Alex Banayan is a 20-year-old associate at Alsop Louie Partners.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was never intended to be a blog post. I wrote this last night in my personal journal. After re-reading it I though that maybe, just maybe, someone might be able to relate to this. Hope this helps.]
Dear Future Me,
I’m angry right now. I’m angry that Lance Armstrong has been spitting on the faces of people who loved him, people who supported him, and people who gave their lives and careers to help him succeed. He has been spitting on their faces over, and over, again. I just read an article by Rick Reilly about Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal and I’m not angry because he cheated and got away with it — I’m angry because he hurt Rick Reilly, his friend.
I’m angry because Lance Armstrong hurt me. He sold me a lie and I bought it. I looked up to him. He sold me a story that he honorably achieved incredible feats, that he is a hero. Then the story shattered and Lance Armstrong left the broken shards of glass all over the floor. He chose to lie. This wasn’t an accident.
When you cheat, you’re not only hurting yourself, but you’re also hurting every person who ever believed in you. Every person who has ever helped you, who has ever loved you, smiled at you, cheered for you when you were down – they all feel betrayed.
When someone finds out that someone they love is a fraud, the feeling of being disowned, disappointed, and duped, can never be healed.
I learned today what I don’t want to be when I grow up. I don’t want to be a liar. I don’t want to betray those around me, disappoint those who love me.
Future Me, the reason I’m writing you this letter is because I’m scared. I’m scared because I’m competitive and all these media stories are saying Armstrong doped because he was “too competitive.” I’m honestly scared of one day forgetting my values and sliding down the slippery slope. I’m scared that one day I’ll look back at myself now and say that I was “naïve.” Does the hunger to win eventually hijack our conscious?
There has to a point a point where Armstrong made that first wrong decision. That first misstep. Where he rationalized it and said it was “just this one time.”
Future me: are you listening right now? The first misstep is the deadliest step.
You just have to keep life in perspective. At the end of the chess game, the king and the pawn are put back in the same drawer. Success is exhilarating, but when the inevitable happens, we all go back to the same place. In the end, it’s how you played that matters.
Life isn’t just about winning, it’s about giving. It’s about giving gratitude to those who came before you and giving hope to those who follow you. Giving people something to believe in.
Future Me, please promise me that in the future you’ll never forget these three things that mean so much to you today:
- Remember what Mom taught you: If you don’t believe it was the right thing to do, admit it and apologize. If you do believe it was the right thing to do, instead of covering up, be open, explain your thought process and stand by your actions. But never, ever lie about what you have done. A cover-up not only covers up the lie, but it also covers up your successes, your reputation, and your self-worth.
- While I’m writing my book I should never forget that my grandchildren are going to read it. The same principle applies to all things you work on, not just writing. So often we forget that every decision we make now will live as our legacy after we are gone. Remembering that will help you avoid the short term gains and make way for the long term opportunities.
- In the end, all you have left is the name on your back. When you blow your reputation, you aren’t just ruining your own name, but you are ruining the name of your mom, your dad, your sisters and cousins. Your name is all you have. Respect it. Build it. And know that other people have equal ownership of this name you’re building.
I may sound naïve and hopelessly optimistic, but I mean this: Honesty is a choice and you have to choose it. Every single day. Cheating isn’t an accident – it’s a decision made out of narrow thinking and a weak will. A cover-up doesn’t happen on its own – someone has to decide to create it.
Remember: We cherish not the view from the top of the mountain, but the memory of the climb. Future Me, promise me that you will choose honesty. It might make the climb take a bit longer, but it makes the memory a whole lot sweeter.
Your 20-year-old self,
Alex Banayan is an associate at Alsop Louie Partners, a high-tech venture capital firm based in San Francisco. His upcoming book (Crown/Random House) will feature new, in-depth interviews with some of the world’s most successful people and will reveal the surprising things they did to launch their careers. For more, sign-up for Alex Banayan’s newsletter here.
Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr