Arnold Schwarzenegger is generally thought of as a bodybuilder who somehow got lucky and managed to be one of the top action movie stars of the 90’s. But when you read the story behind the struggles involved, you will realize that not only was the man physically better built than most people but was also much much more mentally strong and determined. It will make you express great admiration for the way the man achieved his goals and he will probably become one of your role models, at least as an individual who was brave enough to go after his dream and achieved every single one.
The Early Years
Let’s go back into history and trace the man’s origins. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in a small town called Graz in Austria. His father was a police chief of the small town and his mother stayed at home. He had one older brother who sadly died in a car crash in the seventies.
Schwarzenegger’s father often tried to instill strict discipline into both the children. While Arnold was disciplined he wanted to be so on his own terms and not want the discipline to be imposed upon from an authority figure so he often rebelled. As a young child he excelled at many sports, particularly soccer and skiing but it was the age of 15 that he realized his life’s calling – Bodybuilding
The way this happened was amazing. Up until the age of 15, Arnold did not have a goal in life. His only desire was to come to America and maybe do something. But around that time he saw a movie Called Hercules. The star of the movie was a man called Reg Park who was one of the greatest bodybuilders of the time. He read about how this man was a champion bodybuilder and how he had used his bodybuilding career to get into the movies and become a star.
From that point onwards, Arnolds life purpose was clear, he decided he would get into bodybuilding, become the greatest bodyuilder of all time and then use this accomplishment to become a major Hollywood star.
Now as young boy in a small village like town in Austria which was thousands of miles away from USA, you can imagine how ridiculous this dream may have seemed to others with almost no chance of it coming true. Most people may have felt scared to share such a dream with others but this guy was different.
He told his friends “I am going to be the world’s greatest bodybuilder” , they all laughed at him and said “Arnold you are a skinny 15 year old from Graz, all the champion bodybuilders are much older and from America, stop dreaming!” Both in front of him and behind his back they made fun of him. But Arnold had discovered his life goal and there was going to be no stopping him. he started emulating Reg Park’s Training Routine and Diet and soon started training one hour a day, two hours a day and three hours a day in accordance with the targets he set for himself.
Older bodybuilders around him told him to slow down because he was too young and for someone who wasn’t so educated, that would have been good advice because otherwise they would injure themselves. But Arnold had educated himself on everything related to bodybuilding. While at first he hated reading, he consumed all bodybuilding related material like a scholar and knew what exactly to do and how hard to push himself without injuring himself and knew the exact diet plan to follow to achieve his goals. Thus he kept pushing himself hard, started training 4 to 5 hours a day, 6 days a week and made amazing progress.
When his father saw Arnold taking bodybuilding a little too seriously and training for hours and hours each day and becoming too big (even then as compared to the average Austrian man) he asked him “Why are you doing this? Why don’t you take up an Austrian sport, why don’t you become a skiing champion or take up soccer seriously.”
Arnold replied bluntly, “I don’t want any of these things, I know what I want to be. I am going to become the bodybuilding champion of Europe. Then I am going to go to America and become the world’s greatest bodybuilder” His dad first laughed at him and then asked him what he expected to accomplish from that and Arnold replied “When I become the world’s best built man, I am then going to Hollywood like Reg Park and become one of the biggest movie stars ever.”
His father thought Arnold had gone absolutely crazy and his mother almost fainted. They took him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told them that such ridiculous dreams were common with young teenagers and with time Arnold would adapt to the real world. But in order to discourage him from getting too big, his father stopped allowing him to visit the gym more than 3 times a week. Arnold responded by turning everything he could find in his home into makeshift weights and continuing to exercise six days a week and cycling outside in brutal cold. His father soon realized Arnold couldn’t be stopped and let him go to the gym more.
A Bodybuilding Star
By the time Arnold turned 18 he had become one of the most muscular men in Austria and certainly the biggest in his age group. But he was then required to serve one year in the military as it was in the Austrian constitution for men to serve one year in the military. Around the time he was in the army as a tankman there was a competition called Junior Mr. Europe that was going to be held. Arnold saw this as a ticket to prove his worth and become a champion competitive bodybuilder. When he was denied permission, Arnold decided to run away from Army quarters (a serious offence) in order to compete.
