Lessons of Greatness, Thoughts on the Confidence of Muhammad Ali

Written by Jonah Swinson

The whole world seemed to take a moment of silence to observe the passing of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, but to refer to this three-time world champion as simply a boxing icon does not seem to do the man justice.

He was influential in the Civil Rights movement, an international advocate for peace, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Though there are many lessons that can be learned from the life of Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most observable is the ability to exude confidence.

People tend to try to pose their limitations on others. If something seems to be impossible for them, they convince themselves that it must be impossible for everyone. The problem that often occurs is that people accept the limitations set by others. They let other people define what they can accomplish. The biggest issue with this system is that nothing notable will ever occur if everyone simply abides by the expectations of others.

It is only when an individual has the confidence to exceed the limitations set by others that greatness can be achieved.

Ali was forced to observe boxing from outside the ring during his three-year ban from the sport due to his refusal to adhere to the draft system and fight in the Vietnam War. Upon his return, he was determined to reclaim the championship belt.


In 1974, Ali received his title shot against fellow boxing great, George Foreman. To the critics, Ali was past his prime and had no shot at defeating Foreman. There were plenty of opportunities for Ali to buy into the hype. That would have been the normal thing to do.

Up to that point, Ali had already had an incredible career. He could have ended his career after a loss to Foreman and still gone down in history as “one of the greats.” It would be what was expected for Ali to lose to Foreman, but in what was perhaps his most famous of all his pre-fight interviews, Ali promised to show the world how great he really was.

The phrasing of that statement remains extremely important. Ali did not allow others to define his greatness. Rather, he vowed to show his critics what he was able to achieve. The landmark characteristic of greatness is the ability to go beyond what is considered normal or expected.

In the eighth round of the “Rumble in the Jungle,” Ali knocked out Foreman and reclaimed his belt. The fight against George Foreman helped cement Ali’s legacy as the Greatest of All Time.

Like Ali, we must not be bogged down by the limitations set forth by others. We must have the confidence to go beyond what is expected and obtain greatness, never settling for what is considered normal.


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