Have you ever been broke? I mean flat-out-of-options, can’t-afford-your-next-meal, bills-piling-up; debtors-on-your-tail broke? Have you ever been so broke that you’ve found yourself walking by the roadside, envying those who can afford a trotro?
Today, I want to tell you about a man who has been even more unfortunate than that.
In fact, this guy had been unfortunate since birth. The forceps used by the doctors to pull him out of his mother’s womb had pinched a nerve, leaving him with a permanently droopy face and slurred speech.
His parents had split up while he was just a kid, and he had been forced to spent time in foster homes growing up.
He had the opportunity to go to college, but he dropped out and moved to New York in the seventies, where he got married and tried to make it as an actor. In spite of hundreds of auditions, he just couldn’t find roles, so he started writing scripts, but nobody would buy his work.
The situation became desperate. His account and pockets were empty, he was behind on all his bills and dodging his creditors, but worst of all, he didn’t even have enough money to buy the next meal. At the end of his tether, he stole his wife’s jewellery and sold it to get little food and pay a few bills. That didn’t last very long either.
Then one day, he stopped in a bar to watch Mohammed Ali beating a boxer called Chuck Wepner. In spite of the thrashing Ali was giving him, Wepner kept coming. Something about it struck a chord with the young man. He saw himself in the resilient boxer, and this inspired him to write a story about a talented loser who never gave up no matter how hard life got.
This screenplay immediately attracted the attention of producers and they offered him $100,000 for it. At this point, his wife was pregnant, and he was still flat-out broke. In fact, this time, it was so bad that he’d had to sell his dog to a stranger outside a liquor store for $50 dollars, just so he could put food on the table for one more day.
Now, I wonder what you would do if you were flat-out broke and someone offered you $100,000. Well, this guy declined. He insisted he would only sell them the script if they made him play the lead role.
The producers were not interested in casting an unwashed writer with a droopy face and slurred speech as the hero of their movie, so they offered him more money for the script, hoping that would change his mind about acting. It did not.
The producers offered as much as $400,000 for his screenplay, but the manwould not budge. He insisted he was an actor, and that nobody could play the part better than he could. Finally, the producers gave in, but to protect themselves from financial loss if the movie failed, they paid him just $25,000, instead of $400,000.
At this point, I’m sure expressions like “tsitsinto”, “b3ll3-ngo”, “mumu”and (for the more upmarket ones among you) “blithering idiot” are passing through your mind, aren’t they?
Who in their right minds would steal their wife’s jewellery, sell their family pet, and then turn down almost half a million dollars, just so they could attempt to act with adroopy face and slurred speech?
Well, what if I told you that the script was for a movie called “Rocky”, and the stubborn, droopy-faced writer who insisted he was an actor, was Sylvester Stallone? Would you still consider him a blithering idiot?
My friends, when you dream, when you picture the person you wish to be someday, do you sometimes wonder whether you have what it takes to make it? Do you look at those who have achieved your dreams and consider yourself not up to their standard? Do you place a lower value on yourself than those you aspire to become?
In our part of the world, we are taught to be humble, and not to think much of ourselves. We are taught not only to respect our elders, but our betters. Today, I want to ask you, who exactly are your betters? Who is better than you?
This was the conviction with which Sylvester Stallone battled to play the role of Rocky Balboa in a movie that spurned six blockbuster sequels, ten academy award nominations, and 1.17 billion dollars in the box office.
Sylvester Stallone turned down $400,000 in exchange for the chance to play this role. Today, the actor is worth 400 million dollars (not such a tsitsinto now, is he?)! All because even in desperate times, he never devalued himself.
Poverty and desperation can make us do interesting things. It can make us sign all kinds of deals with all kinds of devils. It can make us compromise our values, our integrity and our scruples, shaving off millions from what we are really worth.
How else can you explain leaders of a rich nation like Ghana, signing dubious deals to give away our precious resources for peanuts, just so they can get kickbacks? How else can you explain journalists receiving money, cars and houses in exchange for their objectivity?
Today, I want you to remember that you and you alone can decide what your value is in this world. You control the supply of your skills, strength, and time, so set your price high, and never compromise your value, no matter how tough times get. God made only one of you. That makes you the rarest thing on the planet. That makes you priceless. Act accordingly.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and nobody can be Kojo Yankson better than me.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!