Pursue What Matters
Episode 162: Don’t Be Sisyphus
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you sometimes feel like Sisyphus? Well, if you don’t remember who Sisyphus was from your Greek mythology you need to tune in because I’m going to talk about him, and how sometimes we get caught rolling a stone uphill.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:16
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So we live in a culture obsessed with self improvement. Everywhere you look, there’s a book, a program, a service, a podcast, or an app designed to help you overcome your weaknesses. So you can become the legend you are destined to be or you know, something like that. And while I’m definitely a big fan of self improvement, and beneficial behavior change, I think it’s really important to understand the kind of change that is actually beneficial. And not just an exercise in futility. Because, you know, when we focus on, on unrealistic behavior change, or behavior change, that really doesn’t result in lasting benefits, we end up being like Sisyphus, where we’re rolling a stone uphill only to have it dropped back down again. And then of course, we repeat it again.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:38
So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. And of course, every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters. By strengthening your confidence to lead, I do that in one of three areas. So leading with clarity, which is all about connecting you to purpose, leading with curiosity, which is all about helping you to cultivate self awareness, and self leadership. And then of course, leading and building a community where we really think about the specific leadership skills around communication around accountability, around process structure to help you to be an effective leader.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:13
So let’s jump in today with the first point of discussion, which is who is Sisyphus? So, you know, if you were sleeping during your Greek mythology class, or you’ve never had it, we learn that Sisyphus comes, as comes out as from Greek mythology, and he was the founder and King of Etheria. I don’t know that I’m pronouncing that right. But what happened to Sisyphus is that Zeus punished him for cheating death twice. So Sisyphus was a pretty cool guy. And he cheated death twice. And Zeus as the all powerful God did not like that. And so Sisyphus, his punishment was that he was forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down every time it neared the top and this punishment, right, it wasn’t enough for him to do that once. But he had to repeat that action for eternity. So right like when we think about a Sisyphean task, or if someone is talking about filling like Sisyphus, this is not a great position to be in, right. It’s an it’s, it’s a losing battle. It’s a lot of effort, and it’s not, is not giving you great returns. And so of course, you don’t want to be in the position of constantly rolling a boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down on you once you get it to the top of the hill. And so my question for you today is how do you become Sisyphus? So how do you get caught in a Sisyphean task. And a lot of times what the way that this happens for us is we focus on trying to overcome weaknesses, rather than leveraging our strengths. Okay, and this is a big problem. And this is what we see in our culture of self improvement, that somehow weaknesses are seen as a dark mark on your soul, and it’s something that you need to overcome. And certainly, if weaknesses are hampering progress, then they are probably worthy of your attention. But I’ve got a guideline for you on that. But most of us spend a lot of useless energy trying to overcome our weaknesses, where instead we should be strengthening our strengths. And so my next question is, why is it important to let the boulder roll to the bottom of the hill, right? And you might be like, No, I can’t like I’m stuck in this battle.
Dr. Melissa Smith 4:44
So I want to make the case for why it is important to let that boulder roll to the bottom of the hill. So right we’re not going to plays this game. So there are three reasons why it’s important to let this boulder roll to the bottom of the hill when we Think about self improvement. So the first reason is, it is not a good use of your time. So when you focus on weaknesses, it’s not a good use of your time, it’s an efficient, and it is often very ineffective, right? Like, you’re not going to create lasting beneficial change. Instead of focus on leveraging your strengths will get you farther, it’ll get you to the top of the hill where you’re not having to roll that boulder anymore. So when you focus on strengthening your strengths, it’s efficient and effective, because you already have some aptitude for that. And there is more potential for even greater growth, because you already have a foundation of strength. Okay, so that is the first reason that we don’t want to try and overcome weaknesses. Instead, we want to focus on strengths. So it’s not a good use of your time to try and focus on those weaknesses. The second reason is, it’s demoralizing. So to focus on weaknesses is very demoralizing, because again, you’re just not going to make very much progress. So two key components of self esteem, which I’ve talked about recently, include self worth, and mastery. And so when you focus on correcting weaknesses, This undermines your self worth, it’s hard to feel good about yourself, when you fail to get traction on specific skills. And a lot of times, you’re working really hard, right? It’s a lot of time and focus, but you’re just not getting traction. When this happens, it really kills motivation for growth and further change and learning. Because you’re not making the expected gains. And maybe others are passing you by maybe you’ve been in like a group music course, or maybe a foreign language course or something like that, where it’s skill based. And you know, you’re working hard, you’re putting in the time and the commitment, but you are not making the expected gains. And you see your peers really passing you by that is incredibly demoralizing. And a lot of times when that happens to us, we assume that we’re the problem, right? Like I’m a failure, I’m not, I’m not a hard enough worker, I don’t have enough grit, I don’t have enough consistency. And honestly, it might just be you don’t have aptitude for foreign languages, you just don’t have aptitude for a musical instrument. And you know, even if you were to double your, your commitment and your energy and your time investment, chances are you probably would still be passed by, by some peers. And so we really need to pay attention to that. So when we work on trying to improve weaknesses, we aren’t actually achieving mastery. Right? We’re really mainly getting to mediocrity, maybe. But that leaves us feeling worse about ourselves.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:05
