by Joanie Butman
Another public figure crashes and burns. It’s becoming an all too familiar scenario these days. I missed Oprah’s much talked about interview with Lance Armstrong and have only watched clips of the highlights, which were more than enough. This might be harsh, but Armstrong didn’t evoke a lot of sympathy. He seemed defiant in his admission of guilt. I got the impression that he regretted the fact that he got caught more than his choice to use performance-enhancing drugs. He blamed “the culture” of the sport as if “the culture” was a separate entity from those of which it consists. He sounded like a petulant teenager, “But everyone else was doing it!” as if that were a viable defense. I can still hear my mom’s standard reply when I used that excuse: “If everyone was jumping off a bridge, would you do that too?”
Even if his career began tainted, once he became a leader in the field, he was in a unique position of power to expose, challenge and reform the cycling culture, but he chose to continue to glorify himself instead. The medals mattered above all else – much like the next drink to an alcoholic. Armstrong’s cocktail was just of another ilk. He became addicted to winning at any cost. His thirst was for adulation.
The shame of it all is that in trying to control his own destiny, he missed the opportunity to experience what might have been the true miracle. By trying to rob God’s glory, he sacrificed his own. Everyone loves a feel-good victory story. Armstrong’s tale had all the key elements – young, handsome, promising athlete struck with cancer during his prime defies the odds, and not only returns to competition but dominates his sport for seven consecutive years. Now that story is just what it sounds like – a fairytale. He made it one by doubting his God-given ability to win without drugs. He lacked faith in his own gift. Wouldn’t a drug-free win have been more meaningful and all the more miraculous? Too bad he didn’t have someone like Eric Liddell’s dad in Chariots of Fire to explain, “Don't compromise. Compromise is the language of the devil. Run in God's name and let the world stand back in wonder.”
Armstrong’s story could have been a testimony to the power of the human spirit, but instead it’s become a testimony to the destructive nature of hubris. Even so, depending on how Lance chooses to answer the “Now what?” query, his story can still change lives and inspire others. It can be a testimony to God’s grace. His story is not over – far from it. As with any fall from grace, it’s what comes next that will reveal what he chooses to take away from his experience and whether his contrition is sincere. Now is when we will see whether he chooses to live up to his own ‘LIVESTRONG’ branding. Will he choose to utilize his disgrace to help reform the cycling culture? Will he choose to use it as a platform to mentor others as to the cost and consequences of personal compromise? Will he choose to rebuild his character by using his infamy to benefit others? Will he choose to let his mess become his message?
There was another clip where Armstrong compared his penalty to that of his peers lamenting the inequity of his punishment. How someone who has just admitted to bullying, cheating and lying can talk about fairness illustrates a certain disconnect don’t you think? Yes, the penalty was steep. The price of pride usually is. Had Armstrong chosen to tell the truth from the beginning, maybe his sentence would have been less severe. He was undone by his own lies. The most painful consequence is not that he was stripped of his medals, but of his purpose and identity. There is no greater loss. He’s not alone in this kind of personal crisis though his was of his own making.
Everyone faces times where we are forced to change direction and re-examine who we are and where do we go from here? It could be the loss of your health, your job, your home or your marriage. Maybe it’s a more gradual shift like your children leaving home creating a void pregnant with possibility as you sit and contemplate, “Now what?” It could be a retirement that you’ve worked your life towards (or worse, a forced one) to find yourself floundering in the emptiness created by the loss of focus that has dominated your life thus far - an integral piece of your identity gone. Perhaps, like Armstrong, it’s a horrid mistake that leads to your Now What? moment – infidelity, dishonesty, expulsion, legal problems, addiction issues, the list is endless, and no one is immune. Most of us don’t live in the limelight, but Mr. Armstrong has plenty of company in the poor choices arena. While ours may not be on public display (or maybe they are in our own communities), it doesn’t make them any less painful or soul-wrenching.
Maybe your Now What? moment is the result of aging in general, when your physical and mental abilities may not be what they once were and you search for ways to add meaning and purpose to your days. Perhaps that’s why so many elderly suffer from depression. They lack purpose. They don’t feel needed – and they aren’t, at least not in the way they once were.
I believe the key to happiness is choosing to adjust your expectations to your circumstances. You don’t have to be on top of your ‘game’ to have something to contribute. In fact, Lance Armstrong is poised to potentially make a bigger contribution to society now than when he was winning races – depending on what he chooses to do next. His admission was just the beginning of the longest, hardest, most humbling race he will ever attempt.
If you are staring into the vacancy of a Now What? decision, feeling a lack of direction and purpose, choose to remember that for the majority it’s not going to be grandiose. Reverend Liddell’s previously mentioned quote actually begins with “You can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection.” As his statement aptly suggests, it’s not what you choose to do that determines your value, it’s how you choose to do it. Whether you’re changing your kids diapers or your own, we all have value and add value.
How do you choose to add value? If you are struggling for an answer as so many of us do, choose to ask those around you. Their answers will surprise you.