Updated: Jul 5, 2021
I was stood on a platform facing around one hundred conference attendees about to deliver a paper on courage and creativity. My talk followed a line of papers given by esteemed academics from all over the world and this was my first ever academic research presentation. I was out of my depth! I kept asking myself 'what on earth am I doing here?' and wondered if there was a way out? My heart was pounding, and I held onto the podium to steady myself. This could go one of two ways, I could make it through and deliver, or make a complete ass of myself. Either way, it was time to start.
When faced with a nerve-wracking situation surrounded by people far more intelligent and advanced in their academic careers than me, how did I put myself and the audience at ease? By telling them a story about one of the greatest films of all time - Rocky.
The 1976 film about an unknown small-time boxer making his way to the top to fight heavyweight champion Apollo Creed is a story of rising up against all odds, of faith, hope and love. It is the tale of the underdog overcoming life's obstacles and going the distance. Ultimately, for me, it is a story of belief. But this is not the story I told at the conference. Whilst I love the film, the soundtrack, the training montage - what I love most about the film is how it came into being in the first place. That day I told the story of Rocky before it was a multi-million-dollar award winning film, when it was written by Sylvester Stallone in 1975.
Stallone at the time was a down and out actor, struggling to pay his way, he had even sold his dog 'Butkus' to pay rent on his apartment. One night he watched a boxing fight between a little-known fighter Chuck Wepner and Muhammad Ali where Wepner showed tremendous heart in battling Ali to the final round, but Ali won with a technical knockout. This inspired Stallone to write Rocky, and three days later the screen play was complete. Stallone famously only had $100 in his wallet as he walked into an office with producers to sell his idea of the film. They read it, loved it and offered him $360,000 for it there on the spot. Their only request - that Stallone did not play the lead of Rocky. They had others in mind - Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds - actors in their prime, not a small-time Sylvester Stallone.
Thankfully, Stallone walked out of the office with only $100 in his wallet. In his words "so this is one of those things, when you just roll the dice and fly by the proverbial seat of your pants and you just say, ‘I’ve got to try it. I’ve just got to do it. I may be totally wrong, and I’m going to take a lot of people down with me, but I just believe in it.’” And for me, this is the story of Rocky - belief. Belief in your dream, your vision, yourself - this is worth more than any money offered. As we know, the film was made, the producers relented and it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, with Stallone nominated for Best Actor and Screen Play. Oh, and he bought back 'Butkus', who featured in the film.
I have also written something - my book proposal. The title is 'Upward: The Power of Looking Up' and it is a book about the life changing power of shifting our perspective, of raising our eyes and seeing beyond ourselves. I have interviewed some incredible people, experts in their field, with inspirational stories of how we can live differently in a world that tries to draw our eyes down - through screens, news, self-interest and negativity. I don't have an agent or a publisher, yet. And with the thought of Rocky in my mind, I have asked myself - 'if a publisher said, "we'll give you £360,000 for the idea, but you can't write it" what would you do?' Well, my belief in this book, my idea, my work and vision is more valuable than any pay off. The act of writing itself is why I am here, and I can honestly say, I have never felt so strongly about a creative endeavour as this. So, I would walk out of the office with $100 in my wallet.
We all make compromises from time to time, in fact, these smooth the way and help us to live more peacefully with each other. However, there are times when we do not compromise, we look up, come off the ropes and step back into the ring for one more round. Our values and beliefs are too strong, too important to stay down and out for the count. They represent who we are and to give in or sell out on these, would be dishonest and we would live a lesser life. In the words of the man himself “Going in one more round when you don’t think you can. That’s what makes all the difference in your life.”
So, here's to being more Rocky in our lives, going the distance and living out what matters most. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, you can comment below or on my Instagram page @iamsarahalexcarter
Image credit - Unknown, but will try to find out, as I think it's brilliant!