“Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.”
I love watching, reading, and hearing about inspirational true stories of people who beat the odds despite everything that was against them. I’m inspired by people who were provided every opportunity to give up and didn’t. One story that I find particularly inspiring is the one about the making of the movie Rocky, written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. Stallone always wanted to be an actor, but he wasn’t having much luck getting gigs. At the time, he was living in New York City, and he was dead broke. On a cold winter day, he went to the library to get some warmth and came across the stories of Edgar Allen Poe; this inspired him to want to start writing.
Stallone then decided to move out to California with dog Butkus, and ended up living in a tiny room. Things were going so badly that he couldn’t even feed his dog. Much to his dismay, he had to sell Butkus, his best friend, for $25. According to Stallone, that was the hardest thing he ever had to do.
After watching the heavy weight-boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, in which Wepner, the underdog, knocked Ali down, Stallone was inspired to write a movie screenplay. He wrote the screenplay for Rocky in just a couple of days after that inspiring fight. Not long afterward, Stallone went on a casting call; he didn’t get the part, but he did mention to the producers that he had written a script. The producers took a look at the script and actually offered him $25,000 for it. This should have seemed like a lot of money to a man who just sold his best friend for $25 and could barley eat. However, he had one condition: he would play the role of Rocky. The producers didn’t want him to play the part, so instead they upped their offer to $375,000! After Stallone turned it down again, they allowed him to star in the movie but only offered to pay him $35,000 for the script. He took the offer.
The first thing Stallone did after making money was try to find Butkus. After searching for days, he finally found him and was able to buy him back for $15,000—almost half of his earnings. The dog also ended up having a part in his movie. The budget for Rocky was less than $1 million. The crew shot the movie with a hand held camera, and Stallone’s family members had parts in the movie too.
The first screening of Rocky didn’t seem to be going well at the Director’s Guild in Hollywood. After the screening, Stallone told his mother that he would go back home, get a job, and get on with his life. However, something unexpected happened. When he entered the lobby of the theatre, the entire audience was there waiting for him and started to applaud, bringing him to tears. The movie went on to receive 9 Oscar nominations and 3 wins, including Best Picture; it brought in more than $200 million.
“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.”
Stallone was given ample opportunity to give up on his goals. Heck, at the time, his life would have been a lot easier if he had. He sacrificed a lot to get to where he was going, and he didn’t give up, even when faced with many obstacles. I’m pretty sure people in his life at the time probably thought he was absolutely insane. But he knew who he was and what he wanted, and he wasn’t going to stop until he got there. As Will Smith has said, “Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity.” Stallone, at no point before writing the movie Rocky, seemed to be living realistically.
Another example of someone beating the odds is Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.” As an inventor, Edison made 10,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. He’s famous not only for his inventions, but also for his attitude on failure. In his mind, failure was simply another stepping-stone on the road to success. He’s quoted as answering questions about his “failures” like this: “I have not failed. I have just found 9,999 ways that do not work.”
I used to get annoyed with myself for having “big” dreams—I mean, not big on par with inventing the lightbulb, but pretty big by my personal standards. “Why couldn’t I just have simple goals?” I would think to myself. I always seemed to choose things that weren’t favorable, statistically speaking, or that would take a ton of work to accomplish. I don’t beat myself up about that anymore, because I’ve noticed that as I work toward accomplishing each goal I set out to complete, it’s the journey itself that I enjoy most. If I’m not working towards something, challenging myself, or learning something new, I feel bored and unfulfilled. It’s a lot easier to give up if you don’t enjoy the journey or if underneath it all you believe you’re being unrealistic. If you know in your gut that you’re working towards something you really want but nothing is panning out, try changing your approach. Don’t give up altogether.
Stallone might have never gotten his chance at acting if he never wrote a script. He had been on many auditions with no job offers until he decided to write. He changed his approach towards the same goal, and finally he was able to make it on the big screen.
Learn from the people who are already successful at what you want to do. See what worked for them and what didn’t. Follow a path that feels right for you and your circumstances. Take the time to listen to people who have done what you’re doing; their lessons are invaluable. Remember, you don’t have to reach for your goals alone. And never forget, as the saying goes, “Nothing that’s worth it comes easily.”
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier