Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, in Louisville Kentucky, 1942, the man known as “The Greatest: Muhammad Ali” was pronounced dead today, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.
He told himself he was the greatest before he ever was. He worked harder, longer, smarter than anyone else. He overcame every obstacle and disadvantage the world had set before him before birth, and after. He was hated, he was loved. But he said he was The Greatest before he ever was; and he became what he said. He became the greatest.
I am a person of habit. Today, Saturday morning the 4th June, I woke up, made my coffee: milk, no sugar. I turned on my iPad to see the day’s news. And there it was. One of the most audacious, inspirational men of our generation, a black man, who dared to be the best. Today he is gone.
Growing up with my mother, an avid (closet) boxing fan, I knew that I could not stay silent about this. I knew this news would shake up my household, at least a little. And I knew, almost as a duty, that I need to honour his memory; and his life.
Such is the nature of life. We are here today; gone tomorrow. But his memory will live on; it must live on. This is my contribution: what I have learned from Mr Ali, the vital lessons for life that I hope will never be lost. Not on this generation, nor the next.
- From birth, the world will try to tell you who you are. You define your identity; you define who you are.
“My name is not Clay. Clay is the name of the people who owned my ancestors. My name is Cassius X.”
Mr Ali had a unique ability to see the world beyond his disadvantages. He decided he would shape his life the way that he wanted, regardless of if any had done so successfully before him. He rejected the identity society placed on him; and he rejected it wholly.
He decided that he, and only he, would define his destiny. He fought the status quo. He tried to please no one.
“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”
A beautiful motto, and if any, word for word, it is one to live by.
- Never, ever give up.
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit’. Suffer now and live he rest of your life as a champion.”
Do what you dislike, and do it first. If you have the audacity to dream big, if you have the audacity to see yourself achieving your ultimate goal in your mind’s eye; you had better be willing to work hard, make great sacrifices and be very uncomfortable along the way.
“I’ve been everywhere in the world, seen everything, had everything a man can have.”
In my opinion, it is vital to actively exercise gratitude. I keep a gratitude journal; and have found that focusing on what I have, on my blessings, helps me to position and orientate my mind in the direction of my goals, but more importantly, steer it away from negativity, thoughts of inadequacy, complaints and excuses.
Actively practicing gratitude helps me to get my focus right.
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out: it’s the pebble in your shoe.”
- Failure only makes you stronger; so long as you do not fail in your mind.
“Only a man who knows what it is to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”
In life you will experience many failures; unless you never put yourself in the position to fail. If you are in the ring, you will, at some point be defeated. But an incident of defeat should never create a personality of defeat. Defeat should never be internalized in that way. You have only truly lost once you have lost the battle of will, heart and mind.
I learned this the hard way. But sometimes, the hard way is the best way to learn.
- Set your mind to your goals and then align your words
My favourite Muhammad Ali quote of all time:
“I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”
Great words spoken by a great man, who knew something that the world at large did not. I have no doubt that his lessons, and legacy will live on. And, that each one of us, in this short, fickle affair we call life, will be able to use it to impact others after us. That our time on this earth will not be wasted. But that it will be an asset to our families, communities and mankind.
As was the life of the The Greatest, Mr Muhammad Ali.