laila ali puts a bow on SHRM17

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Though more entertaining than educational, 4-time undefeated boxing champion Laila Ali’s keynote wrapped up SHRM17 with an inspiring message: strength comes from reinvention.

Growing up in her father’s shadow, Ali was always more of an entrepreneur than an athlete. Her genes may have been gold-plated, but there was no silver spoon in her mouth. Feisty and self-motivated, she had started her own nail salon by the time she was 18 and was determined to make it in the world without help from her parents. Which makes her decision to start training to become a boxer—without even telling her father—all the more surprising.

It was her first reinvention, but far from her last. As a boxer, she faced plenty of criticism and doubt (even from her father, who tried and failed to talk her out of it). At the time, the boxing world for females was more of a novelty than a respected sport. Yet Ali was determined, motivated, and fiercely talented. She went 24-0 (with 20 KOs, no less) over her career as a fighter, becoming a household name in the process. Something was missing though—she wasn’t in charge of her own destiny anymore, and she was determined to get it back.

So she fired her husband/manager (both as husband and as manager), and went back to the drawing board to reinvent herself once again. She went on Dancing with the Stars to show the world another side of herself. She took hosting gigs for The Early Show, Chopped, and American Gladiators. But it didn’t feel right. Again and again, Ali returned to her principle of passion. Do what you love and working hard will always seem easy.

Today, Ali is the owner and CEO of her own global lifestyle brand, author of several books, and host of TV shows and her very own podcast (all of which she plugged a little too hard, a little too often). Something she attributes to her ability to willingness to learn and courage to reinvent herself, again and again. Every time she pivoted to a new career, a new life, she was ALL IN. Which just so happened to be the theme of SHRM17. A bit on the nose, but isn’t that about right for a former boxing champion?

By andrew scarcella
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