15 Life Lessons From Muhammad Ali To Help You Conceive, Believe, And Achieve

Ali was as full of lifechanging wisdom as he was delightful quips.

June 04, 2016
15 Life Lessons From Muhammad Ali To Help You Conceive, Believe, And Achieve Kent Gavin / Getty

Muhammad Ali was always more than a boxer. He was a member of a (still) misunderstood religious sect. He was a pacifist. He was a father, son, and husband. He was a black man. These various identities never seemed to clash within him. Ali was certain of who he was and what he represented not just to himself, but to the millions people who looked up to him as both a source of wisdom and a good laugh. Though his work may be done, the struggle is far from over. Here, some of Ali's most profound quips to help us all make it through.


1. Tend to your problems at home first.

"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? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years." — Ali on his decision to avoid the draft at a fair housing rally in Louisville, KY

2. It's okay to lose...

"I never thought of losing, but now that it's happened, the only thing is to do it right. That's my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life." — On losing to Ken Norton in 1973

3. ... and it's important to make a comeback.

"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."

4. Give when and where you can.

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

5. Nothing is impossible.

“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. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

6. It's okay to grow up.

"A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

7. You are not the job you do or what people think of you.

"They stand around and say, ‘Good fight, boy: you’re a good boy; good goin’. They don’t look at fighters to have brains. They don’t look at fighters to be businessmen, or human, or intelligent. Fighters are just brutes that come to entertain the rich white people. Beat up on each other and break each other’s noses, and bleed, and show off like two little monkeys for the crowd, killing each other for the crowd. And half the crowd is white. We’re just like two slaves in that ring. The masters get two of us big old black slaves and let us fight it out while they bet: ‘My slave can whup your slave.’ That’s what I see when I see two black people fighting.”

8. Who you are is defined by what you believe in.

"Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them, a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill"

9. Friendship really is magic.

"Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything."

10. Put yourself out there.

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

11. Sometimes blind faith can take you far.

"Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don't let yourself believe it will happen to you."

12. Blood, sweat, and tears are 90% of the fight.

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

13. Turn hatred in your favor.

"I always bring out the best in men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him."—Ali following his "Thrilla In Manila" fight with Joe Frazier.

14. Commit to your cause and don't back down.

"Nobody has to tell me that this is a serious business. I'm not fighting one man. I'm fighting a lot of men, showing a lot of 'em, here is one man they couldn't defeat, couldn't conquer. My mission is to bring freedom to 30m black people."—Ali prior to his fight with Jerry Quarry, 1970

15. Remember Muhammad Ali for who he was outside the ring, too.

"He fought for his rights. Fought for my people. Most famous black man in the world. Strong believer in God."—GQ, 1998

15 Life Lessons From Muhammad Ali To Help You Conceive, Believe, And Achieve