Rocky Balboa on Rivals

If you’re reading this article, there’s a strong likelihood that you are an overachiever. You are constantly seeking wisdom and the opportunity to improve your skills. You are also aware that as great as book knowledge can be, sometimes we need a rival to push us. And who’s been pushed more than Rocky Balboa?

Rocky “the Italian Stallion” Balboa is a boxing legend. If you know of his tales, then you are aware of the hard work he put into earning the top title. Unbeknownst to Rocky, after becoming the world heavyweight champion, his manager started to pit him against challengers who were good, but not great, fighters. Once Rocky found out, he was determined to go up against another powerhouse, i.e. James “Clubber” Lang. When they fought, Rocky lost… badly.

What happened? How does the best boxer in the world get humiliated while at the (supposed) top of his game? Like many leaders, Rocky got too comfortable.

Success is a dangerous elixir. It makes you feel good but it can also harbor a sense of invincibility. With success, we are no longer faced with the same challenges that were unavoidable on our rise to glory. It is at these times of comfort when we need to seek qualified challengers. This theory is supported by research out of New York University’s Stern School of Business, which found that

we can boost our levels of motivation and performance by either forming rivalries or harnessing the ones we already have.

After losing to Clubber, Rocky found guidance in an old rival, Apollo Creed. Apollo was the former champion who Rocky unseated a few years back. Apollo was no longer in fighting shape (as we — spoiler alert — learn in the next movie) but he was the most veracious adversary Rocky had ever faced. With his experience, Apollo understood what Rocky was feeling, knew how to motivate him, and was able to coach Rocky to victory.

So who challenges you? Here are a few hints to finding your rivals:

If you expect to be contested by those who follow you, think again. They may provide some opposition, but they are likely to hold back. Self-preservation dictates that they can only push you so far. You need to find people who not beholden to you for a job, opportunity, or any type of incentive.

If you keep beating your opponent, you picked the wrong person. This is not about ego building, it’s suppose to be skill building.

If you keep losing to your opponent, either start winning or find a more even match. There’s a lot to learn from losing, as long as you’re learning something. The intent is to make you better. If their skill is beyond your capacity, circle back when you are more prepared.

When you attain success, it is easy to start padding your life in the same way Rocky’s manager padded his roster. You can either wait to be unseated or fight everyday to retain your title. The challengers are never ending; the right rivals will ensure that you are prepared.