Don’t Count the Days, Make the Days Count: Muhammad Ali’s pep talk to us in between rounds.

boxing-ring

 

“Don’t Count The Days. Make The Days Count.”  – Muhammad Ali

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For every mortal and immortal, one day the bell will ring for the last time. When the bell sounds, what will you have left behind in the Ring?

In the Ring of Life, round after round: will you have left it all on the canvas. Will you have given your everything, leaving an impact that continues after you leave the Ring? What do people say about you when you leave the room? What impact have you had, what impact do you have? From grand achievement to your reputation in everyday environments: when that Bell rings, what do you want your legacy to be?

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“What you’re thinking is what you’re becoming.”

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It seems like Ali quotes like these are endless. Sometimes there are two voices we hear while in the ring: one voice telling you to stay down, the other insisting you get back up. Many of Muhammad Ali’s mightiest blows were his words: dozens of powerful phrases destined to echo long after his passing. There were days when the electric gladiator howled his words with humour and passion. There were days when his words were faint whispers as he delicately leaned into ears that trembled. The life he lived was his message to us. Ali was the voice telling us to get back up, to stand up.

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“When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting, because that’s when it really counts.”

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The brutal sport Ali played was described as the ‘sweet science’ and an ‘unnatural act’. While Muhammad Ali is immortal, the man himself was mortal. Too many of us men live like we will live forever, as if there are many remaining rounds promised us. Some of us just live day to day, as if sunsets and second chances are endless gifts for the taking. Some of us are stuck emotionally at 12 years old going into our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s… Some of us have been sitting in the corner of our own lives, not answering the bell. It’s time to show up in the fight, show up in our own lives.

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“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

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How many more rounds in the ring do you have left? How many more chances will you have to sit on the corner stool, catch your breath and scramble for a plan against your toughest challenge. Will you answer the bell to start a new round, a new chapter, a new fight, to face your most formidable foe?

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the toughest opponent

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“You are your toughest opponent.” 

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Ali aspired to be a voice in your corner, pushing you on, challenging you to get off the mat, get back in the fight, step up, rise up. Ali spoke to people, whether it was folks he came across in everyday life, or influential public figures, and challenge them to do more. Be more.

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“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”

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What is your dream? Ali lived a life people dream of, but he had bigger dreams in mind. With his death on the horizon, Canadian politician Jack Layton once said “Always have a dream that will last beyond your lifetime.” Some of us have dreams we will accomplish in a year or four years, like a degree or beginning a career. We need to have a dream bigger than ourselves, one that we might not live to see happen, but a dream that we can inspire or support future generations to make happen.

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“True success is reaching our potential without compromising our values.”

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Maya Angelou said once that “bitterness is like cancer, it eats upon the host, but anger is like fire, it burns it all clean.”  Ali was someone who came the closest to embodying fire, turned anger into action. He paid a cost to become the ‘World’s Greatest’, and at the peak of his prime he decided to pay a greater cost in sacrificing the title, his career, and possibly his life, for something bigger than himself.

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Ali running

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“The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” 

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Ali said “The greatest sports title means nothing, if you cannot be free.” What are you willing to sacrifice? Ali shouted “I’m so pretty!” to deliver a sharp blow to the lie that Black wasn’t Beautiful. It was unheard at the time for anyone to speak out on the lives of Blacks being devalued both in Vietnam and in America. At a time when many were finding their voice, fearful of speaking up, Ali spoke out:

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“You won’t event stand up for me in America, for my religious beliefs, and you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won’t even stand up for me here at home.” 

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“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.” In talking about Ali’s stand, Bryant Gumbel said, “One of the reasons the civil rights movement went forward was that black people were able to overcome their fear. And I honestly believe that for many black Americans, that came from watching Muhammad Ali. He simply refused to be afraid. And being that way, he gave other people courage.”  The cost of speaking out was almost four precious years of his prime as an athlete. When he returned, the costs became evident in the ring, and those costs took an even greater toll upon his body in the decades to come outside the ring. His voice was now lowered to a whisper, but it was louder than ever, heard loud and clear all around the world.

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“…I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.” 

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How many of us will answer the call when a time for action comes in our lives? In a very public, or private moment, we can inspire and support one another to show up when it counts. Three minutes into this moving interview, Jesse Ventura shares a memory of his hero, saying “…he gave up the greatest title in the world being a man of his conviction, and if I can be half that man…”

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Jesse Ventura

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“Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.” 

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Sanitized today into sainthood, make no mistake, for those afraid of change and justice, he was a threat: an uncontainable fire threatening to purify everything in and out of the ring. Burn it all clean. Ali wasn’t perfect, but he challenged the unjust and far from perfect status quo. While Ali went onto win the World Heavyweight Title three times in the ring, he did not achieve his largest goal. That goal is the fight we must inspire future generations to finish.

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Natasha Mundkur, a 19 year old shared these powerful words ar Ali’s funeral service. “A man who once reached out through the pages of a textbook and touched the heart of an eight year old girl, whose reflection of herself mirrored those who could not see past the colour of her skin.  But instead of drawing on that pain from the distorted reality, she found strength, just as this man did when he stood tall in the face of pelting rain and shouted ‘I am the disturbance in the sea of your complacency, and I will never stop shaking your waves.’ And she picked up the rocks that were thrown at her, and she threw them back with a voice so powerful that it turned all the pain that she had faced in her life into strength and tenacity. And now, that eight year old girl stands before you, to tell you that Ali’s cry still shakes these waves today.”

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Mundkur said “I hope in half of me will be who he was. I’m taking the path that Muhammad has set for me.” The brutal sport Ali played was described as the ‘sweet science’ and an ‘unnatural act’. He worked towards a dream bigger than being ‘The Greatest’. His life was his message to us. Your legacy is not whether you reached your goal, but the way you strive for your goal. The journey is the goal.

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What lies in front of you, is just half the battle. What lies beyond the horizon is what comes after the bell will ring for you. The fight will go on. Muhammad Ali’s life was a message, challenging you with one question: ‘What will you do with the rounds you have left in the ring?’

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His words still echo, calling on you to get off the mat. Get up. Get back in there. You got this. You have me. You have Ali. You have us.
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The Champ has left the Ring. Now it’s on us. Live a life that will live on after the last bell rings..

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 “Greatness goes the distance.”  – Muhammad Ali

Ali Running ahead

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