Establishing a Habit of Learning

In 5 Steps

Establishing a Habit of Learning

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

to Empower Your Learners

5 Ideas for Supporting Employee Learning

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

6 Ways to Learn When Your Interests Are Always Changing

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The event I came back from was nothing like school. Over 100 “millennial misfits” came together for the Under 30 Changemakers event in San Francisco with a goal to meet, help, and learn from each other.

I met 16-year old Victor Cheng, who has traveled to over 30+ countries and is now an associate working for Altos Venture.

I met 19-year old Jared Kleinert, serial entrepreneur and author of 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World

I finally met 20-year old Tara Bryne, founder of Under 30 Changemakers, who has built a passionate community of 1,000+ millennials.

Everyone I met was so ambitious and were all creating a life full of purpose and meaning.

THIS is the environment every young person should be surrounded by.

Instead of focusing their time on partying every weekend and going through life’s motions, these “millennial misfits” have developed an intrinsic motivation to be the progressive leaders of our generation. But why? Tara Bryne states,

“Millennials and Gen Y will make up 75% of the workforce by 2020. The outliers and influencers of this generation impact their peers to work on world issues greater than their own world’s. Millennial Misfits are the outliers– they choose to take the long way home, understanding that what is right is not always fast, simple, and easy. They are creating new paths than the ones before ours, sometimes without college and traditional work and homelife in the mix. Millennial Misfits are daring enough to create their own life.”

We not only want to take the long way home, we have genuine intentions to leave the world better than we found it. With many new social and political initiatives emerging, millennials are solving the world’s important problems.

Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, refers to us as the “cause generation.”

“It’s the cause that matters to [millennials], not just the organization. This is reiterated in the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, and it’s a sentiment I see over and over with many of the young adults with whom I’ve worked over the years. It means that millennials are motivated by the meat of the issue above all else.”

Millennials are increasingly eager to join non-profits or work for a company that they believe will benefit the world. No longer is it all about the money. Today, you’ll see many young people go off the beaten path that their parents have paved for them to pursue their true passions. Whether that pertains to art, social good, or tech. Why? Because of opportunity. Like how anyone can get Tim Ferriss to be their mentor, anyone can learn anything they’re interested in, the information is right at their fingertips. Millennials are starting tech companies left and right. Millennials are turning their idea into reality from hackathons. Millennials are sharing their stories through blogs, books, or podcasts.

Not only is it easy to acquire new skills, technology has eliminated many of the world’s gatekeepers. We can now publish a book without a publisher, produce a movie without a million dollar budget, or buy new things and use it the next day (Go Amazon!). Jared Kleinert has spent the last year interviewing with millennials from around the world and comments,

“Millennial “misfits” are actually just the people redefining success, breaking down barriers, and are ultimately changing the world. As we’ve seen in the process of creating 2 Billion Under 20 , young people from all walks of life (business, science, arts, athletics, and more) are using a mixture of exponentially greater technologies, increased entrepreneurial skill sets and access, and elevated consciousness about the deterioration of long-standing, but failing, institutions like government and higher education to do incredible things at younger ages than ever possible before.

Not only that, but we are connecting with one another, and the collective network of Millennial talents out there, like the one we are developing, will lead to a “world takeover” in a positive way as Tam’s headline references.”

We can start anything we want, anytime. This is why anytime I read an article about how millennials are lazy or slobs, I shake my head.

I think of YouTube celebrity and make up guru Michelle Phan, who has started three different companies and is positively affecting her 8 million subscribers.

I think of Youth Speaker, Josh Shipp, who has shared his uplifting story to millions of teens around the world.

I think of Hoodie Allen who quit his full time job at Google to pursue his real passion in music. Today Hoodie performs in sold out crowds around the world doing what he truly loves.

And I think of the countless success stories millennials choose to have when they use their passions for the benefit of the world. Age is slowly becoming irrelevant in today’s society. These millennial misfits are already taking over the world and proving it with their work. Are you next?

