Life comes at you fast.
It doesn’t matter whether you are an entrepreneur, an actor, business leader, or just trying to get ahead — you’re going to have to make it through tough times
It’s easy to get an idea stuck in your head about the direction your future should be going. About how much money you should have by now. About how much status and popularity and success you should have already achieved.
Especially when you believe in your heart that you are destined for more.
But in front of you, all you see is frustration. And a desperate need for a breakthrough.
That’s how Sylvester Stallone felt.
In his late teens, the lonely kid from Hell’s Kitchen decided acting was his calling. And maybe even screenwriting.
He had a vivid imagination that made him the laughing stock of most of his teachers.
But he kept imagining. He kept writing. Working. Pursuing his dream.
After leaving college to pursue his dream, it didn’t take long before he started feeling the heavy weight of the world on his shoulders.
Living in a roach-infested apartment in New York City, he tried to make it in the cutthroat world of acting–without success. Audition after audition. Rejection after rejection.
Stallone was not someone casting directors would call “good looking.” They called him gruff. Deformed. Ugly. Stupid, even.
But that part wasn’t his fault.
He was born n the charity ward of the New York Hospital System. Pried out of his mother’s birth canal with forceps.
A procedure that damaged Sylvester’s facial nerves. Leaving him with a drooping eyelid, deformed lips, and speech impediment.
But what he lacked in good looks growing up, he made up for in muscle.
Sylvester became obsessed with working out.
And when he realized the strength that came with the bulk, he started using his fists to defend his awkward speech and looks.
Although his speech improved with therapy over the years, it crippled his barely-existant career. He was cast as a thug or a gangster in the small roles that he was able to get.
And he did get a few roles.
Sometimes even enough to pay the rent in his tiny apartment.
And he was good at playing the thug. He had plenty of real-life experience getting in fights. Fighting to make the teasing stop. Fighting to defend the way his face looked and the way his voice sounded.
Eventually, people stopped making fun of him and started to take note. He even became somewhat popular.
It wasn’t too many years later that Sylvester and his wife, Sasha, decided to pack up their little car with Sylvester’s huge bullmastiff, Butkus, in the back seat and head to Hollywood — where Sylvester was sure he would make it big.
Instead, they left the slums of New York for the slums of Hollywood.
They moved into an apartment that was no better and no bigger than the one they had just left. And it had just as many roaches hanging out for dinner.
He went out for audition after audition. Only getting picked for the parts of the dumb jock or the angry thug.
Again, he and his wife were hungry.
Rent was due. The light bill was due. The dog needed food. It seemed like the world was closing in around them. They had each other, but not much else.
Success seemed impossibly far away.
They were so broke, Sylvester made one of the toughest decisions of his life.
He had to sell his beloved dog. He couldn’t afford to feed him.
He couldn’t afford to feed himself and his wife — much less an animal.
So he put a for sale sign on Butkus outside of a convenience store and sold him for $50 to a guy named Little Jimmy. And then he went home and cried over the loss of his best friend.
It was one of his lowest moments.
A couple of days later, Sylvester found himself watching a Muhammed Ali fight. Live.
He had managed to get tickets to the big match because Ali was fighting a no-name fighter and promoters had to practically give the tickets away to get an audience.
And Sylvester was there. Watching. Being inspired.
When he left that fight, which Ali won as expected, Sylvester went home and began to think about why all of the other screenplays he had written had failed.
He realized all of his scripts were too close to home. They were all autobiographical.
And if he was being honest, they were boring. And depressing.
He needed something uplifting and encouraging. He needed to inspire people.
And so he started writing a new screenplay.
He was in-the-moment. Obsessed. He wrote frantically. Nonstop. For three days.
When he emerged from his mania, he had written a script called he called Rocky.
It had a lot of potential according to the producers he showed it to. So much potential that they were willing to buy the screenplay from him for $75,000.
That was more money than Stallone had ever seen in his life.
But it came with a catch.
