Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s impressive career includes acting, producing, and being an award-winning, professional wrestler. Before that, he won a national championship with the University of Miami Hurricanes football team. He’s respected and adored by his many fans for both his imposing strength and endearing personal qualities. It seems like Johnson can’t make a wrong step! But his professional journey hasn’t always been so easy. Here are a couple of important lessons he learned along the way; they certainly impacted both the direction and longevity of his career path.

Follow your heart

In his teens, it was clear Johnson was a promising athlete when he played on his high school football team. He went on to play college football with The Hurricanes, but disappointingly, was passed over by the NFL. To make things worse, he was cut from the Canadian Football League team, the Calgary Stampeders, after two months of being on the practice roster as a backup linebacker. At that point, he had seven dollars in his wallet. Johnson thus experienced depression in his early 20’s, and he felt tremendously alone in his pain. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before he received a call from the football coach inviting him to return to the team. But Johnson’s intuition told him to pass on the offer; instead, he was determined to get into the wrestling business much to the dismay of his father. In fact, several members of Dwayne’s family members had careers in professional wrestling including his father and his grandfather. His dad knew the hardships associated with wrestling and urged Dwayne to stick with football, insisting, “You’re throwing it all away! It is the worst mistake you will ever make. You’re ruining your career!” Dwayne, however, felt compelled to follow his heart and take his chances with wrestling. His father agreed to train Dwayne, and the rest is World Wrestling Federation history. Indeed, “The Rock” is regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.

Be yourself

During his days in the WWF, Dwayne recalls how he experienced “great angst every night before I went out because I was not able to be myself.” He describes a humbling moment during his first Wrestlemania event saying:

“That night 20,000 fans started chanting, ‘Rocky sucks!’ It was a sobering moment, and that was the beginning of the end of my initial run in the WWE. A few weeks later, I tore a tendon in my knee and I was out for the rest of the summer. And I came to the realization before I went back that it wasn’t me personally that they didn’t like; it was that I wasn’t being me. I wasn’t being real. I wasn’t being authentic. Who was this guy in wrestling who’s smiling when he’s getting beat?”

So when he returned, amidst more chants of “Rocky sucks!” he boldly addressed the crowd saying, “In arenas across the country, I heard chants of ‘Rocky sucks!’ I may be a lot of things, but sucks isn’t one of them!” In that moment, Johnson reclaimed himself and established “The Rock” on solid ground. Indeed, The Rock took the wrestling world by storm from that point on. Johnson now says, “The greatest lesson about that is: Be you. Be yourself. Whether it’s in entertainment, whether it’s out in public, whether you’re a celebrity or not–whatever. One of the most powerful things you can be is yourself.”

These lessons surely informed Johnson as he transitioned into the world of acting and producing. Consider this: as a child, his heart was set on being an entertainer, and he believed he was a combination of Chuck Norris, Richard Pryor, Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, and Elvis. Considering the films he’s starred in, it’s clear he knew who he was right from the start. On top of it, Forbes listed Johnson at number 25 in the Top 100 Most Powerful Celebrities for the year 2013, and he’s made the top-20 list every year since.

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