Muhammad Ali’s Career Advice for Women

Give Me Five

“Where do you think I would be if I didn’t know how to shout and holler and make the public sit up and take notice?”

In its farewell to Muhammad Ali, Sports Illustrated reprinted a first-person piece, Why I Roared, that the then 22-year-old Cassius Clay wrote in 1964 before facing Sonny Liston for the first time.

Fifty-two years later, reading the words he wrote, I was struck by how much I could apply to my own career. How he could give it as a speech at the next Ellevate or Watermark event. The original manifesto on personal branding.

“If I were like a lot of guys—a lot of heavyweight boxers, I mean—I’ll bet you a dozen doughnuts you wouldn’t be reading this right now. If you wonder what the difference between them and me is, I’ll break the news: You never heard of them. I’m not saying they are not good boxers. Most of them can fight almost as good as I can. I’m just saying you never heard of them. And the reason for that is because they cannot throw the jive.”

A man regarded as the GOAT in his profession is saying he couldn’t rely on talent alone. He needed to speak up and be heard.

“I was confident that I could beat either one of them if I had the chance. But I knew I wouldn’t get the chance because nobody had ever heard of me. I said to myself, How am I going to get a crack at the title? I knew I’d have to start talking about it—I mean really talking, screaming and yelling and acting like some kind of a nut. I would be like Gorgeous George, the wrestler, who got so famous by being flashy and exaggerating everything and making people notice him.”

So many times women fall behind in their careers relative to men because we put our trust in meritocracy, thinking that the work should speak for itself. That it will be recognized.

But it’s not enough to just do great work. We also need to shout “I’m doing some great stuff here, people!”

“I said I am the greatest, I am a ball of fire. If I didn’t say it, there was nobody going to say it for me.”

Time to start throwing some jive.