The army officials were less than pleased and were thinking of what to do with him when he returned to the Army Quarters with a trophy. He had won Junior Mr. Europe. he was thrown into jail for 15 days for this indiscipline but he earned the respect and admiration of everyone around him including his superiors who often told other serving members to be focused like Schwarzenegger.
Winning the Junior Mr. Europe got the word around this incredible talent and soon he was invited to train in Munich a Gym Owner who would sponsor his training and give him everything he needed to go for the biggest prize in Europe, Mr. Europe. Arnold trained hard and won the competition easily. Arnold was starting to get famous.
He was soon invited to London to compete in the NABBA Mr. Universe competition. The first year, he came second, the first time he had ever been beaten. That didn’t disappoint him. The next year he won the competition comprehensively. He thought he had accomplished all there was in bodybuilding but it turned out there was an even bigger federation called IFBB which had even more successful bodybuilders. Arnold decided to take them on. He was invited to come to America by Joe Weider the Chief of IFBB who saw Arnold as a great talent. Weider sponsored him for a work visa in the USA and this is how Arnold first came and started living in America. The first year (1968) he competed in the IFBB Mr. Universe he came second to a man named Frank Zane who was not as big as him.
Arnold was devastated. He came home and cried. He thought that the competition was fixed because Zane was much smaller than him. But next day he opened a magazine and took a look at Zane. Zane was smaller but was much more ripped and defined, which was also a major criteria in the decision of the Judges. Arnold decided that he would get bigger but he would get get more cut and defined. The next year Arnold beat Frank Zane. The year after that he won IFBB Mr. Universe Again and this time he also beat his idol Reg Park who had recently returned to competition.
But it turns out this still wasn’t it. There was an even bigger competition called IFBB Mr. Olympia and he had to win it to lay his claim to being the absolutely best built man of all time. As always the first time he competed he was beaten by a man named Sergio Oliva. He studied Oliva’s strengths and rectified his own mistakes and swore to beat him next year. The next year, in 1970, Arnold beat Oliva and became Mr. Olympia, the pinnacle of competitive bodybuilding. Once he had the title he decided he would only let go of it when he wanted to and nobody else would beat him.
Subsequently he won the Mr. Olympia for several more years and won the most titles in history (at that time) until he decided he had enough and decided to retire from competitive bodybuilding to pursue the goal he really wanted to achieve, become a Hollywood movie star. This one was an even bigger challenge.
The Hollywood Dream
Arnold’s first movie in Hollywood was a low budget production called Hercules in New York and he starred in it while he was still a competitive bodybuilder. The film flopped horribly and Arnold’s acting skills were ridiculed tremendously. Arnold himself thought the film was horrible and decided to only star in a movie again when he could focus solely on his acting.
This was not going to be easy at all. Even though Arnold had small roles and even won a Golden Globe Award for best debut for a small role in a film called Stay Hungry and was the main subject in the Award Winning Documentary Pumping Iron, the idea of him becoming a major movie star was considered crazy.
Even though his roles got some attention, when he went to the agents and said he wanted to be a leading man in Hollywood, they laughed at him and thought he was having pipe dreams. They told him at the most he could be a freaky character actor, like some big henchman or a German Police officer in the movies that would have someone else as the leading man. The leading men at the time were hardly well built and their look was considered to be a beauty ideal for men. Arnold’s look was considered bizarre.
The agents told him that he had no chance. First of all, he had a weird surname called Schwarzenegger which could hardly be pronounced by American audiences. Having such a name on the billboards would just make people laugh in an attempt to pronounce this “weird” guy’s name. They agents asked him to change his surname. He refused and said he would become a star with his real name.
The agents then told him he had a weird body. They said he was grossly overbuilt and because the stars of that era had slim builds he would be laughed at. No major production company would ever take the risk of having him as a lead star in a big hollywood production. If they did that they would make a joke out of themselves. They finally said Arnold had a weird German accent. Nobody ever became a Hollwood leading star with the accent he had. Basically they told him he was crazy to think he even had a chance to become a major movie star. Schwarzenegger was obviously upset but this made him more determined than ever.
