Arnold Schwarzenegger has been famous for so long, it’s easy to take for granted just how difficult his road to stardom was.
Yet he has struggled with anxiety his entire life; one that began with a violent childhood in his native Austria.
His father Gustav was an alcoholic prone to fits of rage, In addition to pitting his older son against Arnold, Gustav himself routinely and violently beat the young boy with belts. Arnold later described this treatment as “child abuse”. Arnold later refused to attend his funerals of either his father or brother.
As an escape from home life, Arnold turned to the movies, most notably those starring bodybuilder Reg Parker. A gangly, unathletic child, he became fueled by dreams of moving to America -- and becoming a famous bodybuilder.
Determination would become a massive part of Arnold’s psychological make-up. He was so focused, that while serving in the Austrian army, he went AWOL during basic training to compete in the Junior Mr. Europe competition. He spent a week in military prison for his action. And he won the contest.
By now, Arnold was growing obsessed with making it in America. Getting there was a problem for a kid just out of his teens, who barely spoke English and had no money. After becoming the youngest ever Mr. Universe at 20 (the first of three straight titles), he was encouraged to move to America and train with legendary coach Joe Weider.
He studied English and set his sights on the ultimate bodybuilding prize; Mr. Olympia. And after becoming the youngest ever to hold that title, he proceeded to win it an unprecedented six straight years. Arnold was largely responsible for propelling bodybuilding into the mainstream.
Yet, reaching the heights of his sport was only the first part of his plan. In fact, even before he moved to America, he told people he was going to be a famous actor.
Now let’s put all this into perspective. He made his acting debut in 1970’s Hercules in New York (under the stage name Arnold Strong), yet his accent was so thick that his lines had to be dubbed by another actor. And in his second film appearance, he played a deaf-mute hitman.
It was very difficult for me in the beginning – I was told by agents and casting people that my body was 'too weird', that I had a funny accent, and that my name was too long. You name it, and they told me I had to change it. Basically, everywhere I turned, I was told that I had no chance.
He would endure over a decade of bit parts in films and television before landing his breakout role in 1982’s Conan The Barbarian. And with 1984’s The Terminator, he would become a household name.
Drink that in. A guy with a thick Austrian accent -- who came from the unlikely world of bodybuilding no less – became the biggest movie star in the world by the early 1990's.
And in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the 38th governor of the State of California, where he was responsible for overseeing the 6th largest economy on earth.
This all sounds completely improbable, except to the man himself. Arnold’s incredible life is a testament to ambition, relentless work ethic, will power and, most of all, an unshakable self-confidence.
And when you’re facing struggles in your own life, just remember the skinny kid with a weird name and strange accent who conquered the world.