They only wanted the script. They didn’t want Sylvester to act in the movie — and he had his heart set on doing just that.
So he refused the offer.
They offered $125,000. He refused that offer.
They offered $175,000. He refused that one too.
He wanted to act in his own movie. He knew he could do it.
Plus, he had written that part for himself and he wasn’t going to let any other actor do it.
He’d let the script rot on a shelf and starve first.
After weeks of negotiation, they agreed to let Sylvester play the part of Rocky. But they would only pay $30,000 for the script at that point.
He had been a real pain in the ass — so he wasn’t going to get paid for the acting. He would have to take a percentage of movie sales.
Stallone happily agreed.
He got his check and went back to his shabby little apartment. He could have moved into something nicer, but he stayed there with his wife. He was too busy to think about moving.
He was 100% committed to becoming Rocky.
He bought a heavy bag and hung it up in the apartment. He cut out carbs and ate only protein for 3 months prior to filming to get in shape.
But he needed something more. To stay focused he needed his best friend back.
When he went tried to buy his dog back, Little Jimmy told him: “NO”. He said his kids liked the dog and would be heartbroken.
The $50 price he had paid earlier soon rose to $100. Little Jimmy still said “NO”.
Sylvester offered $1,000. Little Jimmy still said “NO” and pointed to his children who had grown to love the dog in the less than six months they had it.
He eventually offered Little Jimmy $3,000. Ten percent of what he sold his script for. it was an offer Jimmy couldn’t refuse.
Stallone was reunited with his best bud — who appeared in Rocky with him.
Life was looking up. Maybe.
The movie was filmed in less than 30 days. On a small production budget. It was a B-list movie at best according to the experts.
When the film was released, it shocked everyone by becoming an Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, making the poor kid with the deformed face a millionaire and a household name.
The rest of that story is well-known history.
Six Rocky movies, Rambo, the Expendables series and appearances in over 50 other full-length films over the last 50 years. And a net worth of about $400 million.
You know who Sylvester Stallone is. But you probably didn’t know this story.
That he was so broke he had to sell his dog to buy groceries.
So when you find yourself frustrated by a lack of results, know that you are in good company. Know that doing whatever it takes is always what it takes.
Fall back on some common truths about what it takes to make it through tough times:
- Your ability to win is directly related to your ability to tough it out.
- Inspiration is a reward. You have to work for it and fight to keep it.
- The opposite of success isn’t failure. It’s apathy.
- You don’t need to worry about getting it wrong as long as you are willing to keep trying.
- Progress is the reward of the courageous.
- Just because the critics are louder than you doesn’t mean they’re right.
- You’re not stuck. You’re just not making the right choices.
- The fastest way to get hurt is to look back while running forward.
- If you’re not radically different, you’re really not different at all.
- The path to realizing your full potential travels through the valley of setbacks.
- What works for someone else almost certainly isn’t going to work for you.
- Don’t believe everything you don’t hear.
- If you don’t believe in yourself, no else’s opinion will be enough to keep you motivated.
- There’s no such thing as burnout. If there’s enough fuel, the fire always burns.
- You don’t have to be “up for the job” to finish the job.
- If you have to tell people that you’re the one in charge, you’re probably not.
- Effort is one of the only factors in life that is solely within your own control.
- If life were easier you wouldn’t be any happier.
- If you think you can’t make it, you probably won’t.
- Motivation is like oxygen. You only know it’s missing when you’re gasping for more.
- The difference between winning and losing is when you stop trying.
- Spend the time you worry about what other people think about you making progress towards your goals.
- Changing might hurt right now, but losing hurts forever.
- Winning isn’t about the resources you have but how resourceful you are.
- The greatest discovery you will ever make is that nothing is impossible.
According to Stallone, buying his dog back was the best investment he ever made.
He still uses a picture of Butkus for his desktop wallpaper on his home computer.
And tells heartfelt stories of those dog days of life when the only person he had to talk to was his four-legged companion.
It was a reminder of what it takes to make it through tough times.