How boxing helps me cope with life’s knockouts

Boxing and business both require nimble footwork, resilience, and thinking ahead.
Boxing and business both require nimble footwork, resilience, and thinking ahead.
Image: Courtesy of Mike Lee
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In late July this year, I stood on the stage at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV, preparing to fight for the Super Middleweight world title in front of thousands of people, and a million more watching live on FOX TV. I came into the fight with a perfect record of 21-0.

I ended up losing the match. But I won’t forget that feeling.

The thrill of stepping into a boxing ring in front of thousands of screaming fans is a feeling I share with relatively few people. Throwing punches is a thrill. But you also have to be ready for what’s coming right back at you, often from the corner of your eye when you least expect it.

It’s an experience that I probably share with even fewer finance grads from top-ranked universities.

As someone who was recently knocked down in front of more than a million viewers, I was reminded of the effect that personal choices have, both in the ring and in the corner office.

When I’m not boxing, I’m running a health and wellness company called Soul CBD. In the course of my fight training, I’ve learned that what makes me successful in each of these endeavors are more closely related than I originally thought. In boxing, just as in business, you have to be able to weather the highs and the lows. It wasn’t that long ago that I triumphantly jumped the ropes after scoring a fourth-round knockout in a major fight in Madison Square Garden—only to then suffer my first defeat on an even bigger stage. Despite having competed at the highest level, I still have a lot to learn about boxing. And if there’s one thing I learn over and over, it’s the importance of having grit.

To me, grit is courage and resolve, even in the darkest moments. When you’re in the ring, there are lights, cheers from the crowd, and distractions everywhere. Most of all, there is a force in front of you that wants nothing more than to take you down.

Grit is what gets you up after the first, second, or even the third knockdown. I have been knocked down literally and figuratively—both in and out of the ring—many times. And I’ve learned that it’s not about the knockdowns. It’s about getting back up.

That act of getting back up is what has made me the person I am today: someone who is proud of my successes and my failures.

Grit is also what reminds me that at the end of the day, despite the odds, I chased my dream and gave it everything I had. Yes, I lost my world title fight. But more importantly, I followed my passion and wasn’t deterred by the possibility of failure. One day when I leave this Earth, I want my legacy to be about having no regrets.

Daring to do what others wouldn’t because of fear, and in spite of my own—that is how I define grit, and that is what boxing has taught me.

Sickness and health

Grit is also a trait possessed by people who show continued passion and perseverance toward a goal despite being confronted by significant obstacles. More than 133 million Americans are estimated to be diagnosed with a chronic condition or illness. I’m one of them.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease that almost ended my boxing career. I spent nearly two years in and out of the hospital fighting the disease as my body was attacked by my own immune system. They were some of the darkest moments of my life, and I would have never gotten through them without grit.

Without resolve and passion, I would not have been able to prove my medical prognosis wrong.

Despite all of my continuous fights, I still live with this disease today. Boxing has helped me live with this reality. In the ring, you will get knocked down, always. That reality is constant. But it’s how you respond that can make a difference.

If this principle wasn’t so instilled in me from boxing, I don’t know if I would have been as successful of an entrepreneur. Seven years ago, I co-founded my first business with my sister, Angie, and one other partner: a healthy meal delivery service. We created the business plan, risked our own money to cover startup expenses, hired a team, and went to work. We felt it was destined for success.

It ended up being a long, tough journey, with ultimately more lows than highs. It eventually failed, and we lost a lot of money and time. But in the process, we all learned more than we could ever have imagined. I often say that pain is the greatest catalyst for change. This helps me look at getting knocked down is not a defeat, but rather a necessity for growth. Through our mistakes, we learned what worked. And most importantly, we learned what didn’t.

Get up again (and again)

So, when I was inspired to start my next endeavor just less than a year later, a few major questions still plagued me. Such as: There are tons of CBD companies out there; does the world really need another?

When investors, distributors and customers turned me down, this easily could have been a moment to second guess my priorities and stick with what I know.

At one point in my life, I was on eight different medications and had to fight and struggle to ween myself off every single one of them.

I started Soul CBD because I experienced first-hand the powerful effects my product had on my own body. And I saw that there was a need for a more pure and higher-quality brand in the marketplace for people who suffered chronic symptoms like I did.

I knew I was motivated to help others get relief from pain and anxiety in an all-natural way. So, just as I prep for boxing—by researching my opponent, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, training my body and mind for endurance and unexpected moments—I started prepping for business.

I’ve been turned down by a number of folks for a number of reasons. But I’ve also succeeded. Through sheer grit and a little bit of luck, we’ve grown Soul CBD into a seven-figure business and a leader in the CBD space. It’s this level of tenacity, which at least for me, has made the difference.

I believe it’s important to remind myself that boxing, just like running a business, is a journey. There will be things I will experience along the way; and I’ll learn lessons I didn’t even realize I needed to. Going through the ups and downs and staying true to your principles anyway will help weather the KO’s. And it will also help you relish in the wins.