Opinion | Paul Olson: Another perfect ordinary day
One of my favorite movies is the 1993 Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day.” The grumpy weatherman, played by Bill Murray, is stuck in an endless loop of living the same day (Groundhog Day) over and over. Once he accepts his monotonous fate, he is able to enjoy each repetitive day and see his routine not as dull but as an opportunity to be a nicer person.
We have been trained by society to be dissatisfied living a normal, uneventful day. People ask us, “What’s new?” and we uncomfortably try to recall something novel about the past week. We anxiously check our phone every five minutes to keep ourselves amused and avoid accepting that our ordinary day is actually quite fine.
The media turns every story into a crisis so there is no ordinary news. Today’s news is often the same as yesterday’s, just repackaged. Reports on the government never talk about the mundane negotiations over legislation but instead emphasize sensational partisan battles and the latest hot air from an extreme congressperson. TikTok and Instagram tempt us with daily distractions. Their algorithms are designed to keep us watching and sharing. Headlines of shocking celebrity gossip and the exploits of billionaires make our own lives seem humdrum.
The daily message from the corporate world is change, progress and growth. New and improved is praised, and stagnation is not to be tolerated. Yet the reality is that progress is the result of daily tedium, of people showing up today and doing their job well just like they did yesterday. A new invention is rarely a eureka moment but instead years of careful research and patient trial and error. That life-saving drug was “discovered” by innovators accepting Groundhog Day repetition as their norm.
Summit County businesses thrive not due to frequent change but because of consistency. It is the dependable good service and unchanging scenic setting that keeps visitors coming back. Our economic success depends on dedicated employees being ready each day to perform the necessary tasks. Though each work day may seem like the last, at first glance, every day brings new customers and challenges that must be met. Sometimes, all that can be done by managers about the daily sameness for employees is to thank them often and pay them well.
Most of us have an unreasonable double standard regarding the expectations we have for today for ourselves versus the world we live in. We hope our own day is above average, having some entertaining novelty. However, we also want the world to be normal where everyone plays their expected role so our own day goes smoothly. We hope every store will be open, every worker ready to serve us, and every friend available to greet us warmly.
We complain about the monotony of life: our work schedule, chauffeuring the kids to all their activities, the appointments that fill our calendar. Yet it is usually this routine that gives us fulfillment and joy. We make friends at work and can feel good about a job well done. We see our kids achieving and are glad we are there to watch the amazing changes in them. Much of our success in life is the result of good habits we repeat each day such as perseverance, patience and kindness. Every skill we have acquired came from years of repetition.
Much of life is repetition, so some boredom is inevitable. But we should accept this boredom and not fight it. Our phones have made it far too easy to escape boredom and always be entertained. Each day will be brighter if it is oriented around real, live people instead of a screen. I doubt anyone on their deathbed will say, “I wish I had spent more time on Instagram.”
The Greek myth of Sisyphus is a story of monotonous struggle where Sisyphus is punished by the gods for outwitting death and must forever push a huge boulder up a hill only to have it always roll back down just before he reaches the top. Compared to Sisyphus, we have many options and blessings each day. In Albert Camus’s essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus makes the intriguing observation that once Sisyphus accepts the absurdity of his task and focuses only on his struggle, he can actually be happy. We have a choice to either see life’s repetition as a burden or as an opportunity and essential part of a fulfilling life.
I have skied and hiked a hundred times up the long hill to the Sallie Barber Mine, appreciating the same lodgepole pines and my pounding heart each time. If my mind is in the moment, focused on my muscles working, the fresh air and the distant peaks, everything is good. I just accept the familiar struggle and enjoy my climb.
Paul Olson’s column “A Friendly Conservative” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Olson has lived in Breckenridge since 1995. Semiretired, he works at REI in Dillon and enjoys snowboarding, Nordic skiing and hiking. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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