The power to learn is in your hands.  Head over to Degreed to get credit for reading this article and find more learning to expand your expertise.

Employee-Learning

Over 80% of employees are doing some kind of training activity at least once a year to brush up on existing skills or learn something new, but only 36% of L&D leaders know how their staff learn at work. To help you keep your employees engaged, we’ve looked at the research and developed a list of 5 things your employees want from your L&D program:

1. Give them clear learning goals and pathways

Spherion Staffing’s Emerging Workforce Study highlights the direct correlation between employee happiness and having clear goals and missions. The research shows that employees at companies with a clear mission and follow-through are 37% more satisfied with their training and development than those in organizations without those things. On the other hand, vague or unmeasurable goals can often lead to poor outcomes. That’s a huge waste of resources especially considering companies invest an average of $1,004 per worker in learning and development, according to Bersin by Deloitte.

2. Give them relevant training that helps them mend the “skills gap”

There are lots of debates over the scale and severity of the “skills gap,” but employees are definitely aware of its existence. More than 40% of employees surveyed by SAP and Oxford Economics are concerned that their current skills don’t measure up to what will be needed for future success; they want training that is relevant to their professional careers. That’s why 72% of employees say they value specialized training over an additional degree.

3. Give them both technical and soft skills

As employees progress through their professional pathways, their needs and preferences for learning content changes. Although the most sought-after subject area among professionals participating in training is still Computer and Technology, they increasingly desire leadership-oriented training. Yet only 38% of companies offer “soft skills”-centered training.

4. Give them autonomy over what and how they learn.

During an exclusive interview with Degreed, Tesla’s Director of Training Programs Beth Loeb-Davies explains that one of their key strategies for L&D is to to “treat people like adults and treat them with respect.” This resonates well with what most workers believe, as 92% strongly agree that employees should seek their own career development opportunities wherever they might be. In application, this means having faith in their learning abilities and giving your employees autonomy over what and how they like to learn.

5. Give them learning that fits into their schedules (or work patterns?)

When it comes to professional training, the most frequent excuse we hear is that “we don’t have time for that.” However, this doesn’t mean L&D should be left on the shelf. Even though today’s workers only have less than 1% of their workweek to devote to professional development and learning, it’s a personal priority for them to progress. Harvard Business Review Reported that one of the top 3 fears of workers was getting stuck with no development opportunities. Our research confirms this, as 48.3% of surveyed employees chose development opportunities over benefits.

By giving your employees what they want from L&D, you can create a program that best serves your employees needs and creates a true learning culture. Around here, we believe that learning cultures eat strategic learning for breakfast. Learn how Degreed can help you give employees what they want.

Distance running has seen a surge in interest over the last few years. So much so that even as a self-proclaimed non-runner, I jumped on the bandwagon and ran a marathon. Previous to my training, I had never run more than the three-miles I was required to run in high school. But after months of training, I finally understood why so many people do distance running: it was strangely addicting and exhilarating. There is an undeniable sense of freedom that comes as you cover miles and miles of ground with nothing propelling you but your own two feet.

Recently I learned about a Czech man who had what is widely believed to be the greatest distance running performance at an Olympic Games. In 1940, as World War II was just getting started, Emil Zatopek completed his first run. He was 18 years old and had never run any distance before. The shoe company he worked for was sponsoring a 1500 meter run and he was convinced to race. Out of 100 participants, Zatopek came in 2nd. That’s when he realized he might have some hidden potential worth looking into.

As it turns out, Zatopek wasn’t just good at running; he was slowly becoming one of the best. By 1948 he had broken many Czech long-distance records and even had a gold medal in the 10,000m from the London Olympics under his belt.

Preparing for Greatness

The Triple Crown in horse racing is one of the most elusive accomplishments in all of sport. You have to win three races in the span of just five weeks. And you have to race against fresh horses, horses that only care about one thing: taking down potential Triple Crown winners. Until this year, no horse and jockey had achieved the goal for over 30 years. In fact, since 1919, only 12 horses have ever done it.

