Lance Armstrong is a winner

Lance Armstrong is a winner, in the term’s truest sense. A lot of people would disagree with me on that. And they wouldn’t just disagree, they would likely start frothing at the mouth and spouting angry expletives at the mere mention of his name.

But I’m not angry at him though, I’m more angry at the fourth form teacher who held up his poorly written book as if it were the Bible, then made us read it(incidentally, I would have been more interested in reading the actual Bible). And, I’m more angry that, instead of taking some Gandhian stand against having to read about a guy whose job is to basically to pedal in a straight and/or gently curved line, I acquiesced and read it. But that isn’t really Lance Armstrong’s fault, that’s both my own and the fault of the sadistic teachers who believe sportspeople should be considered role models.

One read of Lance Armstrong’s biography should have told these teachers that he shouldn’t be. In it, Lance doesn’t mince words. He extols ‘winning’ as a virtue worth pursuing to the exclusion of all else. And even admits that he is a bit of a dick, but then, he says, to ‘win’ that’s just the kind of attitude you’ve got to have.

And, you know what, he’s right. It’s just that there’s no such thing as ‘winning’ except in the fantasy roleplay that is sport(or, as I like to call it: sweaty LARPing).

Sport is binary, there are just two results: winning and losing. And you achieve either of those two results by working hard, practicing the same thing for hours and hours, and following orders. If you’re creative, you’ll likely have strayed too far outside of the rules, and be considered a cheat.  You might get some appreciative glances for your grace and style, but if you’re graceful and don’t win matches, then prepare to be forgotten.

This is unlike almost any other field in life. Yes, hard-work and determination are important, but they are very rarely the most important factors in somebody leading a successful and fulfilling life. In fact, quite often it is very unclear just what a successful and fulfilling life is.

Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that money equals success, it would not be a good idea to follow the path of a sportsperson in achieving it. Just try earning a fortune purely by working hard, never seeking creative solutions, or never taking a risk. In fact, some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have quite often put the least amount of effort into their products. At Apple, Steve Jobs’ role in the production of the Macintosh seems to have been to throw hissy fits while his programmers and production team spent an unhealthy amount of time actually meeting his deadlines.

I say this not to say that slovenliness pays, but that even achieving in even that most measurable of qualities(‘money’), is decided by a whole lot of factors beyond just pure hard-work.

If you held Lance Armstrong up as a role model, then the recent doping scandal shouldn’t have changed your opinion of him. The values you looked up to him for, are still there, i.e. his ability to win and his determination to do so through hardwork. In fact, arguably the doping demonstrates that he worked harder than the rest of them, since doping generally also allows an individual to train harder.

If, instead, you think that there are virtues beyond hard-work, and that peoples life goals should be broader than just ‘winning’ something. Then perhaps you should question why you ever thought a guy who rides bikes for a living, would be an ideal role model in the first place.

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