Eye of the Tiger

This week I picked up my copy of Finish by Jon Acuff. Making that even better—I was able to meet Jon when he was in Irvine, CA, at his book signing. It wasn’t until after I started reading his book that I realized he single-handedly saved the Rocky movie franchise! How? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, I absolutely love the Rocky movies! Rocky Balboa, the poor, unknown Philly boxer who beats the odds and the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. If you have never watched the Rocky movies, you have to do it. Sit down and start with Rocky 1 and don’t stop watching until you get to Rocky 32 or whatever number they are on now. For real, they could make another fifty Rocky movies and I would watch them all. I’m telling you, I’m a big fan.

In our house, it’s a cycle of about every twelve to eighteen months I have to watch the entire series. Jenna, being the perfect wife she is, gives me my space because she knows that over the next twelve hours her husband is going to experience a roller coaster of emotions. You ladies who sit and watch The Notebook with your box of tissues have nothing on me when I’m watching Rocky. I can’t help it, I’m emotionally invested. Jenna or the kids will walk in and I’ll be bouncing on the couch as I shadow box during the fight scenes while yelling, “Get your hands up Rock! HIT HIM!!!” Usually, my family backs out of the room slowly as not to make any sudden movements.

The struggle is real though. Every time I watch these movies I get all jacked, the adrenaline gets going, then Adrian goes into a coma, Mickey dies or Apollo dies—and I’m crying my eyes out. Then Paulie does or says something stupid and then I’m mad, yelling at the TV. I laugh at the same lines or scenes I’ve laughed at a million times before and yet these movies never get old to me.

I would like to think that Rocky and I are a lot alike. Okay, maybe not in the way of strength, fitness, ethnicity, ability to take a punch … especially not in body type. Not even close—I pull a hammy walking to the refrigerator during the commercials. So it’s not a physical comparison by any means. But more like in the life lessons.

Of all of the Rocky movies, Rocky 3 is my favorite. I can easily translate it into my own life—I’ve somehow made it through. I’ve had some wins and I have an idea how things work. I don’t have a ton of money but I have a handle on life and believe I can ride that wave into retirement—and then along comes Clubber Lang.

Clubber Lang represents the hardship or conflict that comes when you least expect it. You’ve grown “soft” because life has been good and you’ve forgotten what it means to fight the way you did when you were first starting out.

In Rocky 3, Rocky doesn’t take his training for his last title defense against Clubber Lang very seriously and thinks all of his past success is going to lead him to victory in the end. Then, just before the fight starts, Mickey (Rocky’s long-time trainer) has a heart attack. Rocky wants to call off the fight but Mickey won’t have it and tells him to go out there and do what he has been trained to do; fight and win. However, the fight was quick and Rocky loses his belt and in the end—he loses his trainer and friend. (I am not afraid to admit to you I bawl like a baby at this part every time. Niagara Falls!)

After all of this, no one would blame Rocky if he said ‘enough’ and retired. But Apollo talks Rocky into going to LA to train under him. As Apollo tries to work with Rocky, it becomes clear Rocky has lost his fight and this appears to be the end for him as a fighter. But, in my favorite scene in the whole movie, Adrian confronts Rocky after he quits while racing Apollo on the beach. The dialogue that happens between Rocky and Adrian in that beach scene is so powerful. I think the original version of the movie has Adrian starting the conversation with Rocky with something like, “You know, I was reading Jon Acuff’s new book Finish, and he says…” I don’t know. I may be off a bit here.


In this exchange at the beach, Adrian basically exposes Rocky’s (what Jon calls in his book) secret rules. Jon describes how we will set up these secret rules in our mind that keep us from reaching our goals or full potential. Rocky believed because he lost, he was a fake, he was really a loser, he was going to lose everything and he was the reason Mickey died. None of these things were true but Rocky believed the lies of his secret rules.

Adrian followed Jon’s three-step process on how to deal with these secret rules:

Identity them.

Destroy them.

Replace them.

For every secret rule Rocky had in this scene, Adrian shot them down and replaced them with the truth. I wish I had time to go through and break down the script with you but I’ll save you from my nerdisms.

I feel like I’ve spent most of my life like Rocky, standing on the beach stuck in my fear believing lies (secret rules) that have been holding me back from achieving greater things. But then Jon’s book comes up to me (I know books don’t actually talk or walk up to people on the beach to have a conversation but humor me for a moment) and asks, “Hey, what’s wrong?” I go through the whole spiel about what I failure I am, how I’ve never accomplished anything in my life and how afraid I am that maybe the words spoken over me as a kid (i.e. I’m just like my dad and I’ll never amount to anything) are true.

When I look at the facts, those secret rules I have been believing are destroyed. I may not be rich and famous or have some high-profile career but I have a successful marriage (twenty-four+ years now), six amazing children who I couldn’t be more proud and while I may not be as far along as I wish I was, I’m writing and people are reading what I write. That might not sound very impressive to you but it’s certainly not the other extreme of being a total failure either. Like Rocky, I had to replace what I was thinking and believing negatively with the truth that was going to move me from the beach and back into the gym.

So what can you take away from today? First, and most importantly: you have to watch or re-watch every Rocky movie ever made. You need to do it today! Second, stop believing lies that hold you back. We all have secret rules but we can’t fix them if we don’t acknowledge them. Third, go out and buy Jon Acuff’s book Finish! It is not very long but it has been an extremely influential book for me already. So if you want to beat your Clubber Lang and then go on to beat Drago and (you get the point)… go out and get Jon’s book! I’m confident you will be glad you did.

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