He knew that he was going to do whatever it takes and struggle for however long it took to become a movie star but at the same time he knew he important it was to be financially strong in order to endure the years it took to succeed. While most people blew away their earnings, Arnold lived frugally. He never stopped enjoying life but he knew that money did not always have to be thrown away to enjoy life. As he was a bodybuilder most people considered him dumb but he educated himself and studied investing. He even completed his MBA during the process attending school in the evenings.
After studying investing, he invested the money he made into real estate. He also started a mail order and brick laying business with his friend Franco Columbu. As a result of being smart with his money Arnold became a millionaire by the age of 30 much before he ever made a million dollars as a movie star.
With his financial foundation solid, Arnold continued to train for his next crazy dream. He kept working on trying to remove his accent and was constantly in the media as a celebrity bodybuilder on many TV Gameshows and chat shows. He tried his best to keep himself in the news and let the producers be aware that if they ever needed a super muscular guy as a leading hero in their movie, he would always among the front runners for a potential starring role. For 5 years after 1975 kept doing the same while keeping his financial situation strong through his businesses.
A Screen Icon is Born
In 1980 his persistence paid off. Hollywood Director John Milius had just had his mega project Conan the Barbarian approved to go into production by a major Hollywood production company. He was looking for a main lead actor who had a super muscular build that was required for the role. At this point he remembered Arnold who had been trying his best to keep himself in the media limelight and had made his acting aspirations no secret. He asked Arnold to audition for the role. Arnold who was much better prepared this time having reduced his accent, having the right build and decent acting skills gave an audition that convinced Milius that Arnold was the man for the job. Later Milius said, “If we didn’t have Arnold, we would have to build him.” Arnold was cast as Conan the Barbarian, for the first time he became a leading hero in a major Hollywood production.
After an year and a half of filming and post production, the finished product Conan The Barbarian hit the theatres. Conan the Barbarian was a smash hit and introduced the world to Arnold Schwarzenegger the movie star. Not only was the movie a hit, Schwarzenegger was lauded for his physique, his acting, his dialogues which because of his accent sounded funny, were mimicked frequently and became famous catch phrases. He was also respected for his decision to stick to his original name. In other words, all of the things that the Hollwood Agents told him were his liabilities became his biggest strengths.
After this the agents who initially told him he was crazy tried to contact him to represent him but he refused. The agents themselves went out of business shortly afterwards. Following the movie’s super success he got even more offers to star in major movies as a leading star. In 1984 he got the role that would make him an international megastar. He was cast as The Terminator in the movie of the same name. That movie became a huge hit and Schwarzenegger never looked back. The boy whose dreams were laughed at back in Austria turned all those dreams into a reality. He became a major motion movie star and delivered one hit after another. Terminator 2 in 1991 was the most expensive and highest grossing movie of its time. In the 90’s Schwarzenegger became the biggest and highest paid movie star of the time.
In the 2000’s after doing several movies, Schwarzenegger decided that he had enough. He wanted to go into Politics. At the time everyone told him he had no chance because he lacked the political experience. Schwarzenegger again proved his critics wrong by being elected the Governor of California, not once but twice. Many say Arnold would have run for President of the United States as well and would have probably succeeded, unfortunately the constitution of the country does not permit foreign born citizens to run for the highest office.
In a nutshell, the man achieved everything he ever wanted that he had control over. If you have read this entire story you and have previously not had much information on the background of the man and the obstacles he had to overcome in order to achieve an impossible dream, you will have a new found respect and admiration for the man whether you are interested in going to the gym or not. The most incredible thing about Schwarzenegger was not his physique but his amazing will power and his drive to achieve his dreams. Whatever he built and achieved was just a by product.
What are the lessons we can learn from Schwarzenegger’s story?
