Read the excerpt from the book A Dream and a Prayer by Arrow Strategies founder and CEO, Jeff Styers. It will help you understand the roots of our Achiever culture, why it inspires so many and possesses the power to drive exceptional results for the people we help.
A Dream and A Prayer
How fighting for what you
believe in can take you
Day One of a Lifetime
It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are, I don’t think you ever wake up, jump out of bed look in the mirror and say, “Today is going to be the day when I come face to face with that one moment, that one experience that will shape the rest of my life.” I mean, does a football player wake up on game day knowing that today is the day the right scout who is going to change his life will be in the stands? Does a celebrity wake up knowingly and say, “Today’s audition is going to win me an Academy Award?” Of course not.
That’s because we wake up expecting every day to be pretty darn close to the one before it, with maybe a few planned or spur-of-the-moment differences. Like, maybe there’s a big meeting, or a party on a given day. When I was a kid, a great day was when my dad took time for a family vacation. They were mostly camping trips and just being somewhere else was exciting. Maybe that’s one reason why when I sat there in the theater watching “Rocky III,” I was so enveloped in the action, the vivid reds, blues, golds that were that movie. Colors I can still see and feel today. The energy of the boxing ring, the powerful personalities and the grandeur of the mansions added up to a life that was the complete opposite of mine. That place, that world of Rocky, from his cars to his beautiful wife and his grandeur was tantalizing and from just a few minutes into the movie, I knew I wanted all of it.
For those of you who have never seen “Rocky III,” here’s a quick overview. Rocky Balboa, a.k.a. the Italian Stallion had made it. After defeating Apollo Creed, his archrival in “Rocky II,” he was world champion. Yes, he had all the best things in life that come with it. Cars, houses, clothes and a confident attitude. He fought fights his manager Mickey arranged and won easily. Rocky was on top the world. Meanwhile, Clubber Lang, played by tough guy Mr. T was training hard. Decimating opponents in his own bouts and all the while saying he wanted a chance at the title.
At a public dedication of the Rocky statue in Philadelphia, Rocky’s hometown, the moment happens. Clubber Lang who’s 57 and 0, challenges Rocky publicly and Rocky being Rocky agrees. What happens from there is a little predictable, but still good “root for the underdog” movie making. Rocky fights Clubber Lang against Mickey’s advice, “He’s too tough kid, he’ll kill ya’,” Mickey says, or something close to that. The fight happens against Mickey’s better judgment and Rocky gets his clock cleaned. Rocky finds out he’s not as good a boxer as he’s been led to believe and sinks into a dark place.
That’s when his arch nemesis, Apollo, who, has no love for Clubber Lang, takes Rocky and trains him for a rematch. You already know this is an underdog story, and with Rocky, now being the underdog, I don’t have to tell you who wins. But the win was only part of it. What connected me, I now see, to this movie, beyond showing me a lifestyle that at age 14 looked like something I wanted, was the sheer intensity of the characters to go after the prize.
Clubber Lang at first, man, I wanted to be him. Tough, fearless, an intense fighter training hard in solitude at this grimy basement. He was the underdog at first, just willing to grind every day, and in the beginning of the movie, I was drawn to him. How could I not be? I identified with him wanting something so badly. I felt that intensity too. Later, once Rocky got his head and heart back into the fight and started training for real in Apollo Creed’s beat-up old gym haunt in Los Angeles, I started rooting for Rocky again. He rediscovered that barely bridled intensity. These characters both portrayed intensity so well and contrasted it, all in one movie, making it so vivid for me. I knew I was that intensity. I lived that intensity. I just was living it in Westland as a 14-year-old who wasn’t fighting to regain or defend my title.
What I was fighting for on any give summer day, for example, was the battle front in the woods near my house, where we’d play Army, a game that I insisted we call Marines. I knew I was going to be a Marine, so that’s what we were playing. Why play Army when in my mind, the Marines were the most intense branch of our armed services? You play Marines or you don’t play.
Unlike most kids who play pretend games, and get bored after an hour or so, I made Marines about as real as I could given there were no realistic weapons, of course, and no Internet for my research. None of that stopped me from devising solid military strategy based on the most heroic battles in history. Yes, I would go to the library, find books and study non-stop, military history, leaders, training methods, weaponry and I’d bring it all to the game. My friends, or should I say my recruits were the best damn army in the state of Michigan. I seriously think our military strategy could have whipped, say, Denmark in a fight. Everything I did as a kid was intense, so to witness the same intensity in these powerful movie characters, preparing for war in the ring and training in a dark, dank basement like the one in my house, I was even more in.
Then once inside the ring for the fight, both Rocky and Clubber Lang, in their zones, Clubber Lang was growling, stone faced and angry, and Rocky was focused and clearly back in possession of his eye of the tiger. Circling around them, in stark contrast was the pageantry of it all, the colorful silk robes, screaming fans, intense faces, lights, announcers, flashbulbs, panicked trainers... There I was, sitting in the old Quo Vadis theater, in a town that on many days could be characterized in varying shades of overcast gray, all that color, power and energy changed me for life.
When the fight was over and the movie ended, the house lights eased up just enough so people could safely exit, and the credits rolled. My brother and my friends all got up to leave, but I just sat there. It all felt surreal, like I had been transported somewhere else and hadn’t made my way fully back yet. The pressure to leave was real, so I stood up on shaky legs and began following the crowd out the door into the yet, brighter lights of the theater lobby. The smell of popcorn and the sights of movie goers for the next screening, scrambling to get their sodas and candies, fumbling with their wallets, grabbing napkins and straws then rushing toward their theater to get the best seats... all that was happening in slow motion. My brother and my friends were all yapping about something, but I don’t believe I really heard them.
As we started our long walk home, I said nothing for about the first five minutes. I think I was in a daze. Then, without my even intending to say it, without any control between my brain and my mouth, I blurted out, “I’m going to be a professional boxer.”
I must have said it loud enough to break through the noise of passing cars, chatter and other sounds of the city because everyone heard me, looked at me, and not one of them said, “What did you say?” Instead, right after the initial what the f--- stare, I got the kind of laughing mugs that only junior-high boys can deliver, belly laughs and these simple words I’ll never forget: “You’re going to be what? A pro boxer? Are you stupid?” And aside from more razzing, that was pretty much the end of it. Except it wasn’t. For me it was the very beginning. A beginning I never could have imagined when I woke up that summer morning.
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