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The Greatest Wisdom – A Philosopher, Poet and Athlete

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” — Muhammad Ali

This morning I woke up to the news that the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali, had passed away.

My most vivid memories of him come from my childhood in the 90’s. The three things that stick out are:

  1. When he lit the fire at the Olympics in 1996. I remember me and my family renting a cabin in Finland and watching the opening ceremony.
  2. Watching a documentary about him in the early 90’s. It fascinated me how one person could be so extremely confident.
  3. Playing the video game Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing with my friend on the Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis to some of you) back in ‘93-’94.
Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing

Hearing a crowd chanting “Ali! Ali! Ali!” through digitized speech brings on the nostalgia.

I’d like to share some of his quotes and thoughts with you as well as take some time to reflect on what they’ve taught me.

“What keeps me going is goals.”

It’s easy to get stuck in life. You achieve something great yet you aren’t happy. There’s great value in having things to go for, and if you know where you’re heading you can always learn to navigate the terrain.

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.”

Often we labor under the illusion that we should “feel like” doing the things that are getting us closer to where we want to go. Well, instead of fighting our emotions, isn’t it better to accept that we’re actually not feeling like it? Feel the feels and do it anyway.

“Only a man who knows what it is like 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.”

Sometimes the fear of losing is a greater motivator than the will to win. Find out if this rings true in your case and use that energy toward something productive.

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

When we observe a master of their craft working, we just see the results. We don’t see the countless hours spent practicing and honing their craft. The same goes for us. It’s easy to say that someone’s “naturally gifted” or “lucky” when we don’t get to see the whole process.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

This doesn’t mean we should be reckless risktakers. What it does mean is that the odds aren’t always stacked in our favor, and if we don’t play how can we possibly win?

“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

This can be interpreted in several ways. The way I choose to view it is that the mountains are the mountains, we have to face them either way. We can either choose to bring along our own baggage/issues on the journey or we can choose to do something about it.

Either way the mountains aren’t going anywhere.

“I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others.”

We’re born into a certain set of circumstances and we can only go so far with what we’re given. The rest is up to how hard we’re willing to work and what we choose to believe about the world we inhabit. Leaning too far one way or the other can result in you becoming a con-artist or a sucker. The magic’s in the middle.

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

Belief in yourself is a good thing. Even deluding yourself into believing it can be (operating word being “can”) beneficial. However, you should have at least equal parts humility.

“I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”

This is something that’s really weird. If you believe something and repeat it often enough people just might start believing it too.

“It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

Here’s the clincher. Your actions and results need to confirm your statements and beliefs. Also, you probably won’t go through life undefeated but if you work hard enough, smart enough, long enough, and are lucky enough then you might one day be able to say: “I told you so!”

“My only fault is that I don’t realize how great I really am.”

This is true in two ways. We overestimate how good we are when we don’t know enough about something. Also, when we know more than we think we know we don’t realize how good we actually are. It’s basically the Dunning-Kruger effect at work.

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

Now, some might say this sounds very much like “The Secret”, and it is. There’s some validity to it in my mind. If we start paying attention to something then we’re more likely to pick it out of the crowd. Sure, it’s confirmation bias, but if we use it to keep our eyes open for possibilities to reach our goals then it serves a productive purpose.

Muhammad Ali

A life well lived.

“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

Yeah, he hit the nail on the head with this one.

“The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

Plenty of people will say that things just can’t be done, luckily history isn’t written by those people.

“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.”

Again, we sometimes face criticism and ridicule. That’s short term pain. But the journey is long and ultimately truth will win.

“My principles are more important than the money or my title.”

When our results are measured by something within ourselves they’re far more powerful than outside rewards. This is something we should all strive to find.

“To be able to give away riches is mandatory if you wish to possess them. This is the only way that you will be truly rich.”

Again, money is a nice thing to have but it’s not what gives us joy. Joy is only something we can only have if we share it.

“I wanted to use my fame and this face that everyone knows so well to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

And so you did.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Thank you for your service.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article.

Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!

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