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Trying Again and Again is not Sisyphean

centaur 0

Loosely transcribed from a letter to a friend. Names have been variablized to protect the innocent:

Dude, it’s been over a year since you applied at The Search Engine That Starts With a G and since then you’ve created, all by yourself, a brand new, polished web site with no doubt N users and X,Y and Z impressive features. Time to update the resume and apply again?

I know you’re frustrated that this venture didn’t make it, but successful entrepreneurs are ones that try, try and try again. During my time at The Search Engine That Started With an E, we were exposed to a variety of advisors who had started successful businesses. Most of these had started several, only a few of which caught off. The ones that did made them millionaires. My uncle B is the same way: he’s worked on many businesses; many failed, the others did quite well. Come to think of it, when the dot-com bubble burst, the lead founder of The Search Engine That Started With an E didn’t let its stumble stop him – he’s started several other ventures since then. One of them will catch fire and make him a millionaire too.

I also had another thought. Stay with me here. In the essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus argues that just because the Greek hero Sisyphus is condemned for eternity to push a rock up a hill, only to watch it roll down again, that doesn’t mean that his life is actually devoid of hope. Camus argues that even though Sisyphus’s task is meaningless, and the moment the rock falls down is heartwrenching, he nonetheless can be happy because he’s engaged in a constant struggle … “and that struggle is enough to fill a man’s heart.” In the book How to Be an Existentialist, author Gary Cox expands on Camus’ argument: to an existentialist, everyone’s life can be considered to be meaningless, and it’s the constant struggle to exercise our freedom itself that brings meaning to life. In other words, the struggle has intrinsic value, just to us, whether we succeed or not.

But I am not an existentialist, and in the objective world we share, our tasks do not endlessly repeat. It does look like we live in a world where the rock will always roll back down – time and entropy conquer all – but sometimes the rocks stay at the top of the hill, a long, long time. Longer than the allotted time we have to push rocks up the hill, sometimes; sometimes the rock stays up, even when we’re the ones that slip and fall away. It is, in short, possible to succeed. It’s possible to build something that lasts … but what if we don’t?

Well, even if we don’t, I am still not an existentialist, and in the objective world we share, our burdens are not unique to ourselves. There are many other people pushing rocks, and it brings comfort to know others are struggling. There are many other hills – sometimes, they even look like the same hill – and it can ease other’s paths to know which parts of the slope are better. That is, not only does the struggle have intrinsic value, above and beyond the possibility of leading to a reward, our reports about the struggle also has extrinsic value, value to others who are fighting the same struggle ourselves. Keeping our struggle to ourselves is noble; sharing it with others is valuable. Perhaps, even, something that could lead to a reward.

What if … I know it is too late for this for the work you did over the last year, but imagine … what if you had a blog, and every week blogged about your experience finding and overcoming development / product / business challenges for Company X? Yes, I know there are millions of blogs, and yes, I know most of them are drek. But they’re not what I’m talking about: I’m talking about your blog, your experiences, your wisdom. Imagine, if you’d been doing that from the ground up, talking about your experiences, passing on your wisdom, it might start to build a name that you could turn into a career. At the very least, it would be another point of reference for your resume.

Seriously, I’ve learned from you about how to use technology X to design web sites and benefited from development platform Y that you pointed out to me. And I’ve been doing this for years. If I could learn from you, don’t you think other people could to?

Everything you’re doing might be a building block in the next big thing. I know it’s trite to say that many great companies have started in garages … but how much copy has been written sharing those stories? How much have you benefited from learning how others have done things? How much can other people learn from you?

How big can you think?

-the Centaur