In 1952, Zatopek achieved a triple crown of sorts that is so rare, to this day he is still the only person to have accomplished the feat.

But to get to the Olymics, Zatopek had a relentless training regimen. In fact, he pioneered the use of interval training, which is widely used today. At the time, people thought he was crazy.

“Everyone said, ‘Emil, you are a fool!’ But when I first won the European Championship, they said: ‘Emil you are a genius!”

His workouts were brutal. One of his favorites was to do fifty laps on a track with half lap jogs sprinkled in between for rest. If you can call that rest… He was basically sprinting a half marathon one lap at a time.

Zatopek was all grit and no grace. He became known for his “ugly” running style. He put everything he had into it, which you could easily tell by looking at his face when he ran.

Emil_Zatopek-Running-Marathon

He looked like he was suffering through horrible pain, but he usually found a way to grind out a win, so he didn’t care what he looked like.

“I shall learn to have a better style once they start judging races according to their beauty. So long as it’s a question of speed, then my attention will be directed to seeing how fast I can cover the ground.”

The Helsinki Olympics

“I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known.” -Emil Zatopek on his marathon win at Helsinki

All of Zatopek’s ugly running and interval training led up to three incredible performances at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

His first race of the games was his bread and butter, the 10,000m. After all, he was the returning gold medalist from the previous Olympics. Just as many expected Zatopek took the 10,000m without much trouble. He even set an Olympic record while he was at it.

A few days later, he took on the 5,000m. This race gave Zatopek a little more trouble. He was not the favorite in the event and it all came down to the last 150 meters. Zatopek had four runners to beat in that span. When all was said and done, Zatopek had a second gold and another Olympic record to boot.

With two golds under his belt, Zatopek was feeling unstoppable. So much so, he decided to enter the marathon. But Zatopek had never run a marathon. His first crack at the distance was going to be on one of the biggest stages in the sport after already giving his all in two other races.

The man to beat in the marathon was Jim Peters, who had set the world record in the distance just six weeks prior. Since Zatopek had never run a marathon, he had no idea how to pace himself. Unafraid of appearing weak and incompetent, Zatopek asked Peters mid-run if the blistering pace they were already running was too fast. Peters thought he could tire out the inexperienced runner and told him the pace was actually too slow. Believing the words of the world record holder, Zatopek adjusted his pace. Peters would eventually collapse out of the race trying to keep up with Zatopek. Zatopek won by an astonishing margin of two and a half minutes.

Zatopek’s triple gold in the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon has yet to be matched.

As further proof of the magnitude of his feat, the International Olympic Committee put up a statue of Emil Zatopek at the Olympic Museum in Switzerland. He is the only athlete to have such an honor.

Emil_Zatopek_Running

“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” -Emil Zatopek

The Work

Though Zatopek may have had some natural talent, it was ultimately his grueling dedication to becoming better that gave him a championship edge. Zatopek is a prime example of what it takes to become the best. It takes a lot of grueling work that might look “ugly” from the outside, but in the end, it’s hard work (not just natural talent), that gives way to great victories.

Running-Emil_Zatopek-

Photo source: Deutsche Fotothek

Strength-from-weakness

Temple Grandin is an expert on animal science who works at Colorado State University. She single handedly changed the way cows are treated in the livestock industry. Grandin is the author of multiple books and the subject of an Emmy Award winning HBO film. And that’s just a small part of her many accomplishments. Oh ya, and did I mention she is autistic?

How has Grandin been so influential even though she suffers from great mental and social difficulties? She uses her difficulties as an advantage.

The Strength of the Underdog

In his most recent book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell posits that oftentimes the weaknesses that make us an underdog are exactly what give us an advantage to overcome great odds . For example, in the biblical story of David and Goliath, David’s weakness in the fight against Goliath was that he was quite small.

