As a wrestler, John Cena is known for being strong and tough. No one would ever mess with him, right?
But the truth is, they have – they did mess with him – and it’s a big part of how he ended up where he is today.
Cena is a superstar of the WWE, where he dominates the ring. But it wasn’t always that way. He was bullied in school, and it shaped him in a major way – he wouldn’t change who he is today, but he’s also taking action to prevent it from happening to other kids.
John Cena channeled his painful past
The young John Cena was a far cry from the muscled action hero we know today.
“As a young kid, 11, 12 years old, I was heavily picked on and bullied because of choices of dress and music that I listened to,” Cena shared on The Tonight Show. “I was really scrawny — really skinny and scrawny — like, 100 pounds.”
In response to the bullying, Cena started working out at just 12 years old.
Within a few years he saw results: “By the time I was 15, I was 150 pounds, and by the time I was 17, I was 225 pounds. So needless to say, I wasn’t being picked on.”
Despite his reputation as a fighter thanks to his time with WWE and his action movie roles, Cena never tried to confront his bullies with violence or aggression. Instead, he turned the pressure he felt into something productive.
Never once did I ever get back at any of those guys. As horrible as a time that it was for me, it was a catalyst for me to find a passion of my life. Everybody goes through those moments of self-doubt.
Even if the bullying paused in high school, it never truly ended
WWE is known for its hyper-macho environment, so it’s rare to see this level of sensitivity and compassion publicly displayed in a superstar.
“I am one of the few superstars in the WWE that has been bold enough to show loss and to show humility,” said Cena. “Usually, we focus on trying to be as dominant as we possibly can because it is an environment where machismo just thrives.”
He catches heat for being vulnerable
Bullying has always been common, but in recent years, it has become more visible than ever. Cena has witnessed this firsthand due to online attacks.
He believes social media is making bullying even more insidious because kids have to deal with a wider circle of potential bullies. That makes being a teenager harder than ever.
“I haven’t really run into a lot of folks that say that they weren’t bullied as a kid. Nowadays, especially with social media, there is a lot of bullying going on,” said Cena. “But, I go back to my high school dynamic and there were like two kids who bullied people and they bullied everybody.”
Cena is determined to channel his own experience with bullying into encouraging kids who are being bullied to value their own differences and self-worth no matter what.
How he’s paying it forward
“I get hit hard with a lot of resentment for who I am and how I act and what I do, and I think that is a really strong message to send,” he said in an interview with Huffington Post.
This is encouraging people to just say, F it, come as you are it’s okay to be who you are and you don’t have to conform to someone just because they say negative things about you or not approve of how you are.
A big part of the anti-bullying campaign focused becoming comfortable in your own shoes, something that Cena struggled with growing up.
“I really never socially matched that well with kids as an adolescent or early teenager. Never once did I waver or try to conform like a group philosophy. I was always pretty much an oddball. But, I did feel comfortable in my shoes, I just got a lot of heat for it,” said Cena in the HuffPost interview.
What we can learn from John
In his new film Playing With Fire, Cena plays fireman Jake Carson, who is forced to babysit three rambunctious siblings and discovers that while he’s used to the big scary fires, parenting is a lot scarier! It’s a comedy but it also tells a story about evolving as a human.
“I’ve done the best to work on myself and try to evolve out of that culture of hiding emotions and feelings by just avoiding,” he told Good Housekeeping.
At the end of the day, no matter what your role in life, success is about about being true to who you are, regardless of those who may criticize you.
“It’s foolishly [a] sports cliché, but I just try to keep my feet planted where I’m at, and live in the today and now, and just do the best with the now. That hasn’t failed me over my entire life,” he said to Good Housekeeping.
More inspiring celebrities: