The new year is a time of reinvention — so at Selfmade, we wanted the first profile of the year in our magazine to be of a master of reinvention. Someone who has changed directions and found success enough times for several lifetimes. And if you’ve watched any of the 50 movies he’s starred in; if you ever watched the news in the 2000s, have ever set foot in a gym, or even just know one impression—it’s someone whose name we don’t even need to mention. Because Arnold Shwarzenegger is, without exaggeration, a living legend.
He’s been a champion bodybuilder, an actor, a businessman, even Governor of California. Today, his net worth is estimated to be over $400 million USD, in spite of being born in a different country, speaking a different language, with nothing to his name. And even today at the age of 73, he’s still bringing his iconic style to blockbusters, in spite of being wealthy enough to never have to work a day in his life. But Arnold Schwarzenegger had a vision in his mind from the beginning—and each time he accomplished it, he set his sights higher, climbing the steps out of obscurity with every reinvention, all the way up to being a household name in every industry he pursued.
An Origin, and an Accent
Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in the tiny village of Thal, Austria in 1947. His father was the local police chief, and was incredibly strict with Arnold and his brother Meinhard. All through his childhood, Arnold had to wake up at 6AM and fetch milk from the local farmer. Then, he had to do morning exercises before he was allowed to eat breakfast, and then it was on to school. When he and his brother got home, they had to do their chores and then play soccer, no matter what the weather was outside. At the age of 10, Arnold joined a local soccer team, and began playing competitively.
That’s where Arnold first discovered his love of weightlifting. When he was 15 years, Arnold’s coach started requiring the boys on the team to lift weights at the gym—but only for an hour a week. Arnold took it farther. A lot farther.
Visualizing your goal and going after it makes it fun. You’ve got to have a purpose, no matter what you do in life.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
He put pictures of muscled, shirtless men on his wall. He started imagining with a huge, muscular physique, and then dreamed of becoming a bodybuilder. He began to work out every single day, and even broke into the gym when it was closed on Sunday. He took it so seriously that his parents worried about him and took him to a psychiatrist. The doctor told his parents that Arnold was young, and would eventually get over this obsession with physique. He could not have been more wrong.
This was not a phase. It was Arnold’s vision to be a bodybuilder, and he had the drive to put in the work to make it happen—and more. He knew of actors who had started off as bodybuilders, then landed roles as actors in films as heroic characters. So even as he began to prepare for a career as a bodybuilder, he already began imagining his next pivot: moving to the United States, and starring in Hollywood films.
Building a Champion
Arnold was not just obsessed with becoming a bodybuilder – he was obsessed with becoming a Champion. So much so that he would spend 5 hours a day in the gym. His friends always asked him why he was smiling. How could he look so happy, when he worked so hard? For Arnold, it was all because he was working towards his goal. He could see the image in his mind of winning competitions, and every rep brought him closer to achieving his dream.
In 1965, Arnold was required to fulfill one year of military service in the Austrian army. He was 200 pounds, and actively trying to pursue his bodybuilding career. So, in the middle of his service when he received an invitation to the Mr. Europe contest in Stuttgart, Germany, he did what he had to, in order to compete. He snuck out of basic training with only the clothes on his back and almost no money in his pocket, and boarded a train to Germany. When he arrived, in order to compete he had to ask another bodybuilder if he could borrow their spare trunks and tanning oil. He was allowed to. And then he won the competition, and was crowned Jr. Mr. Europe.
What we face may look insurmountable. But what I learned is that we are stronger than we know.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
But when Arnold returned to basic training, he wasn’t met with celebration. He had broken the rules, and had to pay the consequences. Arnold was jailed for 7 days, sleeping on a cold bench with barely any food. But once his punishment was over, he became a golden example for his fellow soldiers, and even earned the respect of his superior officers for winning Mr. Europe on behalf of Austria.
When his time in the army was over, Arnold Schwarzenegger went to work as a fitness instructor in Munich, Germany, until he could travel to London to compete in the Mr. Universe competition. He was broke, and barely spoke English at the time. But as soon as he arrived, he was swarmed by fans who recognized him from the Mr. Europe competition. He had already earned the nickname “the monster from Munich”, but when he finally competed in 1966, he lost. To Arnold, this didn’t change a thing. He continued to train, and came back just one year later to compete at the age of 20. He won, and became the youngest Mr. Universe ever.
