“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
“If they ever do my life story, whoever plays me needs lots of hair color and high heels.”
If your life were a movie, what would be the synopsis?
Young athletes love Rocky movies, especially athletes involved in individual sports. In junior high and high school, my wrestling friends and I were constantly watching these films. We would watch a Rocky movie before practice, listen to the Rocky soundtrack during practice, and then watch another Rocky movie after practice. I wrestled for over 15 years, which means I’ve watched Rocky 1-4 (Rocky 5 is awful) at least 10,000 times.
One of the most motivating moments of my life occurred during a Rocky movie. The summer before my senior year of high school, I packed my bags I went to the University of Southern Oregon for my first J. Robinson Intensive wrestling camp. This camp is rumored to have been on David Letterman’s top ten list of places NOT to send your kids. The camp is basically designed to be a marine boot camp for wrestlers – 5 excruciating workouts a day, gigantic counselors breathing down your neck 24/7, and no access to the outside world. However, every Thursday, before “lights out”, we were allowed to watch a movie. Over two hundred high school wrestlers would pack into a college classroom meant for 50 people and sit in front of an old school TV/VCR set up. The second to last Thursday of camp, J. Robinson himself walked into the classroom and put in Rocky 2.
The plot of Rocky 2 is simple. After losing to Apollo Creed in Rocky 1, Rocky Balboa tries to make money without having to box. Rocky’s wife, Adrian, is pregnant and does not want Rocky to fight anymore because she is afraid he will get permanently injured. So Rocky tries to make commercials endorsing products but fails because he can’t read. Next, he tries to get a professional job but fails because he doesn’t have a degree. Eventually, he is forced to work as a manual laborer in a meat factory. As Rocky’s life is falling apart, Apollo Creed is ridiculing Rocky and trying to bait him into a rematch. This sequence spans over two-thirds of the movie. Then, in the third act, Adrian becomes ill during the last months of her pregnancy and slips into a coma. When she finally wakes up, one of the most amazing moments in movie history happens. Adrian pulls Rocky close, smiles, and says, “Win.” BOOM. Bells ring, the Rocky montage starts playing in the background, and the rest of the movie shows Rocky training for and winning his rematch against Apollo.
In the classroom at the J. Robinson camp, when Adrian said, “Win.” and the Rocky music started playing, all of the wrestlers went nuts. We all jumped up and started cheering and shouting. Then, J. Robinson turned around, pointed at us, and said, “Win.” The excitement, energy, and testosterone were palpable. The next morning, we were put through the hardest workout of the entire camp, but it felt like nothing. Somehow, the shared experience of watching a story helped us generate more confidence and channel our internal influences better.
Stories Influence Your Life
Stories are incredibly powerful. They have the power to define you, to influence you, and to create or destroy your future. If you want to fulfill your purpose in life, you have to make sure you are identifying with the right story. As a wrestler, I identified with stories like Rocky. But as I got older, and as my goals changed, I started to see the limitations of these kinds of stories. From another perspective, the story of Rocky 1 can be read as follows: An unintelligent boxer with a shady past trains night and day with everyone against him only to be punched in the face a thousand times and eventually lose. Turner Classic Movies provides a similar synopsis: “A dimwitted boxer fights to prove he can go the distance against a glamorous champ.” The synopsis of the entire Rocky series is even worse. In the last two movies, Rocky Balboa gets brain damage and loses everything, including his wife. At some point I realized, the Rocky story may have helped get me to where I was, but it wasn’t the story that was going to get me to where I wanted to go. I needed a new story, one that was in line with my new purpose of living.
In order to write a new, empowering story for your life, you need to figure out the big stories currently guiding your life. This is harder than it sounds. Once you identify with a story, it sticks. Stories activate almost every part of your brain. When you connect with a story, your memory and emotional centers buzz, while the planning parts of your brain hum. Instantly, your perspective of the entire Universe changes. In some small, or not so small way, you interpret or reinterpret your overall life experience. You change the meaning of your life. Stories are constantly integrating all of your life experiences and helping you give meaning to your life. The interesting part is that most people are hardly aware of the stories shaping their lives. This is because stories have a way of sinking into your subconscious. That way your brain can deal with the more immediate issues it has to face from day to day. Some stories can seep so deeply into your subconscious that they generate influence over every thought you have and every action you take. These stories are like movies constantly playing in the background of your mind. The problem is that most people go through their entire lives without knowing which movies are playing.
Know When To Change Your Story
Why are zombie apocalypse movies so popular? It’s because people like to imagine themselves as sole survivors, alone on Earth, fighting off billions of zombies. No one is watching I Am Legend, Dawn of the Dead, or Zombieland thinking, “I wish I was one of the 7 billion undead.” Think about it. Being alone, or misunderstood, and against the entire world is one of the most popular stories that people play out in their heads. This is also why epics like 300, Joan Of Arc, Braveheart, and Gladiator continue to be popular. They all tell the story of one person, or a small band of people, alone in their struggle, fighting to the death against unthinkable odds. The only problem is that all of these heroes and heroines tend to lose the fight or die at the end of the movie. Yet, human beings identify so strongly with this kind of narrative that zombie apocalypse and other few-versus-many movies will be successful until the end of time. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with watching and enjoying these stories on the big screen, as long as you are aware of their influence and their limitations. The story of your life shouldn’t be one of constant lack and struggle without ever getting ahead. Likewise, your story shouldn’t be without connection, achievement, and ultimate fulfillment in the end.
After Graduate school, I realized I needed to start identifying with a different story. Thinking about the books and movies that I currently identified with helped me figure out how I needed to change my story. Instead of seeing myself as a fighter struggling uphill against the world to fulfill my purpose in life, I needed to start seeing myself as an adventurer, teacher, and connector of ideas and people. I wanted to travel, explore, create, contribute, build connections, generate influence, and find ways to enjoy life more. My wrestling career was over and my Graduate school career was completed. I wasn’t merely entering a new chapter of my life, I was beginning a new story. I decided I needed to start identifying with stories like Indiana Jones or James Bond, where the main character lives a life full of adventure and abundance, not struggle and lack. Here is a synopsis of Raiders of the Lost Ark: an archeology professor travels the world looking for relics, having adventures and meeting many interesting people along the way. At this point in my life, I would much rather live out these kinds of stories rather than Rocky-esque stories.
The point of this article is to help you understand the impact that stories have on your life. The stories you connect with, whether they are fiction or nonfiction, generate influence over your life. Knowing which stories influence and inspire you will help you expand your self-awareness and initiate change. Once identified, you can use these stories to rewrite your own story. In my next post, I will show you how to write out a new, purpose-driven story for your life.