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Gurbaksh Chahal: Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Lessons Can Apply to Entrepreneurs

Here's what he can teach us.

Muhammad Ali was a fighter. In every sense of the word. Not just in the boxing ring but in the ring of life. When he passed away three years ago, social media lit up around the world to mourn the passing of this iconic legend and to celebrate his life.

Tributes poured in from every corner of the globe and from people in all walks of life. From presidents to street people, everyone has such vivid recollections of a man who was not only the most celebrated boxer of all time, or the most celebrated sportsman, but also one of the most celebrated human beings of the last century.

Every article you read will carry at least one of his most memorable quotes like “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” or “I am the greatest.” It doesn’t matter how old we are or where we were born on this planet we all know Ali and what he accomplished. Quite possibly he’s the most recognized person in the world. He transcends sport, politics, religion, health and business. He made his mark in so many diverse ways.

But, as I thought today about the life of the three-time former world champion I thought about the things he said and the examples he set that apply to anyone embarking on an entrepreneurial journey.

Be disciplined. Work hard.

Ali didn’t become the best in the world by accident. Or through raw talent alone. He worked. He worked hard. He had a grueling training schedule and never let up on himself. He definitely wasn’t a quitter.

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

Fight for your beliefs.

Ali had the strength of his convictions. He stuck to his guns. And wouldn’t be swayed. Even when he knew his comments and decisions would be highly controversial like when he refused the call-up to fight in Vietnam.

He said, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

Believe in yourself.

We all know that Ali famously declared he was the greatest. He said it after beating Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship of the world at the same time as he declared himself “king of the world.” But he’d said it many times before earning the title as a way of motivating and reinforcing his belief that he had what it took to deserve the accolade.

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

Dream the “Impossible.”

Ali had no time for small-thinkers. He didn’t want to hear the word no. In his mind anything and everything was achievable. Nothing should hold us back. He said, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.”

He also said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”

Be creative.

Ali’s boxing style had never been seen before. There was his articulate trash-talking—designed to out-psych his opponents outside of the ring. And there was his never-seen-before style in the ring epitomized by his famous quote ahead of the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” victory over George Foreman: “Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee, your hands can’t hit, what your eyes can’t see.”

He also said, “The man with no imagination has no wings.”

Never stop fighting.

Ali fought throughout his life. His decades-long battle with Parkinson’s disease—a fight he inevitably could not win—was fought with grace, dignity, courage and perhaps, above all, while retaining his wonderful sense of humor. Ultimately his body withered and the famous “motor mouth” was silenced. But he was never bitter about the impact of the disease.

He said, “I never ask, ‘Why me?’ There’s so much good. I’ve been so blessed. God tries you. Some things are good. Some things are bad. All of them are trials.”

Take chances. Evolve.

Be willing to step away from conformity. Be willing to undertake new endeavors. Don’t let people keep you in a box. Ali felt that you should not count the days of your life but make the days count. He felt that life was useless unless you took chances and continued to grow and evolve. He once said, “A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

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

Inspire others

Ali was not content with becoming one of the most famous people on the planet. He wanted his success to mean something. He didn’t want people to be awed by his remarkable life story; he wanted them to be inspired to get off the couch and do something.

He said, “I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer. More than just the three-time heavyweight champion. I wanted to use my fame, and this face that everyone knows so well, to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

Give back.

Since retiring from boxing Ali devoted himself to good causes, globally promoting peace and civil rights, inter-faith relationships, feeding the hungry, and curing diseases. He visited countless soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped organizations ranging from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics to his own Parkinson’s programs.

Ali said, “Do good deeds. Visit hospitals. Judgment Day coming. Wake up and it’s Judgment Day.”

Judgment Day did end up arriving. As Mike Tyson said, “God came for his champion.”

RIP Muhammad Ali. Humanitarian and hero.

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