The Lessons I’ve Learned from Rocky

I’ve watched the Rocky films a lot, a lot. I’ve always just found them to be a lot of fun, but at the same time the story of the underdog has always been extremely compelling for me. I hate being told what I can and can’t accomplish and that’s usually what compels me to achieve. There’s five great Rocky films, so lots of lessons to take away. Here I’ll provide one from each, because that’s just how I roll. (I’m not including Rocky V because it’s the only Rocky film I don’t care for.)

Rocky

“Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head, either. ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

Rocky was all about going the distance. Winning didn’t even matter to Rocky because he knew he was going to lose the fight.

The primary take away for me from Rocky is that if you don’t complete the things that you start, you don’t even have a chance. How can you ever be anything important if you don’t finish?

I really think this is the most important lesson of all the films and it’s something that I strive for constantly because I have a bad habit of starting personal projects and then never releasing them. If I were to continue on that road, how could any of them ever be successful?

Rocky II

Apollo: [Apollo is reading fan mail] Mary Anne, you listen to this. “You didn’t beat nobody and anybody who knows boxing knows the fight was fixed.” This one came from London. “You call yourself the champ? You’re a fake! The fight was a fake. Go kill yourself!”

Mary Anne Creed: Wouldn’t you rather play with the children than read hate mail?

Apollo: “How much did you get to carry that bum for 15 rounds? You are a disgrace to your people.”

Mary Anne Creed: Why can’t you ignore it?

Apollo: Are you serious?

Apollo really gets a rough time in this movie, and he doesn’t deserve it. In the first movie, he’s a nice guy. He’s giving a nobody a shot at the title — even though he really just thinks it’s a good publicity gimmick. His biggest failing is that he can’t let go of the criticism he’s receiving. This even leads to him losing the world champion title.

It’s important to pay attention to what your critics are saying. You need to analyze it and see if there’s anything there for you to consider. Constructive criticism is the best source of data for self improvement. What you don’t need is to take hateful criticism to heart. That will only serve to bring you down.

Rocky III

“Well, Rock, let’s put it this way. Now, three years ago you was supernatural. You was hard and you was nasty and you had this cast-iron jaw but then the worst thing happened to you, that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized. But don’t worry kid. You know, presidents retire, horses retire, Man-o-war retired. They put him out to stud. That’s what you should’ve done, retired.”

The lesson here isn’t really related to the quote, although the quote raises a good point as well. If you don’t have the desire to make something happen, then it’s not going to happen.

Instead, my take away here is that you shouldn’t attempt to do something critical when you’re in a poor state of mind. In this movie, Rocky’s manager — a huge father figure to him — gets a heart attack right when Rocky is about to go into a title defense fight. Rocky spends some time with him and knows things aren’t well, but goes to fight anyway. His heart and his mind aren’t in that fight, they’re with his manager. As expected, he loses. This can be applied to everyone — why are you trying to finish that critical piece of your work when you are tired, sick, have critical life issues, or are otherwise extremely distracted? Your distraction will only cause problems with the work that you are doing. Don’t even attempt it.

For me, the scariest part of working when I’m distracted is when the code compiles perfectly the first time. It only means that the defects are more subtle and are going to be harder to find.

Rocky IV

“I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

Never get too tied into what you’re doing. Always remain open for change. The only people who aren’t willing to change are the people who aren’t going anywhere (except sometimes they’re being forced out). Enough said.

Rocky Balboa

“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 ya 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!”

Rocky Balboa was really a movie about proving that no matter how old you are, you can still accomplish your goals. This isn’t really a valuable lesson for me to apply to myself since I’m still reasonably young. It does remind me that I should not jump to ageism when considering the abilities of others. Younger people fail just as hard as older people. Competent people come from all generations since competence is not tied to age.

The quote here was a great quote, but it really applies to all of the movies. Life is not always pretty. Maybe you’ve read Oh, The Places You’ll Go and maybe not, but it covers the same concept. If you don’t have the mind to put in the efforts during the hard parts of life then you won’t be able to enjoy the highs when they come by. You will forever be focused on the lows and that’s no way to live. Keep pressing forward and the skies will eventually clear.

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