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Against All Odds: Entrepreneurial Resilience and Skills in Troubled Times

Rocky II (1979) United Artists - Much like the experience of entrepreneurship, the iconic training scenes from the legendary motion picture depict struggle against great adversity to succeed and build a better future, highlighting the importance of breaking through your limitations and never giving up, despite hardship. Encapsulated in this sequence, this very same mindset is extremely critical for every entrepreneur. 

Rocky Balboa had guts. In every Rocky movie, he is forced to take stock of what he has become and throw away the former limits of comfort to rise again from the bottom as an indefatigable champion. Saying ‘guts’ was first too American, then too macho, and now it just sounds gross, but it does take guts to insist that there is something inside of you that simply won’t accept defeat,
writes Shannon Berkley. 


We complain when we have to walk back to the car to fetch something we forgot. Imagine making the decision to walk back to that car while a heavyweight tries to pummel you to the ground? That’s the Rocky signature- that even when your body is screaming and you’re so tired there’s almost no point in standing up, you still do, and no matter how feebly at first, you fight on until you win. Adversity has to be challenged and defeated; it provokes attack in you. Perhaps encapsulated best by the legendary training sequences of the motion picture, the unlimited potential of the human spirit to rise above great challenges with an indomitable, tenacious mindset in preparation for a heavyweight contest and the ability to endure through entrepreneurship, do have much in common.

If there’s a modern version that we can all understand, it surely exists in the realm of entrepreneurs. Here’s the wild, crazy thing: as an entrepreneur, you’re one step away from being a beggar in the tube! That’s the flip side of the entrepreneurial spirit. Whether it’s the bravery of knowing that and trying your hand  anyway, or the savvy of using that image to drive you to a point where you simply won’t allow yourself to fail, it’s hard to say, but entrepreneurial activity takes uncommon guts. It’s almost as though entrepreneurs don’t allow themselves the luxury of failing, that’s how hardened the resolve to succeed becomes. Much like Balboa pushing through his limits with just one more pushup, sit-up, or bench press rep with a level of focus and dedication that would eventually enable him to capture championship gold. And while it may just be a movie, the importance of an entrepreneur consistently maintaining this level of dedication to succeed, is every bit as critical as going the distance in the 12th round with Apollo Creed or Ivan Drago. 


The species ‘homo entrepreneurius’ becomes easier to identify when you realise — as most people never do — that the average entrepreneur seldom starts with a silver spoon in their mouth. Moreover, owning a business is a nightmare. Although anyone employed might express their fantasy of “owning my own business one day”, those people are deluded! They have no idea of the heartache, the ghastly body-chilling panic, and the desperate grit running your own business requires, especially if you’re novel and you’re selling a new concept. It’s enough to make grown men weep, and they often do.

Indeed, Rocky Balboa makes a good drawing board to depict what exactly it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. It was Malcolm Muggeridge who said, “Where a man stumbles, there lies his treasure.” That is probably the most accurate and poetic depiction of entrepreneurs ever written. Entrepreneurs take the same body blows as we all do, but they apply what just happened to figure out how not to let it happen again, to do better, to take dark experiences and apply them to moving forward again, and again. 

Rocky knew that if he could just get back up, his opponent’s heart would sink a little. Entrepreneurs always get back up, because they know they’re a little wiser now, and the demons are a little smaller when you do.


The first ingredient is passion. We don’t often see a successful entrepreneur sitting in a TV studio saying, “Yeah, well, I took over the business from my father, it wasn’t really my thing, you know.” Instead, entrepreneurs have a passion that allows them to imagine a route to capitalising on it. It might be dad’s business, but it usually isn’t. They see it, their vision, their end goal, and every time they catch a glimpse of it becoming real, they fall in love all over again. It’s a love affair and make no mistake — it’s an addiction. 

Although the word “passion” was killed by Cosmopolitan Magazine by the 1980s, in spite of its narrow or persistent misuse, passion is something bewitching, enthusing beyond even your physiological endurance. In the very first movie, Rocky realises what he might be capable of. In spite of his adversaries and naysayers — including the biggest one, his own internal critic — he reaches past what he knows of himself and grabs for something else. He wants it so much, so badly. That’s passion.

The second ingredient is resilience. When your passion is that big, you need a huge, mountainous cushion of resilience behind you. You cannot succumb to easy disillusionment or be a ready cry-baby. When adversity offends you and irks you, you move through it because of it. While most of us would double over and still be in the same place a year later, the successful entrepreneur welcomes adversity as a challenge. 

They might succumb to other weaknesses, but when it comes to business, they are either too dumb or too smart to realise they should accept defeat! Without resilience, Rocky wouldn’t have lasted one round. It’s a conscious decision. You choose to roll with the punches and carry on to see where your limits are — which is the exact opposite of what any sane, average person would do.


There might have been some who had an easy ride through sheer luck or great timing, but most entrepreneurs manifest an almost robotic work ethic. They might wear comfortable clothes and mill around from time to time, but the brain is always churning, thinking of what they want to accomplish. Even if their pace is genteel (and it usually isn’t), it will be a day and night grind. Most entrepreneurs live their lives out of kilter, and they have to keep reminding themselves that they need to visit friends or hit the gym to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

The work ethic of an entrepreneur can be all-consuming, because even though they understand that hard work doesn’t mean riches, they fill those hours with a great many other things that all still come back to work. 

Much like Rocky, they’re just working their way through it. He got into the ring to work, he was there to work, to do his job, and although he seemed hopelessly open and beaten at times, his style paid off in the end. The truth is that he could not have done it any other way. The entrepreneur is more aware of their work rate than others, and they get a constant mild kick out of their energy levels. In fact, many are highly competitive about it.

This brings us to the final crucial ingredient for a well-made entrepreneur: a competitive spirit. We might imagine that we all compete at least on some level with each other, but a great many people do not. They won’t naturally rise to challenges. The funny thing is that many famous serial entrepreneurs appear quite genteel and affable. Make no mistake, however, there is fierce competition burning within them, the kind that gives rise to the sheer willpower needed at times when things get rough. The prospect of losing is obnoxious to them.

It was a competitive spirit that drove Rocky on — he could not imagine anything but winning. This is also the reason why Jack Ma is one of the richest men in China. The founder of Alibaba knew almost immediately that he had launched something that just needed to add the numbers. Fiercely competitive, Ma brought the numbers to Alibaba and to his bank account. 

Ritesh Agarwal, the CEO of OYO Rooms, was just another backpacker who went right on backpacking, just from a different angle. One of the world’s youngest self-made billionaires, Agarwal always manifested a supreme confidence about what he was doing with OYO Rooms. It did not really occur to him that he might not succeed.

These four essential, non-negotiable attributes are sometimes phrased differently. Entrepreneurs are said to be tenacious, or visionary, or “strong leaders” — but when you chip all the excess away, it really comes down to the four cornerstones of successful entrepreneurship. 

The passion that demands resilience supports its pursuits, and the work ethic that will not allow itself to be outdone. They’re calm, they’re affable, they almost seem goofy at times, but these qualities are what began the journey of separation between the average successful entrepreneur and the rest of us. Just one more rep.   EG

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