How to Be Muhammed Ali: A Lesson in Greatness!

One of my favorite hobbies is to read biographies. They captivate and inspire me in many different ways. I read biographies of the rich, the famous, the infamous, the powerful, and the ordinary. I’ve read a wide range of biographies on people such as Winston Churchill, Muhammad Ali, and Tina Fey. I’ve read biographies that were tragedies, comedies, dramas, and mixtures of all three genres.

What have I learned from these stories of the great, powerful, and funny?

Most people are faking it!

I’m not disparaging anyone. Faking it takes talent and skill.

Everyone should do it.

I won’t “out” any fellow “fakers” but we can learn from the best of them.

No one doubts that Muhammad Ali was one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time. During his time in boxing, he was constantly saying, “I am the greatest!” He would say it to reporters. He would say it to the massive crowds at Madison Square Garden. He would say it to his opponent. He would say it to anyone who would listen. Most importantly, he was listening. He started to believe that he was the greatest. Eventually, he became the greatest. He faked it until he became it. Ali is quoted as saying, “I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was!” That is great faking. And it created a great boxer.

There are other great fakers.

I once read that Barbra Streisand has a long reputation of terrible stage fright. In fact, I heard that she rarely gave concerts because of her deep fear of performing onstage. I went to one of her concerts. I was prepared to see a person who was talented and skilled but timid with the fearful look of a scared cat on stage. I never saw that person. I saw a performer who was talented and skilled but also charming, engaging, and comfortable in front of the large audience. At least, she acted like she was comfortable. Perhaps she was faking it. She had me convinced. Perhaps she had faked it to the point that she had herself convinced that she loved every minute. She charmed the audience and captivated us. Fantastic faking!

More recently, I went to hear the Brussels Symphony orchestra. There was a young conductor from Hungary who would lead the orchestra. From my seat in the audience, I could see backstage, immediately behind the curtain. After the orchestra went onstage, I could see the conductor standing behind the curtain waiting to go onstage. What I saw absolutely amazed me—and taught me the joys and benefits of faking it. You can read his fantastic story right here.

What’s the point?

Confidence is not always felt before doing something great. Sometimes, it is it is not felt even after doing something great. Sometimes, it is never felt. But that never has to stop someone from doing something great. I love the idea of doing something before feeling ready, before feeling comfortable, and before feeling confident. They are not prerequisites to accomplishing great things. They are only the icing on the cake.

How to Be Muhammad Ali

Muhummad Ali did the work. But most of it was “inner” work, fixing and preparing himself on the inside. Ali once said,

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.

 Five steps to be Ali

  1. Be prepared. There is no substitute for preparedness. You cannot fake being prepared. The best way to succeed is to be totally prepared.
  2. Practice the part. Practice! Practice! Practice! Steve Jobs would spend more than a hundred hours practicing a 30-minute presentation. He worked very hard to make it all look so easy.
  3. Work hard. There is no substitute for hard work. Not just spending the hours, but putting in the real dedication and work into whatever you do. Muhammad Ali trained, practiced, and prepared for hours. He said that he hated it, but he knew that it was that was the price to pay to become a champion.
  4. Act the part. Step into the role. Vision who you want to be, how you want to act, how you want to respond, and how you want to live. See yourself as you want people to see you.
  5. Be courageous. None of this will work without courage. Courage is the most important step; it separates the successful and strong from the timid wannabees. Courage takes you to a new level—a place that it reserved for those who live consciously and courageously.

 Are they faking?

I want to end with acknowledging that none of these people were fakers. They had their weaknesses and fears. But they also had the dedication, commitment, and courageous to dream and make their dreams come true. Everyone feels fear; it is a normal human emotion. But the truly great will never let that fear control or stop them. You can “be” whomever you want to be—Muhammad Ali, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, Barbra Steisand, young Hungarian conductor or Tina Fey—but remember that only YOU can be the greatest you.

Muhammad Ali taught me great lessons about making affirmations, having mental discipline, and working relentlessly. He was truly the greatest. He can teach us all how to be the greatest too!


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