Success stories don’t get much bigger than his. A skinny kid in rural Austria grows and grows and grows to conquer bodybuilding like no one had before. And then, against all odds, the muscleman with a thick accent and hard-to-spell name again ascends from the bottom to the top—to the peak of Hollywood fame and fortune. And then this immigrant ascends to political office, elected and re-elected as governor of California. So when Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals his secrets for success, you’d better pay close attention.

Arnold outlined “six rules” for success in his 2009 USC commencement speech. We’ve incorporated them and added six more life lessons he learned over his 17-year competitive bodybuilding career. We trace the seven-time Mr. Olympia’s journey from his first workout to his final contest. 

These are the 12 rules that fueled his climb to higher heights than anyone—besides the ever-optimistic Arnold himself—could’ve imagined.