However, David was a professional with his sling. How good was he? It is said that a stone fired from his sling would basically fire with the same force as a bullet from a .45 caliber pistol. On the other side, the thing that made Goliath so powerful was his size. However, that’s also what made him weak. He most likely suffered from acromegaly, which diminished his eyesight. Everyone assumed David would fight Goliath in hand-to-hand combat. But why would he do that if he could stay far away and still get the job done?

When David stepped in to the fight, he wasn’t an underdog at all.

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Grandin’s story is not much different. Even she understood that it was her difficulties with autism that gave her the unique ability to understand animals, which helped her become one of the world’s most respected advocates for the humane treatment of livestock.

In an article for Medscape, Grandin was asked if she would have achieved what she did if she were not autistic.

“I don’t think so, because there was a motivation that I had that a nonautistic person doesn’t have. And I had a visualization skill that goes beyond what most people have. When I designed a piece of equipment, I could actually test-run it in my head like these virtual-reality computer programs.”

Because Grandin had autism, she saw the world differently. Though she struggled with communication and found socializing extremely awkward and dull, she had an extraordinary visually gifted mind. She could visualize outcomes and circumstances with incredible detail.

Even though she had this great ability, convincing the male-dominated livestock industry to listen to her took some work. Grandin was persistent, and today more than half the cattle in North America are raised and processed more humanely because of systems she designed.

Despite all that she has done, Grandin doesn’t see herself as an anomaly. She believes autism shouldn’t define people.

“I am different, not less.” – Temple Grandin

Strength

 

Don’t Get Comfortable

Grandin also recognizes that she got where she is today because she got outside of her comfort zone, which is also an important key in turning a weakness into a strength.

In regards to her upbringing in a time when autism was far less understood than it is today, Grandin had the following to say:

“I’ve seen too much coddling. Mother was always saying, ‘You’re going to have to learn how to go in the store and talk to the clerks yourself.’ And I was scared to death. I’m seeing too many kids who actually are a lot milder than I was who don’t know how to walk into McDonald’s and order a hamburger.”

Strength-Temple-Grandin

Photo By Steve Jurvetson

Grandin’s mother knew her daughter had more potential than the world and even medical professionals at the time believed. She wasn’t going to let her daughter grow up comfortable and thus incapable of doing everyday tasks. That’s the mindset that pushed Grandin through years of school to get a doctoral degree in animal science and what helped her become a leader in the push for the rights of persons with autism.

Grandin’s story prompts me to look deep within myself. What weaknesses do I have that I have not yet looked at as strengths? Many of the world’s greatest accomplishments have come from people like Grandin who looked at things differently because of their “weakness.” The prospect of finding new strengths within my weaknesses is thrilling! There’s always more to life than meets the eye.

 

Ben-Franklin

We all know about the man who flew his kite in a lightning storm… or if that doesn’t ring a bell, how about the man who’s face is on the currency we all want in non-sequential, unmarked bills in our briefcases? Even if you don’t know anything about Benjamin Franklin, just knowing his face is on the hundred-dollar bill should give you a pretty good idea that he was somewhat of an important person.

The Man 

Benjamin Franklin had a curious and devoted nature that led to many discoveries in electricity and countless inventions ranging from bifocals to swim fins. I want to share the story of one of his many inventions, the Franklin stove, to give you a glimpse at the kind of person Franklin was.

The Franklin stove was a wonderful upgrade to the open fireplaces most people were using to heat their homes in the 1700’s. Franklin’s stove produced more heat and less smoke. In addition, the stove was made of cast iron so heat would absorb into the metal and radiate even after the fire had gone out. One day Franklin was approached by a man who wanted to help him patent the idea. Franklin would be the exclusive owner of the invention. But like a title straight from an Upworthy post, what happened next was truly inspiring. Franklin said no, citing a principle that has “ever weigh’d with [him].”

“As we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”

Ben Franklin felt that his fireplace was an invention that should be shared freely with everyone. It saved people money and provided a better standard of living. He didn’t care about the money; he cared about the good it did for his fellow men.

