Her father might be one of the most famous people in modern history, but Laila Ali—daughter of the late boxing champion and humanitarian Muhammad Ali—has always made it a priority to leave her own mark on the world. Her stellar record as a four-time undefeated boxing world champion speaks for itself.
Ali, whose record includes 24 wins and zero losses, is heralded as the most successful athlete in the history of women’s boxing. And though she retired from the sport in 2007, many will still recognize Ali as a TV host, cookbook author, fitness and wellness expert, and motivational speaker, all hats she typically wears under her Laila Ali Lifestyle Brand.
Using her own career evolution as a launchpad, Ali explained how professional women can be the best versions of themselves during her March 13 keynote address at the Junior League of Baton Rouge’s Women’s Leadership Luncheon. Spoiler alert: It takes guts, grit and lots of passion.
Check out these four key takeaways from Ali’s keynote.
Use pressure as your fuel.
Given her father’s world-renowned reputation, Ali was well aware of the pressure that would be placed on her when she decided to pursue a career in women’s boxing. She also knew what the naysayers would say—including her famous dad, who, at first, didn’t believe women should fight in the ring and repeatedly tried talking her out of doing so.
Instead of giving up, Ali sought to prove her father wrong. She studied her competition and trained at the gym six nights a week, needing to shed 30 pounds to qualify for the matches. When eight media outlets showed up to her first fight, Ali seized the pressure, and, 54 seconds later, her competitor was on the floor.
“Any time you want to be great at something,” says Ali, “you have to know what you’re up against and your competition, and prepare yourself for that.”
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
At 29, Ali retired from boxing and found herself in a “really uncertain” stage of life. Recognizing that, oftentimes, athletes become depressed once their careers end, Ali understood she needed to start over by charting a new path. And then Dancing with the Stars called.
Originally, she didn’t want to participate. But after giving it some thought, Ali realized it would benefit her professionally for some 40 million viewers to see a different side of her.
“You’re going to have to make sacrifices and be strategic to take things to the next level,” Ali says. “I did it and went to the finals.”
Sure enough, various TV show hosting opportunities came from her appearance on the prime time show, which Ali began using as a platform to promote her brand.
Learn how to say “no.”
Incorporating self-care into everyday life can prove a challenge for many businesswomen. Still, Ali says she’s had to learn that any time she says yes to something, she’s saying no to something else.
“We only have so much time and energy,” she says. “When you’re doing too much, you won’t take care of yourself, and you won’t be the best version of yourself.”
Ali says it’s important to schedule some time for yourself each day. Each morning, she spends time working out alone, spoiling herself with a weekly mani-pedi.
Find your passion—and stay connected to it.
After her retirement, it took Ali five years to figure out her true passion: inspiring others to be the best versions of themselves. She built her business around it.
Having always found solace in cooking, she became strategic in appearing on more cooking shows—even winning a couple—to gain legitimacy. Further wanting to empower people to take control of their health, Ali published a cookbook (Food for Life), and landed a gig hosting Home Made Simple on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. Also on the horizon is a skin care line slated to launch later this spring.
“You have to do things for you, in our own way, because things aren’t easy,” Ali says. “But when you’re connected to your passion—the reason you’re doing something—it becomes easy.”