Lance Armstrong & Jonah Lehrer–What are We Willing to Do to Win?
When it comes down to it, most of us want to be winners. We like being #1, and it is very human to want the adoration and attention that goes with being the best. Face it, we admire winners. The world pauses for the Olympics, football games, the World Cup, and the Tour de France. In many ways, athletes are heroes, and we live vicariously through them.
Most of us will never have what it takes to sacrifice years of our lives for a sport or an event. We don’t have what it takes to wake at 3:30 in the morning year after year, to endure injuries and heartbreaks all for a singular purpose. Since we don’t have that kind of mettle, we elevate those who do.
Ah, but there is a dark side to the pursuit of victory.
What are we willing to do to win? What will we do to be the best?
In this morning’s news, world-class cyclist Lance Armstrong is giving in and refusing to continue the battle to clear his name and fight charges that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong has been accused of doping by the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Association), and now that Armstrong refuses to fight, this means that he has been effectively disqualified from every event he’s competed in since 1998. This will likely cost the cyclist all 7 Tour de France titles and his bronze Olympic medal. The fact that Armstrong is refusing to defend himself, to many, seems to be an admission of guilt.
Whether Armstrong is guilty or innocent remains to be seen, but we are no stranger to athletes who’ve fallen from grace due to cheating. Steroids seem to be a rampant problem no matter how many athletes ruin their lives and forever taint their names using them. One would think that these men and women would serve as cautionary tales to future athletes, yet they don’t. Why?
One of my favorite quotes is:
Some people have the talent to take them to the stars, but they lack the character to keep them there. ~Joyce Meyers
A Matter of Character
A lot of it boils down to character. Do we have the character to do what’s right when no one is looking? Even if we know no one would ever find out?
I would love to say that I have always been a person of impeccable character, but, um *thunder rumbling* I already lie about my weight and age, so best not to tempt fate. In many ways, I believe my journey as a writer has been a lot less about developing my talent and far more about developing my character.
Most writers don’t think of themselves as athletes and yet, that is exactly what we are. We are in an endurance and precision sport of the mind. Those who will do well train every day. They give up movies, shopping and television time. Real writers are known to stay up into the late night hours or rise before dawn to do what they do. Becoming a professional author means we adapt our lives to our art, much the same way a professional athletes adapt their lives to their particular sport.
Like athletes, writers often travel, we seek coaches, we get critique…and we face temptation.
Temptation in the Digital Age of Publishing
I love the Digital Age and the opportunities it presents, yet there are new pressures writers haven’t ever faced before. We feel this pressure to be fascinatingly interesting all the time. Many professional authors (particularly non-fiction authors) write articles, speak, teach, blog and write books and everyone demands unique, clever never-seen-before-material.
As the pace of society picks up, so has the demand for information and entertainment. Writers are expected to write better and faster, and we are under this unprecedented public scrutiny. While the current paradigm promises great job security, the constant attention can generate insane insecurity to perform always better and better and yes, better.
Ah, but herein lies the issue. Pride.
Admit We Have Limits
It is hard for me to admit that I am not 110% every day. I want to look good to others. No, I want to look better than good. I want to look AWESOME. Yet, here is the thing, we all have a finite amount of awesome. We can’t be totally on our game every hour of every day. We need to get really good at checking that pride and saying, “No.”
I know you want me to have brand new material for every single blog post, but I just can’t do that. I’m sorry to disappoint you.
The Same Pants They Got Mad In, They Can Get Glad In
We must learn that people have a right to be disappointed, and they will get over it. If we don’t accept this fact and we try to push ourselves beyond reasonable limits, then we open ourselves to cutting corners, and, like steroids, that is just a decision that will come back to bite us.
Pride Comes Before the Fall
One of my favorite authors is Jonah Lehrer. I am a science nerd, and I love anything that has to do with neuroscience. Lehrer’s books Proust was a Neuroscientist and his latest book Imagine were two of my favorites, both heavily highlighted and dog-eared…until this past week. Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker and admitted to making up Bob Dylan quotes in his blockbuster book Imagine.
This is the writer equivalent of steroid use.
His mortified publisher has ordered the runaway best-selling book be pulled from stores. Many of you know that I have been working on a WANA 2.0. Much of the research that I’d planned to put into my new book came from Lehrer’s works, but now I have to scrap that plan and see if I can go to the source material because everything Lehrer wrote is now suspect.
And that ticks me off.
Lehrer is a brilliant young man and a talented writer. He has this rare ability to make science inviting and accessible to regular people like me, and I am heartbroken. I’m sad that, for whatever reason, Lehrer didn’t stick to his craft and that he let pride get in the way. He caved to the pressure that lied and told him he needed to be wildly fascinating at all times. I would have preferred him be a bit less interesting and been authentic, than for him to be a fascinating phoney.
Much like our athletes.
We are all vulnerable to making these kinds of mistakes, but we have to ask the tough questions and have to be willing to let others be #1, if that’s what it takes. I know there are authors who have become masters at juking the Amazon algorithms. Some have even rallied friends and family to buy books to artificially bump their novel up into the top slots so they can slap “best-selling” in front of their names.
I once had a writer who worked with me blatantly steal his blog posts from Cracked.com. He enjoyed the adoration he “earned.” He loved the compliments about his “brilliant posts”, but once his writing sin was exposed to the light?
He lost everything.
Those of us closest to him were hurt and humiliated. This writer quickly lost what he’d falsely earned as well as what he might have justly earned. What was tragic about this writer was that he actually knew the material he was blogging about. There was no reason other than, perhaps, laziness, to justify him stealing the work of other writers, pictures and all. Now his life as a writer is effectively over. He’s contracted literary leprosy.
How to Be Real Winners
To really be victorious as people and as authors, I believe that we must learn to tune out the world. The world is this black hole of never ending need that will always demand more and more and more, and we must learn the discernment to shut it off.
When we start out writing, many of us just want to finish the book and then we’ll be happy. Then we just want an agent. Then we just want a book deal. Oh, then we’d really be happy if we just hit a best-seller list. Okay, well that was great but we’d really really this time for real be happy if we could just make the NY Times list, then #1 on the Times list, then we need to stay #1 on the Times or now we are a failure and our career is over. We’re a has-been hack.
See how even writers can fall into the same trap as cyclists and baseball players?
We have to maintain perspective and have the humility to let others be #1 or do better than us and be genuinely happy for them. This is one of the benefits of being a WANA. We win by helping others win. We don’t have all our “wins” in one basket of ego. Also, we are surrounded by a network of supportive friends who will eagerly give us validation we don’t “earn.” They will be there even if we are #15 or #5000.
Winning (even as a writer) is a battle against our own nature. Winners are willing to get up early, stay up late and sacrifice, and do this day after day and year after year. We keep pressing even when we are criticized, even when the going is tough. We declare that any victory gained by cutting corners or sacrificing our integrity doesn’t count.
Real winners understand that our real character isn’t tested by being the best. Our character is tested when we lose, when we fail, when we fall short. How do we act? How do we treat others? How do we treat ourselves?
The real truth is this. When we can be happy for the success of others, when we can keep trying in the face of failure, when we can give ourselves grace to fall short and keep a positive attitude, that is the real victory.
What are your thoughts? Do you feel there is a lot more pressure to perform? Do you find it hard not to cut corners? Do you struggle and think that you have to be interesting all the time, especially with social media now being so important? Do you have any thoughts on the Lance Armstrong issue? Any opinions about the mess with Jonah Lehrer? Would an author fudging a quote or three affect you reading his books?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of August I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.