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I’ll pass on the yellow jersey

Posted Jul 10 2010 8:58pm

Parc Naturel Régional Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Saint-Aubert, France

After a few days of feeling sorry for myself over my misspent youth and arrested development, I realized that the whole Lance Armstrong analogy I used the other day left something to be desired.

When I envisioned myself in his place, way back in the pack, after a couple of tough breaks, I didn’t see myself riding like crazy trying to catch up I actually saw myself slowing down, looking around, and saying, “Screw this – I’m going to go for a nice little ride in the country!’ and then peeling off from the pack to pedal through the French countryside. Stop and have a nice meal. Hang out with locals at a cafe. See the lights of the nearby city as I ride down country roads in complete darkness.

That would be me not hauling ass to make up time and then end up looking dazed and confused on the team bus afterwards.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at the Stage Three course for the Tour de France, and it looks like they went through some pretty nice terrain. Thinking about cyclists racing through that part of the country at top speed, I can’t help but think, “What a shame, they can’t stop to look around.”

And I wonder if any of them including Lance Armstrong can ever travel through that part of the world and just enjoy being there.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we get it in our heads that we “need” to do such-and-such. Everybody else is doing it, after all. Or maybe everybody is telling us we’re supposed to be doing it. Or we haven’t seen anything else be successful or considered “worthwhile”. And we get all invested in a certain way of living, that’s often a cookie-cutter version of what everyone else is doing.

Are they happy? Who knows? Sometimes, even they don’t know. Or they don’t dare ask. Anyway, happy isn’t the point, is it? Successful and powerful and sexy and professionally desirable and influential are. Happy might come later, if you have enough of those five elements. If it doesn’t, so what? At least you’re powerful and sexy and professionally desirable and influential, right?

Anyway, happy is a tricky thing. It can change so quickly. Why use that as your yardstick for success?

It’s much better to find a narrow niche, funnel all your energy and attention into that specialty, and become a respected/feared force in your chosen field. It can be science or it can be sport, but it has to be Just One Thing. You don’t dare diversify. That’s for slackers and losers. And oh, by the way, that positive, healthy relationship you have with your loved-one? It’s just getting in the way of your advancement. If you’re smart, you’ll spend less time on them and more time on your chosen specialty.

That’s the story the rest of the world loves to tell us, anyway. Screw the kids. Screw the spouse or significant other. Screw the parents and siblings. Who’s got the time for them? Screw your health, screw your sanity, screw your body’s innate tendency to counteract the rigors of sympathetic nervous system fight-flight-freeze-fake-it-fun activity. Rest and digest? Don’t be a wuss. Get back in the ring and keep swinging. Get back on your bike and ride for all you’re worth.

The newspapers and sites and blogs of the world will love you for giving them something to comment about.

When I look back at my life as I’ve lived it (and as I continue to live it), I see a long series of choices like the one I imagine myself making above when life dealt me a bum hand and I got set back, instead of driving myself like a mad person to catch up with the pack, I usually peeled off and did my own thing. As far as anyone else could tell, I ‘gave up,’ but in my mind, I was simply making a different set of choices in favor of succeeding at things that were considerably easier for me to do, rather than being mediocre at things that I was supposed to be doing.

College was a wash for me… so I peeled off and joined efforts at starting a number of alternative enterprises, among them an arts school, several technology companies, and a national broadcast that’s now distributed internationally. Holding down a permanent job wasn’t something I could do continuously, so I took to contracting and temping and I got a ton of really great experience at a wide variety of companies. I had a hard time in classrooms and had trouble following instructors, so I taught myself how to code and build websites. And I couldn’t seem to connect successfully with any medical folks who would give me the time of day and help me with my TBI issues, so I did a boatload of research, studied my own life and history and “quirks” under an intense microscope, and eventually I found my way to a neuropsych who could help me.

And here I am.

Pedaling across the countryside in my own version of the “race” and actually having a good time of it.

Granted, not everything is perfect, and I have a bunch of troubling details to take care of. But I am happy. In my corner of the world, that counts for something. And though I’ve hit my share of bumps along the way, and I’ve fallen far behind where everyone else like me seems to be, I still have access to a world of Good within me that no one can wreck, unless I let them.

I’ll end this with a zen koan I found earlier today:

Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked: “What do you seek?”

“Enlightenment,” replied Daiju.

“You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked.

Daiju inquired: “Where is my treasure house?”

Baso answered: “What you are asking is your treasure house.”

Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: “Open your own treasure house and use those treasures.”

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