The Goal

As is evident in the story of the Franklin stove, Benjamin Franklin was dedicated to being the best he could be. In fact, from the young age of 20, Franklin had his sights set on moral perfection. In order to reach his goal, Franklin carried around a small notebook. In his notebook was a chart with 13 virtues in it. Franklin concluded that if he could master those 13 virtues, he would attain moral perfection.

“I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time.”

 

The 13 virtues Ben Franklin established are as follows:

Infographic_Ben-Franklin

Franklin carried his notebook around with him everywhere. Inside the notebook he had a chart with a line for each of the 13 virtues. Whenever he messed up, he would put a dot next to that virtue to signify that he had not accomplished his goal for the day. The idea was to have the least amount of dots—ideally zero—at the end of each day.

He even took things further by rotating which virtue was at the top of the chart. Each week the virtue at the top would be the one he was most focused on. After 13 weeks he would start over and continue his quest for perfection.

But alas, as you might have guessed,  Ben Franklin never did achieve moral perfection.

“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.

The Plan

History is full of successful people who advocate the practice of keeping a journal of some kind. There is power in being accountable to ourselves and hashing out our thoughts. Though Franklin used a physical notebook, we live in a day and age run by computers, and many people find it more convenient to journal digitally. Enter Degreed.

I have been quite inspired by Franklin’s devotion to becoming better. I’m all about that ‘being a happier person’ stuff. There is much to learn regarding moral perfection and a lot of it is available on the Internet. So I have created a Moral Perfection Pathway over at Degreed.com. I know I won’t be as diligent as Ben Franklin was, but this is something I believe in, and I will continue to update and improve the pathway as I find more worthwhile materials.

If you have any ideas for what I can add to my pathway shoot me a tweet or message me on Degreed!

Also, S/O to Art of Manliness for opening my eyes to Benjamin Franklin’s story.

In our August Webinar “Bring Your Own Learning” we explored the data behind the Bring Your Own Learning trend and discussed how you can manage the BYOL shift. As part of the data we shared, 77% of employees told us that their own self-directed learning was more effective towards helping them be successful in their profession. These are adults, they know what they need and they know what their strengths and weaknesses are. When we asked people how they find new information to do their jobs, 69% of them said the first thing they do is Google it and read or watch what they find. The behavior pattern here is critical: people expect immediate answers.

The takeaway is that empowering employee learning is the next big movement in education. Those who embrace it will thrive.

How can you start to manage the shift to bring your own learning? Here are 5 ideas for supporting employee learning in the new learning ecosystem.

1. Weekly lunch and learns. These are informal opportunities to tap into the knowledge and skills of employees, by having those people share what they know with their colleagues. We’ve seen this implemented with tools like Google Hangouts or Webcasts.

2. Tuition reimbursement and recognition programs. Increasingly we’re seeing organizations thinking about these programs differently to work for informal and self-directed learning.

3. Set specific learning goals. Consider reevaluating performance management processes to connect the idea of career advancement to learning in concrete and specific ways.

4. Curate and recommend resources. Look for resources that aren’t just formal; video, articles, webinars, MOOCs. Mix a variety of formats.

5. Recognize and value all kinds of learning and development. 

Jane Hart, Founder of Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies  has said regarding the future of learning “It will not be about designing personalized training nor managing people’s learning for them, but rather supporting their own personal learning strategies.”

Bring-Y

We agree, we also believe that accountability equals love. Organizations should think about guiding and empowering learning as much as they do enforcing .

Do you have more ideas for supporting employee learning? Tweet them to us @Degreed. Find out how Degreed can help you empower your learners here.

Diana-Nyad-Advice

 

 

These were the 3 things uttered from the swollen mouth of 64-year old Diana Nyad as she stumbled out of the ocean and into the record books after a grueling 53-hour swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013.

The span between Cuba and Florida is an elusive stretch of water: 110 miles through the home sharks, the volatile Gulf Stream, and the most venomous creature in the ocean, the box jellyfish… Continue reading to find out how Diana Nyad and her team accomplished her amazing swim.

