Reflections On Courage: What Rocky Balboa Taught Me About Failure

Once a year, I have a ritual and binge watch all of the Rocky movies. For those unfamiliar, the series is about an Italian-American boxer portrayed by Sylvester Stallone named Rocky Balboa. The saga begins with Rocky, a small-time boxer, trying to make ends meet as a collector for a loan shark. As the series progresses, Rocky is faced with multiple challenges. He achieves success, failure, loss, even ridicule — not just in the ring, but in life as well.

While many consider each movie an action/sports film, I feel that the series is a set of beautifully crafted dramas that just happen to have boxing in them. The series connects with me in a few ways, however, what keeps me coming back to the series each year is the lessons about picking yourself back up after a failure. Perseverance and the courage to keep moving forward, even when no one believes in you, is how ordinary people achieve extraordinary results.

The Rocky Saga

Below is a brief synopsis of each movie. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here.

  1. Rocky is about when opportunity meets preparation you can achieve success.
  2. Rocky II is about proving you belong even in the face of criticism and self-doubt.
  3. Rocky III is about failing because of complacency and picking yourself back up and starting over.
  4. Rocky IV is about facing seemingly impossible challenges with the world watching you — even after suffering a traumatic personal loss.
  5. Rocky V is about losing your success because life has a funny way of working that way. Continuing your legacy and keeping what’s most important in life ahead of you (even if we forget about what’s truly important at times) is the greatest success we can have in life.
  6. Rocky Balboa again, is about facing seemingly impossible challenges, even with the world watching, because that’s the way you live. It’s the way you’re made. You don’t know how to live differently.

While I love the newest movie in the series, Creed, I want to stop right here. Because in Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone has one of his most powerful scenes in the entire series. It resonates with me every time I watch it.

That Speech About Life, Taking Punches, And Moving Forward…

Rocky’s son, now a young man in his 20s, is upset with his father for taking an exhibition fight with the reigning champion, Mason Dixon. Rocky’s son explains how difficult it is to live in the shadow of someone like his father. That because he shares the same last name, if his father makes a fool of himself, or worse gets hurt, it’ll somehow hurt him, his career, and reputation.

Rocky is taken aback by this, and his son continues, “doesn’t it bother you that people are making you out to be a joke and that I’ll be included in that?” Rocky is disappointed. He takes a moment to reflect. Then delivers one of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard…

“You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here.

I’d hold you up to say to your mother, ‘This kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.’ And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow.

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! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

– Rocky Balboa

It’s a powerful speech and when you get a chance, watch the movie. If you haven’t seen a Rocky Balboa movie, watch this one. It’s a gritty and inspiring film. If you disagree, you can fight me… just kidding… kind of…

Let The Team Take Their Punches

So how does this relate to coaching? Well let me tell you about one of my own failures. When I first started out as a scrum master, I held onto the “failure is not an option” mantra. I brought this mantra with me from my time in the military. I was a ‘helicopter parent’ in a lot of ways and did my best to protect my teams from failure because I didn’t want it to reflect on me or be viewed as an inability to be an effective servant leader.

I would interject when I saw the team laying down railroad tracks aimed at a cliff. I would coerce them to adjust before they realized it was necessary because they weren’t look at the big picture. I didn’t want them to make a mistake — I didn’t want us to fail. As a result, I failed my teams. I took away the their ability to have a shared experience. A shared failure.

I’ve learned from my failure and if you can relate, as am sure some of you do, I encourage you to have the courage to watch your teams fail at new things. Letting your team fail together means they grow together. Failure, just like success, is not final. It’s having the courage to continue, to take those punches and keep moving forward that counts.

Leave your thoughts about failure in a comment below. If you’d like to have a discussion about the Rocky Movies, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Jeremy is an IT Professional with the State of Nevada. Previously, he was a mental health counselor and a Navy Veteran. He holds a bachelors degree in Psychology and Information Systems and is currently working on his Masters in Information Systems at the University of Nevada - Reno. Follow him on Twitter.

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