Badass Mom Laila Ali's Advice for Achieving Just About Anything

Laila Ali
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for T.J. Maxx
Every single day women deal with the internal and external struggles that go along with being labeled or stereotyped by specific gender roles. But if there's one thing that the world should know by now, it's that you don't underestimate a woman. World boxing champion and entrepreneur Laila Ali definitely knows a thing or two about defying the odds and proving the naysayers wrong, and she's committed to helping women do the same.

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CafeMom had the chance to speak with Ali about her personal experiences with adversity, her efforts to empower women through T.J.Maxx's The Maxx You Project, and her advice to women everywhere on how to overcome obstacles -- and prepare their kids to do the same.  

"I am someone who is no stranger to being labeled and stereotyped. I remember when I first decided to box many years ago; everyone was telling me: You're too pretty. Women don't box. You can't do it. Why do you want to do it?" Ali, 39, tells CafeMom of the negative feedback that she received prior to becoming one of the world's greatest boxers. 

"Luckily, I had my mother, who inspired me, and made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted," she says.

And that is what she is doing for her kids. "Being an example as a parent is the first thing that you must do because kids learn by watching you," says the mom of son Curtis, 8, and daughter Sydney, 6. "They take in what you say, but mainly it's by watching you as an example."

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After all, adopting a positive outlook can only strengthen the foundation you set out for your kids. 

"I always watch the conversations that I have with my children. When they share their dreams and goals with me I make them feel like they can do whatever they want to do, even if I know it's something that sounds like it could be impossible," she says.

And that encouragement is so important. T.J.Maxx conducted a survey and found that 80 percent of participating women feel as if they've been stereotyped by society into specific gender roles and expectations, which didn't surprise Ali in the slightest. It's a factor that actually motivated her to team up with the retailer for The Maxx You Project, in which 80 women will be selected to attend customized workshops led by Ali and businesswoman and TV personality Barbara Corcoran -- and hopefully be empowered.

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"It was really natural for me to get involved. I'm always inspiring women to be the best they can be, have confidence and courage, and go for their dreams. It's a message that just really resonated with me being a woman that's been stereotyped myself," she tells us.

Courtesy of Alaisha Key

Years later, the former Celebrity Apprentice contestant still gets her share of critics both in and out of the ring. She's been stereotyped many times over as an athlete and as a woman, even receiving questions about how she maintains her femininity. As she puts it, "When I'm in the ring, I fight, and I'm still a woman. And when I come out, I'm still a woman." 

But this badass mom boss takes all of those misconceptions and then turns the negative into positive motivation, which is a lesson that we could all learn. She explains:

I take what I learned through my boxing career and I apply it to many other areas of my life. The sky is the limit. It really is a mindset. That's what we are trying to impart to women through this campaign. It's all about tapping into what's in your heart -- and what your dreams and personal aspirations are -- and encouraging everyone to just go for it and not let society define you.

Ali believes that one way to change the narrative is by making sure that more women tell their stories of how they conquered obstacles to obtain success -- and that they begin to conquer the negative thoughts in their own head.

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She says:

One thing that successful people have in common is not feeling sorry for themselves when they come up against an obstacle ... They don't give up. They may have a moment where they're down, but then you get up, shake the dust off, and keep it moving ... Yes, there are going to be challenges but you can get through them. That's just a part of life.

Ali aims to empower women to break the mold and go for their dreams, no matter the obstacles they may face. And this push is one that we definitely need, as women are steadily fighting for equality. We have a long way to go. But change starts when women encourage other women and fight together to change the mindset that women belong in boxes. She reminds us that women cannot be defined by any labels but our own.  

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