The Thirty Girl blogger, Jara Sturdivant-Wilson
Lance Armstrong reminds me of someone I know or used to know.
Although I’ve never met Lance Armstrong in person, I remember those first interactions I had with him from afar. He and his yellow jersey occupied my television schedule. I, with many others, cheered for him as beat cancer and then won the Tour de France. Here was this incredibly charismatic athlete who, against all odds, achieved the most Tour de France wins by a single person—ever. He found and lost love—and found love again. Through it all, he held his head high; he had his teammates along his side; he had the adoration of his friends, family and sponsors; he had accolades, awards and money; he had his foundation and the respect of those in the philanthropic community. He had it all.
I’ll bet that many people even started cycling due to Lance’s influence on us all.
But in the midst of all his success, there were a few folks who were crying foul on the sidelines. There were accusations of him using performance enhancing drugs and manipulating the game. There were testimonies, to which Lance responded with blatant denial and attacks. After his attacks, there seemed to be silence—until a few months ago.
Then, all at once, Armstrong’s lies seemed to unravel at a rapid pace. He received a lifelong ban from participating in any type of sanctioned race. His sponsors said goodbye. He is no longer connected to Livestrong, the organization he started. And he finally admitted to the world that he had been living a lie for the past decade.
Lance’s former friends—the ones who cried foul—are breathing a sigh of relief and screaming a collective “Finally!” This charismatic bully who manipulated everyone around him for his own good has finally been stopped ... somewhat. Do I think he's apologetic? No. Do I think that there are other people who are just like him? Yes. Do I think he was the ultimate bully who kept his adoring fans around him for protection? Yes. Am I glad he's done racing? Yes.
This story has a lot of levels. I take a couple lessons away from it, ones that are deeply personal because I’ve lived them.
Be Comfortable In Your Own Skin
As an athlete who works out every day, I know that you have to put in the hard work to get true results. It's unfortunate that there were situations and circumstances that led Lance to believe he couldn't be great on his own or be comfortable in his own skin. When he, I, you and others put a false cape on ourselves, we can easily get pulled into our own web of deceit. That web of deceit will feel comfortable at times for us—so comfortable we don't realize that we are being choked.
Take a Look in Your Own Backyard
And some of y'all know you have a Lance Armstrong in your own backyard. Your very own Lance Armstrong might the author you adore, on your blogroll, your Twitter or Instagram feed, a popular Facebook friend, or favorite playlist. How do you know you have a Lance Armstrong in your life?
• Is that person is a bit too charismatic or too revered by others?
• Do they attack others, yet are never truly apologetic themselves?
• Are their attacks deeply personal and unrelated to the subject at hand? Do they “aim to kill?”
• Does that that person surround him or herself with adoring fans yet never seem to keep lasting, close friends?
• Does that person seem to have a trail of broken relationships in his or her history?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a Lance Armstrong in your own backyard because those are signs of a narcissistic enemy ... not a friend. Be wary.
Tell the Truth
In my own experience with a Lance Armstrong, I chose to leave. Do I wish I would have spoken up more? Yes. But now I commit to telling the truth about the situation.
Practice Empathy and Humility
The other thing is, I don’t ever want to become one of those people. And I don’t think that any of us want to be one of those people either.
I’m certainly not writing this blog post to put myself on a pedestal of perfection. I’m far from perfect. In fact, I could easily become my own Lance Armstrong. I have the capabilities to be ruthlessly hateful to others. I could choose to accept a false pedestal, if others wanted to put me on one. I could staunchly defend my actions when others question my motives. I could bully others into keeping my secrets.
How do we avoid it? I asked a good friend, and she said this: “Practice empathy and humility. Refuse the pedestal, even when it is offered to you. Pay attention. Posture yourself as a learner. Not that those things are natural or easy ... But I'd rather work hard on those things than leave a trail of broken relationships in my wake.”
I look to my friends, family, therapist and my Creator to guide me in the ways I need to practice empathy and humility. Without the true and grounded insight from others, I would process my life and experiences in a vacuum. Growth and accountability happen in honest community. I believe that together our community can come together and create safe places for us to explore what it means for us to be comfortable in our skin and be good people.
Be good to one another.
From an early age, Jara’s mom called her nosy, but she called herself inquisitive. She was always concerned, or maybe obsessed, with writing. She began journaling in the second grade when her mom gave her a journal. Since then, she has received a journal every year and enjoys documenting her thoughts, questions, jokes (especially from Laffy Taffy wrappers), random notes passed to her on the Omaha bus (serious story, there might be a blog about it), and life. That love for writing turned into two degrees. After finishing her graduate studies in journalism, Jara moved to Omaha and spent five years telling stories through print and online publications at a non-profit. Now she is a strategic pursuits coordinator at HDR in the Omaha office.