 

Photo source: DianaNyad.com

 

Never, Ever Give Up

“You can chase your dreams at any age; you’re never too old.”

Those were the words uttered from the swollen mouth of 64-year old Diana Nyad as she stumbled out of the ocean and into the record books after a grueling 53-hour swim in 2013.

The span between Cuba and Florida is an elusive stretch of water: 110 miles through the home sharks, the volatile Gulf Stream, and the most venomous creature in the ocean, the box jellyfish. No wonder those 110 miles have sent the greatest swimmers in the world packing since 1950. It wasn’t until 1997 that Susie Maroney finally made it from shore to shore. But even then, the accomplishment came with an asterisk: she did it with the safety of a shark cage.

Fast forward to 2010. Diana Nyad was determined to do Susie one better: she wanted to be the first to complete the swim without a cage.

Record-Breaking Beginnings

In 1978, Nyad was at the top of her game. Three years earlier she broke the record for the fastest swim around Manhattan Island by almost a full hour. Now she was going for the elusive Cuba to Florida swim. Though she swam inside the safety of a shark cage, the barreling waves and jellyfish stings became too much. Her team realized it was a lost cause and got her out of the water.

Then, just a year later, at the age of 30, she broke the open-ocean world record (102 miles) by swimming from the Bahamas to Florida. And she did it without a shark cage. After securing that major accomplishment, she decided to hang up her swim cap (or whatever you do with swim caps). Nyad had officially retired from swimming.

Just Keep Swimming

 It wasn’t until her mother died almost 30 years later—shortly before Nyad’s 60th birthday—that she began to reevaluate her life goals. She didn’t want to accept that her life had already been summed up. That’s when she decided to awaken her long-dormant dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida.

After intense training, Nyad was ready to go for broke. In 2011 her dream was cut short after just 29 hours in the water. A severe asthma attack, chills, and dehydration ultimately became too much to push through. She thought her dream was over. Little did she know she would still have to give it three more tries.

Her next attempt was only six weeks later. Things seemed to be going better than they had previously until she felt a pain like she was “dipped in hot burning oil,” and her “body [was] in flames.” A swarm of the deadly box jellyfish had attacked her. An EMT from her team jumped in to help but got stung in the process and had to get back in the boat. After what had to be an unbelievably excruciating experience treading water until the pain dissipated enough to endure, she continued swimming. Not long after, she was attacked again. At this point, she was on the verge of losing her life. The crew had to pull her from the water in order to save her.

Not deterred in the least, Nyad set out again a year later. She wasn’t going to lose to a jellyfish. This time she wore a protective mask, but the jellyfish again proved to be a formidable foe. The tentacles had found the only exposed spot on her face, her mouth. Still able to swim, Nyad pushed on. However, during this attempt, the heavens proved to be the most problematic. A massive storm circled overhead and churned the ocean waters. Nyad was stubborn and opted to continue through the storm. It wasn’t until lightning threatened the safety of her crew that she relented and got in the boat.

Fifth Time’s The Charm

In spite of endurance experts, neurologists, and even her own crew telling her it was impossible, Nyad stayed focused. She was not going to be conquered again.

She enlisted the help of the leading expert in box jellyfish and created a mask that would protect her entire face. The mask had a mouthpiece with two bite plates to defend her mouth from jellyfish tentacles. However, the mouthpiece wasn’t perfect, and she swallowed a lot of ocean water because of it. The salt made her throat swell and upset her stomach causing her to vomit. Which is pretty annoying when you’re trying to swim 110 miles, but at least it was better than dying from jellyfish stings.

At night, the crew couldn’t use lights because light attracts sharks and jellyfish. In the pitch black of night, Nyad’s crew relied only on the sound of her arms slapping the water to know she was still there. In those lonely, dark hours, she would sing songs to herself to keep her mind occupied.

