Last night Lance Armstrong‘s interview with Oprah aired, and no surprise at this point–he confessed to a boat-load of blood doping and performance-enhancing drugs during his professional cycling career. For millions of (former?) fans around the world, it felt like a punch in the stomach when he started out saying “yes” to a slew of Oprah’s “did you do it” questions. But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, the real reason we’re all so mad at the former Tour de France winner, cancer survivor and philanthropist has nothing to do with his lying.
Here’s the way the interview started:
Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling performance? Yes. Was one of those banned substances EPO? Yes. Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance? Yes. Did you ever use any other banned substances like testosterone, cortisone or human growth hormones? Yes. In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope? Yes.
Shocked? Disappointed? Angry? Many of us felt all of the above. But we all knew the truth going in–we just hadn’t heard Armstrong admit to it before. That’s what really stung. Hearing our beloved hero, mentor, idol and inspiration confess that the “mythic, perfect story” was “one big lie,” as he put it.
But lots of people lie. Lots of people deceive. And lots of people cheat. Certainly not in the grand scale fashion that Armstrong did being dubbed by the USADA as the man responsible for “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping scandal that the sport has ever seen.” But it’s not the first time someone has lied.
Of course what Lance did goes far beyond a simple untruth. He deceived people for years. Some of his closest friends, allies, sponsors and fans looked him in the eyes and heard him repeatedly say, “I did not dope.” He cheated to win and didn’t care what it took to get there. The 41-year-old admitted to Oprah that it would not have been possible to win all seven Tours without doping. And he bullied. Teammates and other friends and staff were routinely pressured into covering up his deceitful acts and even taking part in them. Those who didn’t? Well they got attacked by Lance and his legal team–for telling the truth.
The cover-ups not only eventually ruined his career and reputation and possibly his Livestrong foundation, but they also severely tarnished the entire sport of cycling. Everywhere he looked, things were crumbling down around the once great and invisible Lance Armstrong. So he came clean. And now we’re mad.
But all we have to do is look around to know that what Lance did is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon today. Not that that makes it right, of course, but just look at some of the shame and disgrace that has taken place in our government, for starters. We all know the tales, but did millions of people get that emotionally entangled with some of these acts of deception? Nope. Not to this extent, anyway. For some reason, what happened with Lance tugged at our hearts and hurt us emotionally.
And why? Because Armstrong was a myth.
He was the quintessential American dream that we all aspired to be. Not that we wanted to be Lance–we just wanted to believe that it was possible to attain a dream or two of our own. We wanted to think that someone could be the idol, the come-back champion, the survivor, the dad, the do-gooder and the boyfriend of a sexy rock star all wrapped up into one fit, strong body. Because if it was possible for one guy to have it all in such a big way, well, maybe, just maybe, we could have a slice of our own American dream.
Lance made us believe that was possible. He made us believe that we could become anyone and anything we wanted if we worked and fought hard enough. He made us believe we could conquer cancer and then conquer the French Alps. He made us believe that we too could be as strong, as determined, as accomplished and as fearless.
That’s why we’re so mad.
It’s not because he lied. It’s not because he cheated. It’s not because he bullied or deceived or was an outright arrogent asshole to so many people. The real reason we’re so upset is because he completely blew the idealistic notion that we too could aspire to such levels of greatness.
We’re mad because in a series of unfolding lies, Armstrong proved that maybe we can’t believe in the fairy tale and the mystical goal of having it all. We wanted that for ourselves in some small way, but now that vision is shattered. We realize that we’re all just humans, and maybe it’s not possible to be that big in life.
But what does being big in life really mean anyway? Millions of dollars, adoring fans and sponsors around the world, being the best at the hardest race in the world, everyone clamoring for a piece of you?
If you ask me, living big is much simpler: It’s about finding your passion, making a difference, using your voice, building a healthy body, being kind to others, taking responsibility for our planet, and instilling confidence, independence and a sense of enthusiasm for life with our kids. Living big is about being happy and finding our inner joy–and not having to fight or claw or deceive or lie or cheat in order to get there.
Living big is also about finding the hero within ourselves–not looking around for others to do that for us. We already have it all. Not to sound too cliche and get all Oprah-ish, but look around, people. We have strong, capable bodies. We have a beautiful world filled with awe-inspiring nature, oceans, mountains and animals. We have opportunities that former generations never even dreamed of. And we are capable of achieving so much during our lifetime. The hero we wanted to see in Lance is already inside of us. We don’t need someone else to live the American dream because we can do that on our own.
We just have to be brave enough to believe that.