Lance Armstrong: A Lesson for Us All

Lance Armstrong has been in the news--in a very bad way--lately. USADA just released a 200 page report detailing Armstrong's elaborate, multi-year cheating effort, covering all of his Tour de France wins. He has now stepped down as Chairman from his own Livestrong Foundation and even Nike--hardly a paragon of virtue that tends to stick by even its most controversial athletes--just dumped him, as have most of his other corporate sponsors.

It's a sad story but one from which we could all learn a few lessons.

First, though, let me say that while I was never a hardcore Lance Armstrong fan--I'm not one to ever make heroes of any sports stars or entertainers--I was definitely rooting for him. Like so many of us, I certainly wanted his seemingly inspirational story of overcoming cancer only to become a champion to be true. So it gives me no joy at all to write that, having read all 200+ pages of the USADA report, there is absolutely no doubt that Armstrong lied and cheated his way to the top. None. Anyone who thinks differently just hasn't read the report.

What emerges from the report is much more than a collection of facts; one gets the portrait of a person and a personality far different from what Lance and his team of publicists and marketing pros carefully crafts for us in his books.

It's clear that Lance is obsessed with winning at all costs. He not only lied and cheated on a daily basis for years, he required everyone around him to do the same. People weren't allowed on his team unless they got with his cheating program themselves, not to mention help Lance himself cheat more effectively. Lance comes across as not only dishonest but a vindictive bully.

Sadly, I've met several people like this in my own life. They project one image--of wholesomeness or of greatness--while in fact, beneath the surface something else is going on entirely. The truth is, these sort of people are probably mentally ill to some degree. At the minimum, they have narcissistic personality disorder. Possibly, they are even sociopaths.

But it's important to understand that most of us aren't born this way. Narcissism, even sociopathology, aren't genetic conditions, they're learned behaviors. With each negative, destructive step, each and every one us can walk down this road if we aren't self-aware. Primarily, what drives us down this destructive path is when we latch onto the wrong goals. Lance not only wanted to win, he wanted to be rich, famous, and respected--even revered. And it's quite clear he was willing to do anything to achieve these things, even pour potentially poisonous drugs into a body that had already been wracked with cancer.

Here's the thing about pursuing these goals: not only aren't they fulfilling, the quest almost always produces the opposite of what we intend (in particular, read the studies listed under Chapters 2, 3, and 5). They won't ever give us what we truly want--authentic happiness and deep-seated meaning. Scientific study after study as well as personal story after story tells us that no amount of money, fame, winning, or approval from others truly makes us happy. In fact, it's quite the opposite: the more we focus on these things, the more miserable we become. That isn't to say that these things are bad in and of themselves; so long as they happen to us as a side-effect of pursuing authentic meaning and happiness, they aren't necessarily harmful. For example, someone pursuing their life's passion to write and play music or to find a cure for cancer might well find themselves rich and famous at some point.

But what we must always ask ourselves is, "why am I pursuing these goals, this course of action, or this set of behaviors?" If it's for the right reasons, then we will flourish. But if it's for the wrong reasons, eventually we will find ourselves miserable and lost.

The end result of Lance's cheating: most likely his Tour de France "victories" will be wiped out, his fame has now turned into infamy, his financial sponsors have dropped him, and he might even be facing a litany of lawsuits that will cost him a bundle. And, then of course, there's the possible long-term impact his doping might have on his own health. Anyone who thinks it was worth it in the end--for Lance or anyone in any field behaving similarly--is in for a very painful awakening.

There is such a thing as karma. None of us get away with lying, cheating, and bad behavior forever. It almost always comes out. And even if not publicly, it always takes a private toll.

The truth is that any external pursuit always amounts to zero. Every wave comes not only with peaks but equal and corresponding troughs. That's the very nature of the external world.

The good news is that the calculus of our inner world's is be very different. In the inward realm, we can continue to develop in a positive direction--without any corresponding negative trough--until we reach the highest levels of consciousness.

The only truly important and lasting goals are inward ones. We must commit to expanding our self-awareness, heightening our consciousness, extending our compassion, enlarging our capacity for unconditional love, and tapping into the deep framework of meaning and purpose that exists in every atom of creation.

When we do this we find the only true victory in life: victory inside ourselves.