Eye of The Tiger- What Rocky Taught Me About Life and Business
Growing up, one of my favorite movies (and subsequent series of sequels) was Rocky. The series that spanned a decade featured Sylvester Stallone as a rough, but kind amateur boxer coming up on the streets of Philadelphia.
Looking back, Rocky was an easy character to love. Stallone did a fantastic job bringing personality to his character that you couldn’t help but root for. No matter the odds, or the opponent, it was impossible (to the point of being un-American) not to root for the protagonist.
As much as I loved the movies, I will admit that until recently I hadn’t seen them in a number of years. However, I recently found myself with a Saturday, nothing to do, and a nostalgically indulgent HBO who was running all 6 movies in the series. In other words: the Rocky jackpot.
As I spent the day firmly planted on the couch, rooting for Rocky as though I was 12 years old and he was a real athlete, I started to watch the movie through a different prism. As always, I enjoyed watching Rocky but I started to take note of some of the lessons the simple pugilist could teach those around him. The following are those lessons I garnered from the Rocky franchise:
Never underestimate yourself- A common theme in the Rocky movies is that his opponents and the boxing public underestimated his abilities, but Rocky never underestimated himself. You can’t be a champion without first being a contender.
Give it your all- Whenever Rocky got in the ring, he fought with all his heart. He dedicated all of his energy to swinging and landing every punch that he possibly could. He didn’t underestimate himself, but he also didn’t underestimate his opponent. Rocky would fight until he had nothing more to give.
There is nothing wrong with a re-match- Rocky didn’t win the first match he fought in most of the movies. But he learned from losing, refined his training, refocused his vision, and came back stronger than ever to win in the end. It’s okay to lose at first, as long you learned what you need to do to win in the end. Defeat doesn’t come by losing, it comes by quitting.
Technology and equipment is no match for drive and determination- At the middle of the series, Rocky has ascended to a successful and wealthy boxer. This is a far cry from the man who began his training in a rough and modest Philadelphia gym. When challenged by Clubber Lane, played by Mr. T, Rocky traded in the old gym for fancy equipment and neglected his usual training regiment (we all remember him running through his old neighborhood). Rocky did this at his peril. Technology is only as good as the fundamental talent it supports.
The importance of a mentor- Far be it for me to give Rocky all the credit. Who can forget his loyal and supportive trainer Mickey, portrayed masterfully by Burgess Meredith? Mickey was almost a father-figure to Rocky. He trained him on the finer points of boxing, but more importantly, Mickey kept Rocky focused and believed in him even when Rocky was the clear long-shot underdog.
Mickey taught Rocky to “fight until the bell” and “punch and punch until you can’t punch no more” and when Rocky was down and out in a street fight with Tommy “the Machine” Gunn in the fifth movie, he flashed back to time when it was just he and Mickey in Mickey’s old gym where Mickey was telling Rocky how proud he was of him and how much Rocky has meant to him in his life. Rocky recalled Mickey’s last words to be used whenever Rocky was down, “Get up you (expletive) ’cause Mickey loves ya.” Needless to say, Rocky was able to draw strength from those words of his mentor and go on and pound Tommy Gunn in a Philadelphia street fight.
The importance of family- Just as important to Rocky as Mickey was his love, Adrian, played by Talia Shire. When we as an audience first meet Adrian in the original movie she is a shy pet-shop clerk and sister to Rocky’s down-on-his-luck friend Pauly. Rocky and Adrian begin dating and we see them married and start a family in Rocky II. Unfortunately, a difficult pregnancy and delivery land Adrian in a temporary coma and our hero Rocky by her side every day reading and praying. Love for Adrian and their son is a cornerstone of Rocky’s character as everything he does since becoming a family man revolves around their well-being.
Adrian’s love and support for Rocky are unwavering throughout the movies. She travels to be with and support Rocky as he trains for a vengeance-filled bout with Ivan Drago, the Russian who beat Apollo Creed to death in Rocky IV. Knowing the odds are once again stacked against them, a worried Adrian still pours her heart into being there for Rocky when he needs her most, going into the fiercest battle of his life. Rocky’s training becomes visibly more intense after Adrian’s arrival. Knowing that she is by his side makes him push to train harder than ever before.
The support of those around him, especially Mickey and Adrian, were critical to Rocky’s success. These were people he loved and who believed in him that gave him the strength and drive to rise to any challenge. Mickey, Adrian, and others throughout the course of the movies believed in Rocky as much as he believed in himself. A champion doesn’t surround himself with losers.
The importance of faith and focus- The audience can see Rocky pray a number of times over the course of the series, most notably before a fight and also when Adrian was hospitalized after the baby (Rocky Jr. a.k.a “Kid”) was born. This makes sense when you consider the kind of person that Rocky is: the kind that will do any and all things necessary to win. In the case of the Adrian’s illness, Rocky knew that one of the only things he could do was pray for her recovery, so that is what he did, with the same tenacity that he trains for a fight. Rocky recognizes a higher power, a force larger than himself.
I also contend that praying helped Rocky focus; focus on winning, and also focus on what is important. Focus can make or break any endeavor, and taking some time to do it can make all the difference.
The importance of a montage and a great theme song- No article chronicling the Rocky movies would be complete without at least an honorable mention of the iconic training montages and classic theme songs. What do these teach us about life and business you ask? Sometimes in the monotony of our everyday lives, personal and professional, we feel stuck. Perhaps overwhelmed by workload, perhaps beaten down by clients, customers, coworkers, and patients, perhaps questioning if this life was the right choice. These are ruts and everyone falls into one every now and then. Like Rocky, the most important thing we can do in these situations is to get back up. Next time this happens, may I suggest cranking Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, or Bill Conti’s Gonna Fly Now. Hopefully this will help you get back in the ring and fight to the bell!