T.J. Maxx’s Maxx You Project has brought us some great inspiration this week–first Barbara Corcoran’s genius career advice and now some words of wisdom from Laila Ali. We just sat down with the boxing legend’s daughter to learn how she’s overcome barriers in her own incredible career and life. The Maxx You Project is all about helping women find their individuality–and Ali has certainly found hers over the years. See her tips!
SHEfinds: Have you always had the entrepreneurial spirit?
Laila Ali: I’ve always been very ambitious. When I was 16, I decided to go to cosmetology school to become a manicurist. I took the city bus across town after school to put in the hours I needed to complete the program and get my license. I had my own nail business called Laila’s Nail Studio with a full clientele by the time I was 18 years old. I learned early in life, that with hard work and dedication, I could do anything I put my mind to.
SF: What’s it like being a world champion boxer?
LA: I never competed in sports until I became a boxer at age 20. When I first got the urge to box, I wasn’t sure if I had what it would take. After much contemplation, I decided to go for it! Boxing taught me that I am indeed an athlete and that I had everything it took to become a world champion. Now, I’m paying it forward by partnering with T.J.Maxx to help other women identify and embrace their one-of-a-kind individuality with The Maxx You Project!
SF: What other milestones have shaped who you are?
For one: getting married for the 2nd time. After a failed first marriage, I remarried and found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with and we have started a family together. I learned that if something is not quite right in my life, I need to take charge and make positive changes for myself.
Also, becoming a mother: I never knew what true love was until I had children. They have taught me how to be strong, sensitive, nurturing and selfless all at once. At the same time, motherhood has taught me the importance of not losing your own identity in the process. When you’re giving everything, you have to your children, who you love more than anything, you need to make sure to carve out time for yourself too. You can be a mother and still let your individuality shine. It was for these reasons why I was so drawn to the Maxx You Project in the first place.
SF: What can you tell us about transitioning from being an athlete to a healthy lifestyle expert?
LA: People often stereotype women and try put us in a box. I’m proud to have been able to continually reinvent myself over the years according to my own personal goals, desires and self-expectations. I have been able to prove to myself that I am multi-dimensional, multi-talented and capable of more than even I think sometimes. I have learned to embrace every step of my own personal evolution as a woman.
I already feel like I have a better understanding of my own individuality, by discovering how complex and ever-changing it is. And that’s why my partnership with the T.J.Maxx Maxx You Project is so important to me. This ongoing initiative to inspire and help women embrace their individuality will ultimately help women learn more about themselves, and give them the knowledge and confidence they need to help them reach their highest potential.
SF: You’ve encountered many barriers in life, such as people stereotyping you. How do you stay true to yourself? What advice do you have for young women in their 20s?
Your dreams should know no limit. Your dreams should be so big that they knock down barriers, stereotypes and roles that society has imposed on you. Let your individuality shine and do it in the biggest way possible. A lot of people gave me a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t get into the ring – they said “women shouldn’t box” and I just started a business of my own and was expected to head in that direction. That’s why I think it’s so important that T.J.Maxx wants to help women everywhere identify what makes them one-of-a-kind with the Maxx You Project. Hopefully it will give women to confidence to pursue what makes them one-of-a-kind in the biggest, boundary breaking way.
The attributes that have helped or hindered her in her journey to success
Throughout my life, I’ve learned the importance of challenging the stereotypes that hold you back. It’s better to confront stereotypes and gender norms head-on. I know all too well the challenges of being put into a box – whether it’s as a woman in the boxing ring or in the kitchen. I’m able to stay true to my multidimensional-self when I can shake loose of external forces and expectations.
Another philosophy I live by is that you have to push yourself or you’ll never reach your goals. If you don’t push yourself, your unique aspirations will remain just that – dreams. You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone sometimes, and be a little uncomfortable, before you can get comfortable again and let your individuality shine.
That’s why I think it’s so important that T.J.Maxx wants to help women everywhere identify what makes them one-of-a-kind with the Maxx You Project. Hopefully it will give women to confidence to pursue what makes them them!
SF: How did your father teach you the importance of being you in everything you do?
LA: My father taught me how to be confident and to be fearless in everything you do. To me, he’s a global icon. And not a champion boxer. He felt that boxing was just his platform to do all the greater good. He took his confidence and fearlessness and used it in a positive way to make a difference in our world. He brought the passion you see in the ring in his commitment to humanitarian causes.
SF: What can a woman in her 20s expect in the years ahead?
LA: For all those young women out there, you can expect a lot of change, and potentially a lot of uncertainty in the coming years. But my advice to you would be this: You must push yourself or you’ll never reach your goals. If you don’t push yourself, your unique aspirations will remain just that – dreams. You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone sometimes, and be a little uncomfortable, before you can get comfortable again and let your individuality shine.