggest difference. I get it – I loathe asking anyone for anything. I don’t want to be an inconvenience, I don’t want to burden anyone, I don’t want to feel like the made-up, invisible, only-in-my-head scales are unbalanced. This is asinine. I’ve written before about not apologizing for things that don’t require it (like asking for help), and about how to be better at helping people in a crisis. And now I’m writing to tell you that sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
- Know That You Are Needed & Believed In: At the end of the day, the one thing that keeps me going no matter the dilemma is this: somebody’s gotta fight the good fight. Sure, there are other people doing it, and sure, they’re likely much more effective. But you are not the only Sisyphus rolling that stone up that hill, and the rest of us desperately need you on our team. So don’t quit, even on the very hard days. Keep pushing. And if you have to stop and take a break now and then, don’t feel guilty for a hard-earned rest. Just know – from one Sisyphus to another – that I believe one day we’ll all greet each other at the top.