Muhammad Ali was a three-time world heavyweight champion, and is widely considered to be the greatest boxer of all time. But he didn’t start out as an icon. He had to work hard for it. After winning his first two titles in 1964 and 1965, Ali lost both in 1967 – one by knockout and one on points. He regained the crown with a round 10 technical knockout against George Foreman in Zaire 1974, but then lost it again when Leon Spinks defeated him by split decision in 1978. But through this adversity came greatness – Muhammad Ali became an icon who has inspired millions around the world for generations to come.
What does this have to do with anything? You might be thinking. Well, I’m getting there. But before I get to the point of this article – let’s look at something else…
Ava Duvernay is one of Hollywood’s most promising young filmmakers, poised to take on some of the industry’s greatest stories. She has an impressive resume, her works have won many awards – including the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director award in 2012. But she didn’t start out as a director. Ava Duvernay had to work hard for it. Her career came on the heels of her critically acclaimed debut feature film I Will Follow (2011) which garnered her the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award, and her successful independent film Middle of Nowhere (2012) which won Best Director at Sundance. But through this adversity came a career – Ava Duvernay became an icon who has inspired millions around the world for generations to come.
Maybe you’ve heard of Ava Duvernay. Maybe you haven’t. But nine months after the world celebrated International Women’s Day in March, 2015 – Duvernay has become a leading voice among women of color directors. Her feature film Selma (2014) was nominated for an Oscar Award, and she successfully launched her own company – ARRAY, which focuses on creating opportunities for people of color in the media industry. And she’s only 42. That’s not bad for a woman who was told that her script about Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be produced because “people won’t pay to see stories about black people”.
Success is not without its challenges; but the greatest adversity comes from within us – our self-doubt, our fear, our submissiveness. We are not alone in this struggle to succeed – Muhammad Ali struggled for years before becoming the greatest boxer ever, Ava Duvernay struggled for years before becoming one of Hollywood’s most promising young filmmakers. So whatever your profession may be – you have something to learn from Muhammad Ali and Ava Duvernay. And that is the value of adversity.
I will close this article with a quote from Muhammad Ali: “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”