Lance Armstrong, Second Chances and Choices

Lance Armstrong. Remember him? Elite cyclist, cancer survivor and bad-guy cheater? I hadn’t thought much about him until a few days ago. And now I can’t stop thinking about his failure, bad behavior and something amazing he did recently. I’d like to know what you think.

First, for nonprofit readers, over on the Oneicity blog this week we get into the theory of choice. Everyone wants to choose. They want a choice in what they do. So how could it be a bad idea to give a donor multiple choices? You can see for yourself right here.

Back to Lance Armstrong. I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt pretty ambivalent about him. At first, I admired him. He’s an incredible athlete. But a doping cheat. But what really got up my nose is how he went after people close to him as his cheating was coming to light. In that time he seemed to do his best to hurt the people who were just telling the truth. Some who had been friends and teammates. That made me sick. That behavior bothered me more than his cheating.

Yet. Lance Armstrong told a story recently on Freakonomics Radio (awesome podcast by the way) that touched me. It has me thinking.

Armstrong described what happened as he was leaving a restaurant, on his way to a race.

Armstrong said:

I walk out, I’m getting in my Uber and there’s one guy who goes, ‘Hey Lance,’ and I fully expected him to go, ‘What’s up, dude?’ or ‘Right on man, love you,’ you know?

And I go ‘Hey what’s up?’

He goes ‘F— you. F— you! F— you!’ and he wouldn’t stop. And the next thing you know, the entire patio is screaming ‘F— you, f— you, f—.’ I’ve never had that happen.

I was like, ‘Oh.’

I was shaking.

So I got in the car and it was a very short drive to the race. But I’m sitting there, and I’m not saying a word. . . So I called the restaurant. I said, ‘Put the manager on the phone.’ The manager gets on the phone. I explained what happened. . . ‘Okay, I need you to do me a favor. Here’s my credit card number. I want you to walk out there and you buy everything they’re eating and drinking. And tell them that I understand.’

His story humanized Armstrong in a way that was new to me.

He went from demon to human in the telling of that story (and if it’s an intentional strategy to game emotions, it’s a good one). Candidly, his story transported me in my memory to the times I’ve failed and let people down. The times I’ve acted with hard-heartedness. To some uncomfortable confrontations. His story also took me back to the times I’ve been embarrassed and felt shame because of my actions. And the times someone has made it clear to my face that I wasn’t their favorite person by a long shot.

Now, I feel compassion for Armstrong, which I’d never been able to feel before. And I have an almost grudging respect for him.

I’m still chewing on this and I’m curious what you think.  

2 more things on this:

I hope you’ve never experienced anything like the moment Armstrong describes. But a lot of us have had difficult moments that left us unable to do anything but shake and think “Oh.” If you know what those moments are like, remember there’s always hope for redemption and a fresh start. 

Last, it occurs to me that Jesus would have loved what Armstrong did in response to the “F- You’s” he was receiving.

Hang on, changing lanes: Southwest Airlines, which is not “my” airline, is still a brand that I love. My love goes back to Herb Kelleher and the story of the brand’s start. They are mavericks, geniuses and self-aware. They NEVER try to be like any other airline. They are NOT going to pursue reserved seats. Nope. Heck no. And that’s why they are such a strong brand (and why I don’t fly them). They know who they are. And who they are not. It you lead a company, a brand or a career you should think like Southwest. Know who you are. See what you think.

Finally, I have no idea what to do with this but I’ve saved it because it’s “something.” The Cairo Zoo may have painted (probably did) a donkey to look like a zebra. Really. I figure at some point, a zoo consultant pointed out to them that while expensive to acquire, people love to see zebras. And it went from there.

Thanks for sharing the ride with me. What do you think about Armstrong? Ever have a moment even close to what he experienced? Hit “Reply” and you’ll get me.

Be at peace, everything’s going to work out.


Oh. . . in case you ever wonder what I’m up to with these emails: I believe in newsletters. Here’s a superstar who agrees.

Steve Thomas
CEO, Oneicity
Partner, Hoots & Thomas Wizard of Ads, Ltd.

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