Routinely, they defy the odds, pushing their mind and bodies to the limit for one reason – they know the impossible is possible. We were reminded of this last week upon the passing of Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all time.
This is something Ali proudly said – I am the greatest – after defeating then-heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in a technical knockout in 1964.
It’s said that confidence is born out of success. But with Ali, it might be that success was born out of confidence.
To be great at anything, you must believe you can. Even against all odds. Or when you’re on the ropes.
There’s a story that George Foreman tells about the time he faced Ali during the Rumble in the Jungle in 1974. “At one point, in the sixth,” Foreman said in an interview with the LA Times, “I hit him with maybe the best shot I ever got off. He kind of leaned on me and whispered in my ear, ‘George, is that all you got?”
“I remember thinking, ‘Yup, that’s about it,” Foreman continued.
Both in the ring and outside it, Ali was great because he believed he was.
That should not be confused with perfection, something the great one understood, once telling Playboy magazine that, “the man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” Ali knew he was not infallible. He knew he was human.
But at his craft - boxing, and later in promoting civil rights and world peace – he knew he was great.
He spoke about it poetically – “I’m so mean, I make medicine sick,” he once said – but also in more simple terms: “Braggin’ is when a person says something and can’t do it. I do what I say.”
Time and time again, Ali did what he said because of his belief in himself.
In the wake of his death, there are many lessons we can learn from how Ali approached his life. But this one may be the most important – to do great things, you must believe you can.
It is why Kilian Martin is such a spectacular skateboarder. It is why Andrew Hamilton climbed 58 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains in under 10 days. They have a confidence in themselves that they can achieve what they’ve set their mind to.
Ali once said, “a man who has no imagination has no wings.”
We hope all of you reading this take some time to contemplate Muhammad Ali’s legacy. We hope you tap into your imagination and find your wings. And always dare to be great.