Nyad was in the water for 53 hours straight. When she finally reached the shore, physically exhausted and elated at finally realizing her goal, she had three things to say to the crowd that had gathered:

1. Never, ever give up.
2. You can chase your dreams at any age; you’re never too old.
3. It looks like the most solitary endeavor in the world, but it’s a team.

Diana-Nyad-Advice

Nyad’s words are a fresh reminder that no hour of our life should be wasted, and that no one can accomplish anything great alone.

In a TEDWomen talk from 2013, Nyad had the following to say about her accomplishment:

“It wasn’t so much about the athletic accomplishment. It wasn’t the ego of ‘I want to be the first,’ that’s always there and it’s undeniable. It was deeper. It was ‘how much life is there left?’ Let’s face it; we’re all on a one-way street. What are we going to do as we go forward to have no regrets looking back?”

What are you going to do to move forward with no regrets?

Tweet Braden your goals and how you plan to accomplish your dreams. You just learned about personal development, get credit on your Degreed profile.

Photo Credit: DianaNyad.com

Humble beginnings, unflinching determination, and a dog named Butkus.

Most people have seen the 1976 film, Rocky—which took home three Academy Awards including best picture. Even if you haven’t seen it, it’s likely you have seen at least one of the myriad training montages mimicking the original montage from the film. Though the film has resonated with millions of people, the story of the man behind it all, Sylvester Stallone, is just as moving.

While enduring a rough childhood with his younger brother Frank, Stallone found himself in a high school for troubled youth. After that he bounced around to two different colleges and eventually dropped out to pursue acting.

As is the fate of many aspiring actors, Stallone had a rough time landing anything substantial. To support himself while he pursued his dream, he bounced around doing odd jobs and even took a role in an adult film.

In 1974 he had a small stroke of luck co-starring in The Lords of Flatbush. However, the film wasn’t much of a success, and Stallone became frustrated by his seemingly endless stream of rejections. Fueled by his frustration and the fact that he was teetering on the edge of poverty, Stallone decided to focus more of his time on writing screenplays.

It was during this time that Stallone came up with the concept for Rocky. In 1975, lowly boxer, Chuck Wepner, stepped into the ring with The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. Wepner was physically outmatched but mentally prepared. Wepner took hit after hit for all 15 rounds—ultimately succumbing to a TKO in the final round. Stallone watched the whole fight play out. He was mesmerized and inspired by Wepner’s determination.

”I was watching the fight in a movie theater, and I said to myself, ‘Let’s talk about stifled ambition and broken dreams and people who sit on the curb looking at their dreams go down the drain.’ I thought about it for a month. That’s what I call my inspiration stage. Then I let it incubate for 10 months.”

After his self-appointed incubation stage, Stallone got to work. Stallone wrote the entire first draft of the Rocky screenplay in just 3 1/2 days.

“I’d get up at 6 A.M. and write it by hand, with a Bic pen on lined notebook sheets of paper. Then my wife, Sasha, would type it. She kept saying, ‘You’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta do it. Push it, Sly, go for broke.”’

Once his writing was finished, Stallone began shopping his new screenplay around. He knew he had a hot story when he began fielding six-figure offers.

He turned the first offer down because the producers wanted a big-name actor to play the role. Stallone was adamant about playing the role of Rocky, and to him not being able to star in his film was a deal breaker. It was his way or bust.

To give a little depth into the magnitude of his decision, at the time his wife was pregnant, and he had next to nothing in the bank. Eventually he was offered up to $265,000—still with the caveat that he couldn’t play the lead.

He turned that down too.

While he waited for a producer that would work with him, he began to make sacrifices in other areas of his life. In what had to be one his lowest points, Stallone sold his bullmastiff, Butkus, to a perfect stranger. He tied the dog up at a store with a sign that said “100 bucks”. He got $50 for him.

Ironically, Stallone finally sold the screenplay not a week later to two producers who would let him star in the film. He sold it for much less than he had been offered before, but he got a 10% stake in the earnings. He immediately tracked down the guy who bought his dog. The guy gave him the business and had no intention of selling the dog back. Stallone eventually had to pay $3000 to get ol’ Butkus back. Fun fact: both Butkus and the guy who almost didn’t sell the dog back appeared in the film.