So again, it’s demoralizing. And then what’s the third reason why it’s important to let that boulder roll to the bottom of the hill to not focus on overcoming weaknesses. And that is because you may be spending your energy climbing the wrong Hill, right? Like you’re focusing on the wrong things, you may not have the skills needed to be successful, right? Like you may not have an aptitude for what for the hill you are trying to, to climb. And I think that this is a really painful but important reality. And I think especially in Western societies, where you know, we think about America and this embrace of rugged individualism, right? Like, if I set my mind to something, I can do it. And the truth is, that’s that’s not always accurate, right? I mean, you might not have the skills or the ability to help you to be successful in every arena. And let’s just take a step back at that and look at that, right? Like, it would not be realistic to say that you could be really competent, and even a master in you know, whatever you choose to do. Like that’s just not how life works. And it’s not how we work as humans. So the only time it’s reasonable to focus on overcoming weaknesses is when it is absolutely vital that you perform the specific skill for your role. So think about a professional role. Think about a parenting role, right? Like, if your weakness is impeding the progress of the team or your family, right, you really do need to take a look at that. So those are some of the metrics to pay attention to. So your weaknesses impeding the team or your relationships and big ways. Your weakness is impeding your ability to contribute meaningfully. That would be those would be times that you probably do need to focus on overcoming your weaknesses. And I think you still need to ask yourself in those moments, am I in the correct role? Right? Because you may have great difficulty contributing meaningfully in one role at work or on a team. But if you can get shifted to another role, you might have many strengths that you can leverage, where you can really add a lot to the team and to the effectiveness of the endeavor. So even when you see, gosh, this weaknesses definitely getting in the way, you still need to ask, Am I in the correct role? You also need to ask, Would it be better for me and the team to be in a different role? And third, where can my strengths be fully utilized? So right, you might be competent, you might be doing just fine. But you’re not able to leverage all of your strengths. And you know, there, there are probably plenty of positions and jobs where that is true. And if you can kind of take a look at that in the context of your development and where you’re going and to see, you know, there’s enough about this job, that makes it worth my time to continue in this job, because I you know, there will, there will be some gifts down the road, or it’ll really help me. And I’m I’m contributing a lot, even though not all of my strengths are fully leveraged, right. So I don’t, I don’t know that there’s a career that exists where all of our gifts are fully utilized. And that typically comes you know, later in your career, mid career late career, because you develop more awareness about your strengths, right. And you’ve also had time to develop skills. So that’s important to pay attention to.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:49
So to this point of why it’s important to let the boulder roll down to the bottom of the hill, that we’ve got three reasons it’s not a good use of your time. So it’s not a good use of your time to be trying to overcome weaknesses. It’s also demoralizing. It kills motivation. And three, you may be spending your energy climbing the wrong Hill. So we want your energy, your time your focus, channeled in a direction, where you really can contribute your best gifts. And so now this last point, as we think about whether you overcome weaknesses, or work on strengthening your strengths, is that you know, my recommendation to you is that your top priority needs to be learning to climb the right Hill. Because when you when you pursue purpose, right, and when you’re working on fulfilling potential, every climb is going to be challenging, but we want you to be climbing the right hill that is aligned with your purpose and with your vision, which is aligned with your values, where you can see your efforts really making a difference, right. So think about if you’re out hiking, and you spend 10 hours, and you only make it two miles, right, like, that’s not a good use of your time. And so, you know, we recognize that each of us have unique traits and skills. And the sooner we understand what those are, the sooner we can get really focused on the right kinds of activities to help us to be successful and to contribute at a higher level. Right.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:32
So this podcast really helps us to lead with clarity, so we get clearer on purpose and, you know, climbing the right Hill, but it also really helps us to lead with curiosity, and if you remember, Curiosity is all about self awareness. So having a clear understanding of your gifts, your skills, your strengths, and your weaknesses, really helps you to, to shift your direction so that you’re on the right, you’re on the right track, for growth and for contribution. So focus really matters, where you are focusing your efforts really makes a difference. And so I hope that you will, you know, kind of take this to heart and think about you know, where you’re at in your life with, you know, activities, whether their hobbies, whether it’s a professional role, do you feel like Sisyphus, where you your work is just is not very effective. You’re rolling that boulder up the hill, and then the next day, you’re rolling that same boulder up the hill. And so you know, we talked a little bit about who says this is. We talked about how you can become a Sisyphus right where you’re focusing on trying to overcome your weaknesses. And then we talked about three reasons it’s really important to let that boulder roll to the bottom of the hill. And then finally, we’ve talked about how your top priority is right really learning to climb the right Hill. And so I hope you will consider that and tune in next week, because we’re going to be talking about the role of grit. Grit is this value that is also really highly prized in our society. And you know, it can sometimes backfire on us. So you don’t necessarily want to be Sisyphus engaging grit to climb a futile Hill. And so that’s what we’re going to be talking about next week is you know, the role of grit when it comes to developing strengths.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:36
And so I hope you will in the meantime, head over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode, you can find out www.drmelissasmith.com/162-sysiphus So one more time that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/162-sysiphus. Also, please connect with me on social media. I’m social. I love to connect with folks there. I’m on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. So Dr. Dot Melissa Smith, and I always have more resources related to the podcast there. So if you want a little bit of a deeper dive into what we’ve talked about, you can learn more there as well. And then of course, if you’re willing to review the podcast, it always helps me to get great feedback about what you want to hear. And it also introduces more people to the podcast. So in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work in love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai