(Expected 6 Minutes Reading Time)

Rocky Balboa is the most inspirational character in cinematic history, in my humble opinion. I will admit I have an infatuation with Rocky. I have seen each of the first 5 Rocky movies at least 50 times each (Yes, even Rocky V which I feel is underrated).

At a young age I fell in love with the story of the underdog that achieved his dreams through pure grit and determination. Rocky didn’t have as much talent as the competition and he certainly made the wrong choices early in his fictional life but he overcame his shortcomings and won with heart and guts.

Just because Rocky is a fictional character doesn’t mean we can’t learn from him, especially considering his story parallels Rocky’s real-life creator Sylvester Stallone. When Stallone wrote Rocky he was 30 years old and broke. A movie studio liked his script and offered him approximately $25,000 to sell it to them, with the caveat that he couldn’t be in the movie. However, Stallone felt a special bond with the script and felt so strongly that it was his story that he told the studio he needed to star in it. The studio wanted to cast a Hollywood leading man so they refused and just kept offering him more money for the script, as long as he didn’t star in it.

“He was willing to take his shot and accept uncertainty over stability and security.”

They eventually offered over $300,000 (equivalent to over $1 million in today’s money) and the penniless Stallone still turned them down because it would have meant he couldn’t be in the movie. He believed so much in his story that he was willing to walk away. He was willing to take his shot and accept uncertainty over stability and security. Eventually the studio relented and agreed to let Stallone star in the movie, albeit at a reduced price of $35,000 as well as a reduced budget for the movie itself.

So how did Stallone’s bet on himself work out? A $114 million box office hit on a $1.1 million budget, 3 Oscars, and the jumpstart of one of the most prolific careers in Hollywood history would tell you it worked out pretty well.

Stallone believed he was worth more than what the studio was offering for the script, in both pure dollar terms and potential. He refused to accept the value they originally placed on him and fought for what he felt was right. It makes me wonder if Stallone was thinking of this situation when he wrote the lines in Rocky Balboa (Rocky VI) that said, “If you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth”.

In the scene Rocky is talking to his grown son, Robert (Played by a young Milo Ventimiglia for all of you This Is Us fans). Robert is struggling to find his own way in life and seems to be blaming Rocky’s “big shadow”. He asks his father not to participate in a fight because it will make him and Rocky look bad, like they are a joke.

Rocky uses the opportunity to impart some fatherly advice on Robert when he says:

“…then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for someone to blame, like a big shadow.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or nobody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

Wow! I love it. It’s actually one my favorite scenes in any movie.

What Rocky is saying applies to each of us in our lives. Life, society, your job, or whatever institution you want to use will try to keep you in a box and limit you. In other words, it “will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.” Life doesn’t hand out free gifts. It offers you the least amount possible and gives you nothing more unless you demand more.

“It’s those that can take the hits and keep moving forward that achieve their dreams.”

If you want to be a success, life isn’t going to hand it to you. In fact, it will stack the odds against you to prevent you from achieving your dreams. You’ll be born into a family without much money. You won’t have fancy connections like your rich friends. Your parents and teachers will tell you to take the safe route by getting a degree in a “safe” field like Accounting and take the safe job. Your friends will make fun of you for trying something different. Your company and your bosses will make you feel like you are being compensated more than fairly and that you would be insane to leave such a safety net. The path in front of you will be rocky (pun intended) and unclear because no one has blazed the trail before you.

But it’s those that can take all of this and keep moving forward that succeed. It’s those that can take the hits and keep moving forward that achieve their dreams. If you believe that you are worth more than life is telling you that you are worth, then go out and get it. No one is going to hand it to you. You need to make the decision and go against the grain to push for what you want. And until you do that, you will always be worth what life tells you that you’re worth – which is not much. You’ll be undervalued, undercompensated, and not respected.

You’re worth more than that! So go out and get it. Don’t listen to your bosses, parents, and friends. Listen to yourself because only you know what you’re truly worth. And then go prove that worth to the world so that others start valuing you just as highly as you value yourself. That’s how winning is done!