1) Discover what is important to you. While Schwarzenegger was a generally good athlete, he never had that kind of passion for another sport as he did for bodybuilding and the reason he had that passion because he discovered what it was that he wanted the most in his life at that time and then did everything he could to work towards it no matter how big the obstacles were. When you discover what is truly important to you, no obstacle can stop you because you will always find a way. Obstacles only stop people who don’t want things badly enough.
2) Have incredible self belief and deflect criticism – What Arnold dreamt of as a kid in Austria was considered close to impossible. But to him it was not only possible, he knew he was going to do it. He was ridiculed by his parents and his friends. Even after becoming a champion bodybuilder the ridicule he received from the agents would have discouraged most people.Most people would just give up. But Arnold was different, he knew that his greatest enemy was not somebody else but his own self doubts. He decided to ignore all the negativity he received from others and continued to believe he could get what he wanted, so he put in the effort to make it happen and eventually made it happen.
3) Have a burning desire for what you want. – If Schwarzenegger did not have a burning desire for what he wanted, there was no way he was going to be able to overcome the obstacles that he did to achieve his goals.
Schwarzenegger trained 5 hours a day six days a week to accomplish his dream, so intense was his desire for his goal. Even when his father limited his gym visits he used whatever he could find in his house and turned that into weights and cycled in the brutal cold for his cardiovascular fitness.
In the army he knew that after failing to get permission to leave the army for a few days to compete at Junior Mr. Europe would eventually land him in Jail but he also knew that time was precious and there was no way he could wait another year. So he risked jail time just to make his dreams happen. While what he did was illegal it earned him great respect from his superiors and kickstarted his journey to being a bodybuiding star. You don’t have to do illegal things to make your dreams happen but you still need the drive.
4) Be wise with your financials. When most people were busy spending most of the money they earned and in many cases spending more than they earned, despite making considerable money through his winnings, Schwarzenegger lived frugally. He still continued to have fun because he knew money being blown was not a necessity for enjoying life. His desire for knowledge went beyond bodybuilding and his commitment to getting an MBA and learning investing showed that he was sharp with his mind too. He invested most of his earnings and became a millionaire at thirty, when most people are just starting out with their careers and he did that back in the seventies when becoming a millionaire was much more difficult He knew that being financially solid was a prerequisite to achieving any dream and was never a starving artist even during his worst struggle. After he became a big movie star he continued to follow the same philosophy of investing and ended up having an eventual net worth of close to half a billion dollars.
5) Remember that luck is where preparedness meets opportunity. It is easy to say that Schwarzenegger got lucky because John Milius was producing a movie that needed a well built actor. However, there were dozens of other famous bodybuilders, why was Schwarzenegger picked for the role? Milius could have also just chosen to get some other famous movie star attached the project and forced him to workout and transform his body. Yet he bet on Arnold. The reason was that Arnold always ensured that he continued to do whatever he could to keep himself a major contender for such kinds of roles. He went to game shows, chat shows, kept the media aware of him, he also went to auditions, met producers, improved his acting skills, reduced his accent, maintained his physique. In the end when the opportunity finally arose the natural choice for role was Schwarzenegger. Had Schwarzenegger not been doing things day in and day out that luck would have never come his way.
I hope the life lessons learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger story has inspired you tremendously. They certainly inspired me when I learned about his story many years ago and in many ways he is one of my role models, not because he was a champion bodybuilder or a major movie star but because he was a small town boy with big dreams who through his incredible will power, work ethic and determination made all his impossible dreams possible. If this man can do it, so can you even if you have no interest in fitness or in becoming a movie star. Whatever your goal is you can make it happen. 99 percent of the limits you think you have exist in your own mind. So go out there and make your impossible dreams possible!
The author of this article, Anubhav Srivastava is an author, motivational speaker and the director of Carve Your Destiny, a first of its kind inspirational documentary featuring some of the most famous personalities from diverse fields, who teach the viewers how they too can make all of their dreams come true. The movie itself has been seen on Youtube by close to 600,000 people. Anubhav has also been featured in numerous International and India Media outlets such as BBC , The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Rediff.com, Leicester Mercury and many others.
Email Anubhav Srivastava for coaching, consulting or motivational speaking queries at email@example.com.
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