Lessons from Lance Armstrong – Even Heroes are Human

This post was originally published on my Working Mother blog on October 17, 2012

This morning it is widely reported that Lance Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity, and that Nike has severed ties with the athlete due to “overwhelming evidence” provided by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of illegal doping during his cycling career. All around, what a terrible shame – for Nike, for Lance, for his family, his future – but also for the millions of people who believed in Lance – athletes, cancer victims, children, Livestrong supports and more.

As a Mom, one of the questions that pops up in my mind – and from my children – is “Why?” How do I explain to my children a reason that even I don’t fully understand beyond “greed” and “ego”? What do you say to wide, innocent eyes and trusting souls when their heroes falter – their seemingly-super human facades shattered into bits and pieces of ego, greed and narcism? It’s one of those tough life lessons that as a mother, I would love to gloss over and ignore – but realistically I know that at some point, my kids have to understand that dishonesty and disappointment are a part of life. But how can I turn that into a positive?

“Everyone makes mistakes” is a big part of this conversation. Followed up with points about choosing our own morality and what kind of person we want to be. But more importantly – and where I think Lance fell down (as do a lot of companies) – is admitting these mistakes instead of continually denying them and digging oneself deeper and deeper into a tailspin downward, from which recovery is a longer, harder and darker road than it needed to be. In fact, my oldest son (Richie, 10) and I had a similar conversation at the dinner table just last night. He did something I didn’t like, I saw it and asked “Why did you do that?” He said, “I didn’t.” Which then led into an entire discussion about lying and when to just say, “Yes okay, I made a mistake – I did something wrong and I apologize.”

Other lessons that Lance Armstrong can help us to teach our children:

  • We all have choice – making our own is often the hardest thing to do, but in the long run, the most rewarding.
  • Karma does exist. Remember that for the above.
  • The old adage “Would you jump off a bridge just because your friends did?” still stands (“Everyone was doping.”) Also – drugs are stupid.
  • Faltering is a part of life. It teaches us humility, and reminds us that taking the easy (read: cheating and lying) road isn’t worth it in the long run, and that real heroes – often the unsung type – work hard to achieve what they have. Cheating may accelerate us in the present, but is more than likely to catch up with us in the future. Helping children to understand and embrace this choice is an essential part of parenting.
  • Don’t let your ego get out of control – you are never untouchable.
  • Athletes and celebrities are not always right – and never perfect. Choose your idols carefully and don’t forget that they are simply people, not super heroes.
  • One mistake doesn’t negate all the good you do or have done. The Livestrong Foundation is a great entity that will, I believe, live on and continue to help and inspire others despite Lance’s mistake.

What lessons will you take from Lance’s missteps, and how will you help your children to understand that even heroes are human? I know that I’ll be reminding my boys that while there are many people and good deeds to admire, the best bet is to be their own hero.

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