Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Success of Lance Armstrong

The success of Lance Armstrong on the bike in the Tour de France is unprecedented.  His record of seven victories seems more amazing now, given not only the physical and mental skill that such a record reveals, but the luck that it also required (the lack of crashes, mechanical failures, and injuries). While there is no lack of controversy surrounding Lance (e.g. "Pharmstrong"), he might be right that he is the most tested athlete on the planet, and yet he has never tested positive for banned performance-enhancing substances.

But is Lance Armstrong a success? In the forthcoming book I co-edited with Jesús Ilundáin Agurruza, Cycling - Philosophy for Everyone: A Philosophical Tour de Force, Greg Bassham and Chris Krall address this question. As they point out, on many classical and medieval theories of success, the answer to this question is "no".  Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, the Stoics, and Epicurus would of course disagree on many things, but Lance falls short of each of their notions of success.

But on a contemporary view discussed by Bassham and Krall, Lance is clearly a success. Philosopher Thomas Morris offers a theory of success which he calls the 3-D Approach to Life:
-Discover your positive talents.
-Develop the most meaningful and beneficial of those talents.
-Deploy your talents into the world for the good of others and yourself.

There is much more in this chapter about this and other theories of success, but in brief it is clear that on the 3-D Approach, Lance is a success. First, he has discovered his positive talents. In Texas, where football reigns, Lance discovered his abilities in the endurance sports of running, swimming, and cycling. He had to work to excel at these sports, and work he did. Over time, it became clear that Lance had amazing abilities and great potential on the bike, and with the help of Chris Carmichael and others, and after a battle with cancer, he became perhaps the greatest rider in the history of the Tour de France. Not only did he develop his talent, he has deployed it for good in his battle against cancer through the Livestrong Foundation.

Lance Armstrong is not a perfect human being, but in many of the ways that matter, he is a success.  Lance is an extraordinarily successful human being, but not because he has made incredible amounts of money, dated Sheryl Crow, and achieved celebrity status. Rather, he is a success because he has discovered and developed his talents, and then deployed them in a way that serves the common good.

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