|Centre National d’Art et de Culture George Pompidou
When we are asked what we did during the weekend we tend to share impressive actions. When we are asked what we did by a member of our tribe we tend to share our inspirational actions. Impressive stories are easy. They include buying a must have gadget at an amazing discount, skiing a double black diamond, traveling long distances, finishing a puzzle. Inspiring stories take more effort but their impact is far greater. To inspire your actions must benefit someone other than yourself. The impact of an impressive story is that the listener may go repeat your action. The impact of an inspiring story is that the listener may take action that benefits others. The results in exponentially greater.
Which stories do you tell?
So the once mighty Lance Armstrong has been officially stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the UCI and pro cycling is trying to expunge his presence all together. It is a noble idea that we can pull a single thread out of a tapestry and leave whole cloth. As sports fans we are visionaries who dream of the best, forgetting how human nature leads to an imperfect product. Our ability to untangle Lance’s narrative from those in the cycling community is far more complicated than a decree by a governing body. We have learned and will continue to feed on the sorted details of fifteen years of doping in the pro peloton. The impact of the scandal is now expanding into other endurance sports with biathletes and multi-sport competitors implicated. Corporations are quick to pull the trap door and dump their icons when the return of investment can not no longer meet expectations. Have we regressed to the preschool playground where one student is suddenly labeled as “it” and everyone scatters for the safety of higher ground and distance, leaving one individual who does not belong to the very group that had just embraced them seconds ago?
Can we really remaster a decade of memories and experiences? Will ESPN edit hours of footage to accurately reflect the updated podium results for the Tour de France? Is the French Tourism Board willing to refund the money spent by American descending every July on their backroads and city boulevards to cheer the French national pastime? Can Trek bikes claim that its status as a market leader was accomplished through innovative design and a grassroots growth all of its own accord? Will the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center on the Nike campus be rebranded as the domain of another endurance athlete with Armstrong’s global recognition? Can we airbrush reality?
Simon Sinek points out that we can be impressed when somebody does something for themselves but we can be inspired when they do something for others. Perhaps that is the tension point that does not make it easy to toss Lance into the the pile of “cheaters” that has grown rapidly over the years. He clearly was impressive. YouTube clips reveal super-natural performance on a bike. The highlight reel of eye-witnessed reports will not be erased from time. The reality is that Lance also inspired. He did something bigger than himself for others. He gave cancer a worldwide platform to gather more resources and attention. He provided hope and created a tribe of survivors. A generation suddenly thought cycling was cool. Communities invested in bike friendly infrastructure. He used his impressiveness to leverage inspiration.
Are we better off because Lance Armstrong’s impressiveness resulted in inspiration? Is my memory of riding into the French Alps and witnessed the power and speed with which Lance and the elite cyclists pedaled tirelessly past day-after-day now a nightmare? Was waking-up at 6 AM to see a poor quality live-stream of the Tour a misguided use of time? Do the people I connected with because we shared a passion for cycling and the easiest conversation starter was to ask, “did you see Lance today,” somehow evaporate because our connection was built on a fraud?
What to do next? I am not going to stop riding my bike because it provides meaning to my life. Riding is inspiring. I will venture onto routes and climbs that are meaningful because of those who went before. I cannot pull a single thread out of my life’s narrative as if it was a bandaid. It will remain in place, discolored, frayed, and torn. But the tapestry of my life is inspired by the many stories that run through it, not just the idolization of any one. Focus on the inspiration and remember that being impressive is a temporary state of being.