The other night, as I watched the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team stand on the podium and listen to the National Anthem - I felt a complicated emotion roll over me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Sure, there was the basic pride and excitement you feel for a gold medalist that represents your country. And as always, I was blown away by their talent and their execution.
But after all of the montages, the interviews, the replays and rehashing - I finally stuck the landing and figured it out. Jealousy. I’m jealous of these girls. Please don’t mistake this for the garden variety, school yard-ish, jealousy that inspired “Mean Girls.” Trust me, I harbor no ill will towards them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m envious.
It’s something I’ve been wrestling with (shout out to Rulon Gardiner) for as long as I’ve been watching - or rather, worshiping the Olympics. I’m completely and whole-heartedly jealous of Olympians. I’m jealous of their dedication. I’m jealous of their execution. I’m jealous of the linear drive that allows you to figure out exactly what you want to do, what you love to do - and then see it through to the highest level on the planet. I’m terrified I’ll never know it.
At times, I think we as Americans see a great performance, be it music, theater, or athletic - and think of it as a solitary shining moment. But it’s not, for every tumble, vault, run, sprint, shot, jump, parry, and row we see on TV - there have been hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions before it. Do you know how many times Gabby Douglas has had to swing around those uneven bars like a yo-yo in order to put forth a performance like we saw Tuesday?
That kind of drive is insane to me. And I openly covet it.
That’s why I had to briefly change the channel as Team Russia’s dreams crashed to the floor, even though I already knew it long before I saw it on TV. It’s hard to watch that devotion, that effort, that life’s work go unrewarded. Of course they cried, I wanted to cry.
I used to want to search for Treasure Island, play in the NBA, be a sports reporter, and maybe go to the Moon if there was time. Now, I want to cover the news in war zones, write a TV show, and maybe write a movie. All of those goals would take a dedication I’m not sure I possess (and a boat and rocket ship I definitely don’t have). So any time I see somebody reach the top of their personal mountaintop, there’s a small part of me that looks begrudgingly uphill at my own. And trust me, I’m knowingly using all the definitions of “small” in that last sentence.
But you know what? I’m not even embarrassed about it. Jealousy doesn’t have to be ugly. Some people get their inspiration from life experiences, some get it from winning, others from losing, some say it’s intrinsic and other claim it’s divine. Honestly, I’m not the type to see these girls’ greatness, and be inspired to go out and strive for my own (Murica!). I’m not wired that way. But, I secretly hope the jealousy drags some greatness out of me, helping me focus and prioritize - even if it’s out of sheer self-hatred. Truth be told, I’ve just always seemed to run a little faster when I’m glancing over my shoulder.