There’s nothing like the Olympics to remind us how insufficient we are. Our lives don’t feature medals and pageantry and easily remembered storylines. For two weeks, we see bodies resembling machines made of muscle. We hear stories of sacrifice and discipline that make the time we nailed the budget presentation without our daily grande turboccino seem not so heroic. The soft-focus, ad-friendly motives behind national pride—whatever the hell that is—and the desperation of writers around the world typing toward deadlines amplify everything, allowing Bruce Jenner to star in a movie with the Village People.
Actually, the games provide an opportunity for self-reflection. The next time you see LeBron James make a defensive strategy irrelevant or Missy Franklin set a world record at an age when most of us were honing our masturbation technique, celebrate your own greatness. Having a job, any job, qualifies as a perfect dismount. The embarrassment and heartache attached with finding a spouse merits a Bob Costas-hosted feature. Getting over the death of a loved one or learning from one of life’s countless disappointments is impressive stuff—even if millions aren’t watching from their living rooms.
Our lives typically aren’t that epic. But every day, simply by getting up, we agree to enter a series of challenges. Sometimes we triumph. Sometimes we get crushed. We can only hope that experience helps us master the mundane, embrace the eccentric, and do the following real life “Olympic tasks” with some degree of competency.
1. Preparing for vacation. It shouldn’t be so hard. I will get my assignments finished ahead of time. I will work with a checklist. Yet why do I always end up screaming at an unresponsive laptop two hours before we have to leave, my bags unpacked and with nary a clean T-shirt, praying that Wawa sells beachwear?
2. Deciding on a movie with others. Even before cable, On Demand, and Netflix, this was miserable. I lost hours struggling to reach a consensus with friends at Blockbuster Video, and 85 percent of its inventory was Men in Black and Titanic. Now, the selection is limitless. On a recent, lazy Saturday afternoon, my wife and I spent 20 minutes reviewing options like we were choosing the Palm d’Or before going with The Muppets. (It was delightful, by the way.)
3. Stress-free holiday travel. Last year’s Christmas jaunt, by the numbers: three states, three days, two sleepovers, two lumpy mattresses, one migraine headache. As I get older, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is becoming painful to watch.
4. Moving. One day, I’ll get the hang of this.
5. Eating a carton of strawberries before they go bad. Like breaking the four-minute mile.
6. Telling a memorable work story. Nine times out of 10, the teller wants to vent frustration over their nimrod coworker or a dumb policy. Neither is the foundation of a ripping yarn unless it ends in gunplay or sex on a desk. Plus, there’s an excellent chance the listener doesn’t know the people involved. It’s like watching a movie from the halfway point: There better be a really good reason to stick around.
7. Bagging groceries. My goal is to have everything in the cart before the cashier asks me for payment. It never happens. The bags stick together. I can’t get the right grasp on a box of Triscuits. I deliberate the safety of putting laundry detergent with the produce. And then my chance is gone.
8. Feigning politeness. The key to life isn’t happiness. It’s masking your contempt while your boss describes the struggle that is owning Eagles season tickets.