Michael Sylvester Stallone, who was born in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, had a dream. His passion was to be an actor. The problem was that due to a difficult delivery with forceps during his birth, a nerve was severed causing paralysis in parts of Stallone’s face. As a result, the lower left side of his face is paralyzed (including parts of his lip, tongue, and chin), an accident that gave him his signature snarling look and slurred speech.
As you can imagine, no director or producer was going to cast Sylvester into a role with his challenges. But, ultimately, were they challenges?
It was a “Rocky Road”
Stallone slept three weeks in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City before seeing a casting notice for the film.
In the actor’s words,
“it was either do that movie or rob, someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope”. The film was released several years later as Italian Stallion.
Stallone shared an apartment with his girlfriend, Sasha Czack, who supporting them by working as a waitress. Stallone took odd jobs around this time, including being a cleaner at a zoo, and a movie theater usher. He furthered his writing skills by frequenting a local library and became interested in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
In 1972, Stallone was on the verge of giving up on acting; in what he later described as a low point. So, what did he do? He went home and wrote the script of the hit Rocky (1976), a sports drama about a struggling boxer, Rocky Balboa, taking on heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. His plan was to sell the script but only if he could have the lead role.
Stallone believed in himself and knew he could star in a film but if the films were “not right for him”, he would create one that would.
Stallone refused to sell unless he played the lead character and after a compromised budget cut, it was agreed he could be the star. Upon its release critic Roger Ebert stated that Stallone could become the next Marlon Brando.
In 1977, at the 49th Academy Awards, Rocky was nominated for ten Awards, including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay nominations for Stallone. The film went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Film Editing.
Stallone would not let other people dictate how his life would be and refused to accept no from judgemental critics. Instead, he understood that ultimately it was his life and as such, he gets to write the pages and chapters of it.
Will you play it safe and be a boring character who does not reveal the unique skills and talents bestowed upon you or will you be a Stallone? Will you accept the nos and the judgments that others may have for you? Will you allow the lack of support to shoot you down or will you create your own opportunities? That is what success and leadership are all about.