By now, if you are into ultramarathon running, you have heard that Micah True, a.k.a. Caballo Blanco, has died.
If you haven’t read Born to Run, aren’t into ultramarathons, couldn’t care less about a Mexican indigenous group for whom running for days is a normal way of having fun, you probably have no idea what any of this is about and why anyone would care.
Reactions have certainly been widely divergent, reflecting just that divergence of interest…
Some people heard of a 58-year-old guy dying while running in the Mexican wilderness, and suggested that having a beer on your couch will keep you from that fate.
Many people who comment have at least read a little of the background story, and conclude that True died well, doing what he loved – and finding inspiration, more importantly, in the truly authentic way he lived.
As much as I tend to dislike it when people are put on a pedestal, adulated as great examples, elevated to a status so far above the adoring crowd, all their equally-human faults are seen as their perfections, and so many of the adoring people seem to just conclude – same as the distractors – that they could never get to living so well, True’s is an example that is great to think about.
By conventional standards of success in business and/or family life, he was a failure. He seems to have been quite the drifter, searching for something to throw himself into, a purpose to live, live for, and feel alive about – and it happened to be running and the Tarahumara (actually: Raramuri) way that found him.
Compare his example to that of the other, universally acclaimed great example, Steve Jobs: He also lived pretty much on his own terms, he came from a dysfunctional social background, and went to make Apple great… and so on. You’ve heard the story.
What strikes me is this: Jobs has been venerated, he was successful in some of the usual (business) terms, and I think he rather liked how and what he was doing with his life. You could also go and say that he changed business, gave people the i-things that made them happier, and all that.
Still, it was his way or no way. If the design and business sense hadn’t come together with the opportunity to make them count (and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that it was all luck), they would just have been part of a headstrong character with a bad attitude who didn’t fit into the company (or even the business world at large).
We often celebrate companies and individuals once they’ve achieved undeniable success, but shun their disruptive thinking before reaching such a pinnacle. Before Oprah was Oprah, before Jobs was Jobs, they were labeled as misguided dreamers rather than future captains of industry.
Moreover, there was little concern for wider impacts. Not that intention and results have to fit – the best of intentions can lead to the worst of outcomes – but true greatness, in my “ecology of happiness”-concerned view, does not and must not come from creating new products everyone suddenly feels they need to have, and then to constantly replace with their newest iteration. The better technologies we need are techniques of better living; the greatest inventions will not be products to buy, but ways of making a living creating a social and ecological benefit.
In that respect, Micah True’s “bad” example is much better. He just lived looking for something good to do with his life, a way to get by, the way so many of us do, now that the former shackles and certainties of clear-cut career and life paths have been giving way to more freedom as well as more uncertainty.
He, unlike a Steve Jobs, lived – and lived for and in a way – that the vast majority of people could follow and make the world better for themselves and others. No, not necessarily by going running all the time and moving to live with an indigenous group – but living on your own, and a community’s, and the world’s, terms. Not looking for happiness in fame and fortune, or a clear career and the amassing of stuff, but in doing something good that you love. Leading not by knowing better than all the others what they need, but by listening and learning, and leading your life well.
That, from all the little I’ve heard of Micah True, might be something he’d have approved of: Not remembering him reverentially, but living inspirationally yourself.