From Bodybuilding to the Big Screen
For Arnold, this was only the first chapter. The next began when a bodybuilding guru named Joe Weider called him on the phone. He invited Arnold to the United States so that he could be on the cover of Body Builder Magazine, and compete in the IFBB Mr. Universe Competition in Miami. In 1968, 22-year old Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in the United States with only $20 in his pocket, and a duffle bag filled with gym clothes. Joe Weider paid him for the photos in the magazine, which was just enough to get a tiny apartment in Venice Beach, California.
At first, Arnold thought that he might only stay in the US for a year before returning to Europe. But he soon found a community of like-minded individuals, and found friends in the other famous bodybuilders at Gold’s Gym in Los Angeles. He realized that there were so many opportunities for him to continue his career in the United States, that he couldn’t leave.
Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
Two years later in 1970, Arnold got even bigger. He won Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and Mr. Olympia. Then Joe Weider called him again—this time offering him the opportunity to audition for the role of Hercules in an upcoming film called Hercules Goes to New York. But much like his loss at the 1966 Mr. Universe, it wasn’t going to be an effortless introduction to movie fame. At the time, Hollywood producers said that Arnold’s name was too long and too “foreign.” And they hated his accent. So while he ultimately got the part, all of his lines were dubbed over by another actor, and he was given the stage name “Arnold Strong.”
This was not part of Arnold’s vision of success—people telling him that his Austrian accent was off-putting for American audiences. That the body that made him famous was now too much of an “unusual build”. Agencies did everything but say outright that Arnold would never become a successful actor. But this didn’t change his vision a bit, because Arnold had heard it all before. Growing up in Austria, he had been told that he could “never” be a champion bodybuilder, and he proved everyone wrong. This was going to be just like that. Arnold was paid just $10,000 for his first movie. He used the money as a down payment to buy a California home, and start looking for his next film.
Brawn and a Business Degree
In 1974, Arnold began receiving acting lessons a few nights per week—in spite of the fact that during this time, he was working out 5 hours a day at the gym, going to college, and had a full-time job. But his hustle paid off, because with those lessons under his belt he scored the part of Joe Santo in the movie Stay Hungry. This won him a Golden Globe for “best newcomer”, and the rest is history—over the years he starred in The Terminator, Predator, Total Recall, True Lies, and many more, grossing billions at the box office.
But while his acting career is what initially brought Arnold Schwarzeneger fame, his success there was actually in part due to the business ventures he built for himself over the years. When he graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a business degree, he became a successful real estate investor. Not to mention that over the years he also wrote best-selling biographies, taught courses and made training videos.
Since he was making money from other revenue streams, during his career Arnold was able to turn down more embarrassing roles that he was offered, and only say “yes” to acting jobs that were interesting to him. Which is part of how Arnold became so legendary — he was known for only appearing in blockbuster hits, which gave him a reputation in the industry. Eventually, he began receiving millions of dollars to star in movies.
For me, life is continuously being hungry. The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Biggest Man in Politics
But Arnold wasn’t done. After becoming a successful bodybuilder, actor, and businessman again, he set his sights higher. It began in earnest when president George W. Bush appointed Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Chairman of the Presidents’ Council on Physical Fitness. Normally, this was a symbolic role, but Arnold was so honored to have the title that he traveled to all 50 states to teach children about the importance of physical fitness. He also became involved in The Special Olympics, and went on to organize and fund their Annual Inner City Games and the After School Care Program.
Then in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his next big reinvention: he was running to become the next Governor of California. There were many people who thought it was a joke, and many who opposed his campaign. He began to receive a lot of hate from strangers. But it was the same as with the start to his bodybuilding career, and his acting career, so Arnold shrugged it off. One day, someone threw an egg at him while he was making a public appearance. He simply smiled and laughed, saying, “Hey! I ordered bacon with those eggs!”
In the early 2000s, Arnold was one of the only governors who took environmental issues seriously. In 2006, he signed the Global Warming Solutions Act, which made California the very first state to put a cap on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Many other states would soon follow in his footsteps as the years went on.
But even after finishing his term as governor, Arnold wasn’t ready to retire. Instead, he wanted an acting comeback: he returned to starring in action films and has since been in The Expendables, Sabotage, Terminator 5, and more. At 73 years old, Arnold continues to enjoy his life to the fullest, still focused on pursuing his vision at every phase.
If you want to turn a vision into reality, you have to give 100% and never stop believing in your dream.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold may have come from nothing, but he is proof that for the Selfmade, the origins rarely matter. All his life, he was told that he would never achieve his dreams. He was either too poor, too foreign, or too strange. But with his unwavering commitment to his vision, and the willingness to outwork anyone alive, Arnold was able to make his differences his strengths, and achieve even more in real life than his characters did in the movies.