Looking back, Stallone says he never would have settled for the money without the leading role:

”I never would have sold it. I told my wife that I’d rather bury it in the back yard and let the caterpillars play ‘Rocky.’ I would have hated myself for selling out, the way we hate most people for selling out. My wife agreed, and said she’d be willing to move to a trailer in the middle of a swamp if need be.”

Though the movie was shot in 28 days with a budget of only $1 million, the film brought in over $117 million in the domestic box office. From his humble beginnings to his first big hit, Stallone went on to become the only man alive with a No. 1 box-office hit in five consecutive decades.

Stallone had a dream and an unyielding desire to achieve it. Unrelenting in his determination not to sell out, he eventually found himself at the top of Hollywood. You can tell a lot about a person who can turn down a large sum of money while struggling to even put food on the table. But Stallone knew he was more than just a writer: he was a star.

And the moral of the story, in the words of Stallone himself (speaking on the film in an interview from 1976) is:

“If nothing else comes out of that film in the way of awards and accolades, it will still show that an unknown quantity, a totally unmarketable person, can produce a diamond in the rough, a gem.

 

Catch Braden on Twitter. You just learned about pop culture and personal growth, get credit for it on Degreed.

There is a legend of a Persian king who asked his wise men to come up with a sentence that would offer him good counsel in all times and situations. According to the legend they provided him with a ring, inscribed with the words “This too shall pass.” With this simple phrase, the king would be comforted in bad times, and humbled in good times.

This advice is great counsel that is often forgotten. In my experience, most people have a tendency to project their current situation into the future indefinitely. When things are bad, we feel they will never improve and when they are good, we tend to believe we have it made from here on out. This may seem like a relatively innocuous quirk of human nature, but its effects can be debilitating.

The Bad Times Don’t Last

My junior year of college, I almost dropped one of my majors (I dual-majored). I had had it up to here with Political Science. I was bored with my classes and my research and, as a consequence, I wasn’t performing up to my standards. I figured this meant that studying or working in political science would always be boring and unfulfilling, so I could see no reason to keep with it. I can’t remember what kept me from quitting (it was probably aversion to the idea of starting over with a new major) but ultimately I did stick it through, which is good because I quickly returned to loving the subject matter.

I had confused a mood for something bigger, and forgotten that it would pass. Things get better and then they get worse and then they get better again. Our interest in subject matters waxes and wanes. In our bad times we often forget this. We believe things will persist in their current state in perpetuity, which can cause us to abandon things that ultimately bring us happiness.

The Good Times Don’t Last

Additionally, the delusion that things will always be great can also be damaging. In the book Engineering Happiness, authors Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells define happiness as reality minus expectations. Happiness can be lowered just as much by inflated expectations as by a poor experience. When we start into a particularly interesting field we often fail to account for the fact that it will not always remain so all the time.

I was talking with a friend who works in the field and for the exact company that he had always dreamed of. Unfortunately, he has recently been feeling a sort of boredom and malaise at work. He asked me, “What do you do when you’re bored with your dream job?” I couldn’t think of an answer on the spot, but the more I think about it, I think my answer would be “You keep working. Things will get better.”

The Best Advice For Any Situation

 

Making Grounded Decisions

My mom likes to tell a story about going through a tough time when she was a teen. She can’t remember what she was sad about but something had set her off and she was crying her eyes out in her room. My grandpa with his usual wit and Irish wisdom poked his head through the door and said “It’s just weather of the soul, honey.” He understood that it would pass.

When making career and education decisions, it is important to make decisions based on the things that never or rarely change, rather than the weather. The one question I always try to ask myself before making a decision is “Did I feel this way one month ago? If not, what has changed?” Always gut check yourself before making a big decision to make sure you’re not making a long-term decision based on a short-term mood because, after all, this too shall pass.

 

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