Dwayne Johnson on the Gridiron Guru Who Changed His Life
"I should have been in prison. Then I met... my football coach."
Dwayne Johnson is pretty good at evolving. Growing up, he was a punk who didn’t care about anything. Then he was a football player, then a pro wrestler, a stand-up comedian, and now he’s the biggest movie star on the planet, a rare talent who is equally at home in R-rated action movies as he is in feel-good Disney fare (like last year’s big hit, Moana, in which he also croons the catchy tune, “You’re Welcome”). By 2016, the 45-year-old was the highest-paid man in Hollywood and People’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” Fast forward to today, and his legions of fans want him to run for president.
With a multitude of production projects in the works via his “Seven Bucks Productions,” named for all the money he had in his pocket when he launched his entertainment career, the Baywatch star and social media phenomenon paused to share a life lesson he never forgot from one man long ago:
“I was arrested nine times by the time I was 17. Theft, assault, fighting. By all means, I should have been in prison. But then I met a guy who cared about me enough to say, ‘I want you to come out for the football team.’ He would eventually become my football coach.
“I didn’t want anything to do with it. But it was the choice of going out for the football team or continuing to see my mom cry because of things I’d do. We didn’t have anything—we were poor, in a $500-a-month apartment, so there was always drama, and I realized I was just adding to the drama. A good man helped me and taught me something that changed my life: Getting better every day is a mindset. You apply it and you go in increments.
“My goal has always been to grow, and this started back in high school, and even more so when I got to the University of Miami for football: I’m gonna go out and work my ass off for my dinner. It’s that simple. Taking that mentality of growth, setting the goal, attaining the goal, setting another goal, failing at that, dealing with the failure, trying to remain focused, was extremely difficult as a student athlete. Then I took that mentality into professional football when I played in the Canadian Football League. And when I got into wresting. And into life, by the way. Always try to improve, always try to get better.
“I laugh a lot about this, because I’ve failed a lot more than I’ve succeeded. It just happens that my big successes are recorded for public viewing. The thing is, success has to be approached incrementally, in stages. When I eventually went to Hollywood, the only material l had was the material from wrestling. Still, it was 4 hours of live television every week, which was incredibly difficult. These long monologues I would write were comedy. I would do them in front of 50,000 people, and sometimes they killed. Then sometimes it was like somebody farted in church. Awful!
“That’s how I would convince entertainment bosses—in very small increments-that I could be more than a wrestler. Suddenly I’m getting ready to host Saturday Night Live for the first time. That opened up a lot of doors for me. Then The Scorpion King happened, and The Rundown, Walking Tall, and then I played a gay, country-music-singing cowboy in Be Cool. That’s a long way from the football field.
Increments, you see. That’s the process of evolution.”
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