Sylvester Stallone managed to beat one of the most debilitating traits anyone can inherit; chronic shyness. And he did it through sheer force of will.
In his book on the actor’s life, author Frank Sanello tells how Stallone was a very large baby who underwent a forceps birth. Unfortunately, the intern clamped too hard and severed a facial nerve, giving Sly a drooping eyelid and lips, as well as a speech impediment.
Add to these birth defects a high-strung mother and a strict, even violent father, and no wonder Sylvester Stallone was a shy child.
From age two till five, Sylvester Stallone and his brother Frank were boarded with a foster mother who did not speak to them, and they only saw their parents on the weekend. Still, this brief time was enough for his dad to beat Sly while keeping up the refrain, “Why can’t you be smarter? Why can’t you be stronger?”
It’s said that Stallone becomes upset if anyone whistles in his vicinity because his dad used to whistle before beating him.
It’s best to let Sly speak for himself:
“When you have an abnormality, you become a focal point for scorn and ridicule. And that may be one of the reasons I apply myself so hard.
“People who have had tremendous setbacks in their lives are driven with a maniacal intensity that is incomprehensible to someone who’s had a normal life. I grew up with a pretty profound complex of inadequacy.”
The other kids made fun of his facial paralysis and called him Mr. Potato Head. Sly says it would be impossible to over-dramatize his self-loathing and negative body image when he was young.
“I was like a poster boy for a nightmare. In a contest between me and a bulldog, you’d say the bulldog’s better. My personality was abhorrent to other children, so I enjoyed my own company and did a lot of fantasizing.”
So far, it’s hard to believe that such a child could go on to great success.
His dad eventually did well, but his parents divorced when Sly was eleven.
After being kicked out of a number of high schools, there seemed no chance Sylvester Stallone would ever get into college. But his mother heard of a place in Switzerland that would take anyone and enrolled him there. In exchange for room and board, he was hired to be coach of the school boxing team.
The American College was a godsend for Sly. After years of failure he turned his grades around and did well academically, excelling in art and literature.
With this encouragement he embarked on a full-scale self-improvement program. He joined school clubs and came out of his shell. In the Drama Club, he discovered he could hide the shy kid behind a character, and when he heard the applause, he knew he’d found his way.
Sly must have been born an optimist. It’s one of the greatest gifts nature can bestow.
Having hope means not giving in to anxiety, or a defeatist attitude, or depression in the face of challenges and setbacks. Optimism means having a strong expectation that things will turn out okay, despite frustrations.
How did this man who had so little going for him manage to turn his life around?
He was constantly shamed as a child and shame is what men fear the most.
When Sly was called a wop he discovered that he could use his fists. Boxing then became the key to his acceptance in college.
And once he had the acceptance, and even the admiration, of his peers, it gave him the courage to reach for his goals.
It was the fictional fighter, Rocky Balboa, whose story reflected Stallone’s in many ways, that would eventually make Stallone famous the world over.