Coaching Sisyphus at work

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From Thomas Schulte

Sometimes I am Sisyphus.

As the legend goes, Sisyphus was sentenced for life, to push his boulder up a mountain again and again, only to watch it sliding back down just before he had reached the summit.

What was meant to be a harsh penalty for a severe crime (betraying death), turned out to be a great gift. At least that’s how it appears when you consider that the philosopher Albert Camus said: “We have to regard Sisyphos as a happy man”.

My goodness, how I struggled with this. Being happy with doing useless stuff over and over again with no end in sight? Hmm…

Last year I made it into the coaching pool of an organisation (after many conversations with the HR department). Then after a while I finally got my first coaching client. Hurray! Howev-er, just a few weeks later, we received a notice from the board that the budget for organisa-tional development (along with other “non-essential” activities) was cancelled. My (and my client’s) boulder was rolling down the hill. Happy? Well…

I believe “Sisyphus” exists in your office, too. For example, an executive who met his very ambitious target at the end of the year, only to be given an even higher target for next year. Or, a sales manager who worked hard on convincing a client to sign the contract, only finally to lose the promising lead to a competitor. Sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it? Yes, we all know what Sisyphus must have felt like.
So, what can we do about it? Here are some suggestions.


Was Sisyphus’ plight really useless? After all he is still a source of inspiration for many people to this very day. Many great thinkers spent lots of philosophical analysis on Sisyphus. Not bad for pushing a big piece of stone, isn’t it? 3500 years later, he is famous.

I can hear you thinking: 3500 years – that’s a long, long time.

OK. But how much do we understand our life today? I guess most of it is unclear to us. The only thing we can do about it is to have faith in our work’s purpose and hope that it will all make some sense, if not now, then later. Even if all this feels like an uphill battle we cannot win, there is some hidden meaning. Faith means that we believe in something even if we cannot see it at the moment and there is no proof.


Georg Leonhard once wrote that the person who can vacuum an entire house without once losing his or her composure, staying balanced, centered, and focused on the process rather than pressing impatiently for completion, is a person who knows something about mastery.

I don’t know if Sisyphus wanted to apply mastery. But I know that mastery is cool. Mastery is fun, if you avoid perfectionism. However, mastery takes practice. And maybe a bit of coach-ing now and then doesn’t hurt either.