Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Extremist

Article excerpt

I constructed a case study I will present in a bit to illustrate to students - I am thinking of teenagers - some ideas I have about their becoming more successful academically and otherwise. In putting this together, I drew on some reading I have done about Arnold Schwarzenegger. I must admit I have been rather harshly criticized for selecting him as a positive example ("That cigar-smoking macho jerk?" "Isn't there a better way to make your point than through a self-promoting narcissist tightening up his waist?"). I understand people's objections. I certainly don't contend that Schwarzenegger epitomizes everything virtuous, but I do admire him nevertheless. He has transformed himself in remarkable ways and gotten over some major hurdles in his life. It seems to me that this is to be respected even if we may find fault with the ends he has sought to achieve. Perhaps we can learn from him without accepting all of the package, so to speak, and it could be that his fame will provoke young male students in particular to pay attention to the useful lessons his life example offers.

Personally, I have always been intrigued by excessiveness, in whatever form it takes, and by the possibility of learning from people who are driven, who test their own outer boundaries as an individual. How do they see themselves? Why do they do these things? What results from it? For example, I was fascinated by accounts of the film director Francis Coppola filming "Apocalypse Now" years ago. He was consumed by that work, engulfed by it, gave every ounce of himself to it, went perhaps dangerously beyond his physical and emotional limits for his art. I recall Schwarzenegger talking about doing a bodybuilding exercise until he vomited or passed out. To me, these kind of investments of oneself are worth exploring in a world in which so many do a little of this and a little of that and live with minor pleasures and satisfactions and nothing really matters all that much. Of course that includes students in school - and, for that matter, not a few teachers.

It was out of that general interest, then, that I wrote the following case study and addressed it to the student. See if there's anything of value you can draw from it. Perhaps it will stimulate you to think more about the processes of accomplishment and going past one's current levels of functioning and the personal issues involved (What do I go all out to achieve? Why should I bother doing anything very hard? Is there anything that deserves my passion and total commitment?). I hope the next paragraphs will encourage you to put together case studies of your own to use as positive examples for students and yourself.

Confronting a Personal Limitation

You know Arnold Schwarzenegger from his action movies. What you may not know is that he is also a successful businessman and that when he was younger he was probably the best bodybuilder of all time. Among many other victories, he worn six consecutive Mr. Olympia titles, the major international competition for professional bodybuilders. I remember reading his account of how he trained to win those championships. I was particularly impressed with how he dealt with a flaw or weak point of his. It turns out that Arnold had a limitation: His waist was not as well defined, as muscular, as it needed to be to win the competition. I'll tell you how he handled this problem. Let's see what we can learn from it about dealing with our own limitations - we all have them.

First, Arnold didn't kid himself. He saw his waist exactly as it was. He also saw it in relation to the standard of excellence in body-building. He saw how strong his stomach area was compared to his competitors. In other words, he was realistic. However, he did not let reality get him down. He didn't stew over his inadequacy, feel angry at himself or sorry for himself, blame his parents for passing on a bad waist to him, complain about trainers not providing him with proper exercises in the past or now, or endlessly analyze and talk about it. …