Let me reintroduce myself, I’m Ali.
My Pursuit of Greatness
"Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21
Greatness. It’s something that’s been on my heart since I was a child. My first memories of the search were from basketball: I thought I was going to be the next Shaquille O’Neal. Dominant. A force to be reckoned with. I’d win multiple championships…maybe even lead a dynasty.
Despite my plan, it’s funny how the Lord builds us for His plan and purpose. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Like the Israelites in the Old Testament wilderness, the 10 years from ’99 to ’09 were a tough season in my life. From near-death health issues, an abusive stepmother, and a family bankruptcy, I wasn’t sure what God had in store for me. As I reflect on that season, I realize now how the Lord would consistently use pain in my life to bring me closer to him, build my ability to re-frame the pain into triumph, and motivate my love affair with the pursuit of greatness.
Reflecting on my upbringing has helped me understand my purpose. I’ve been blessed to develop deep faith that today’s pain is for tomorrow’s gain, an unrelenting will to win, and an ability to inspire those around me to achieve more than they ever imagined. I was put on this earth to inspire excellence, deserve victory, and give thanks for pain.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
For much of my life, I scratched Philippians 4:13 on my notebooks and would recite it before any big game, test, or presentation at work. I learned the verse during bible study with my Grandma Joy. Grandma Joy was the prayer warrior of the family. She would build me up with the special brand of tough love that only a grandmother can provide, challenging me to strive to be the very best version of myself I could be, never making excuses, only striving for excellence.
Striving for excellence began on the basketball court. It led to many youth league championships and MVP awards. I was a focused competitor and would never take the foot off the gas. I’ll never forget the 2001 season. Our team won 20 games, never lost, and won the championship handily. As I grew older, excellence expanded into other areas of my life. In athletics, football was love at first sight. I was a man on fire on the field. I would implore my teammates to give every ounce of effort they had. I was known for shouting, “Leave it all on the field, fight [to win] or die!”
Similarly, I demanded excellence from myself in academics. Despite working a part-time job and leading multiple clubs in addition to being a football team captain, I wanted to perform at the highest level. For most of high school, I slept four hours a night. I was chasing a dream and I wouldn’t be denied. In the face of a challenge, my drive inspires me to bias for action, never be outworked, and ultimately to deliver excellent results.
My zeal for greatness and drive to win has never waned. In good times and bad, it’s unrelenting. So far, I’ve been able to regulate my fire by conserving it for the critical contests within each phase of life that I deem to be most valuable. I pray that the Lord will give me the wisdom to know when it’s worth it to go all in and when I should take my foot off the pedal.
Being Deserving of Victory
“You can lose when you outscore your opponent. And you can win when you’re outscored.” – John Wooden
I LOVE to win. I don’t believe in participation trophies. However, my faith has taught me that how we win is more important than winning itself. The greatest person that ever lived, Jesus Christ, set the example for winning by coming to earth, enduring evil, resisting temptation, and triumphing over death. I want to win like Jesus. I want to be the type of competitor that struggles well. That in the face of pain, I remain honest, uphold my integrity, and exhibit humility always.
I will earn the trust of my teammates by trusting them first. I will be vulnerable and allow my teammates to see the truth of who I am, the truth of my strengths and weaknesses, and the truth of my dreams and nightmares. I want others to choose to follow me because they trust my character, respect my work ethic, and have confidence in my competence - in that order. When you lead based on these values, work your tail off, and strive for the advancement of others by God’s purpose, then you will have earned victory: you will deserve to win.
Giving Thanks for Pain
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance… Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:2-3, 12
As Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth”. I’m thankful for getting punched in the mouth. The first punch came from my parents’ divorce. The next one was childhood obesity. A flurry of additional punches came from my stepmother. In my first year of college, all four of my grandparents passed away. Next, I’d realize that my daily headaches and knee pain were a sign of football’s toll on my body. It was time to give up football. I thought making it to Harvard was my ticket out of pain - so much for that plan.
That’s the curious thing about pain. I believe pain is a prerequisite to revealing our purpose and God’s plan for our lives. The Lord was using my pain to open my eyes. I remember the moment when I accepted God’s purpose vividly. It was during my first encounter with true despair. I had just hung up the phone after talking to my Grandma Joy. I was crying uncontrollably because I knew that cancer had finally taken her. I got on my knees and began to pray. Any of my friends could have walked by and seen me, but I didn’t care.
I thanked the Lord for how far he had brought me. I thanked God for my upbringing and for making me strong enough to withstand the pain. I prayed, “Lord, you took away the game I love, you took away Grandma Joy; you have my attention now. Lord, I’m done living for myself. I want to live for you. I want my life to be an example of your grace and power. I want to surrender my life to you. I want to become the man you want me to be, not the man I plan on being.” Pain creates incredible clarity. I’m thankful for the pain.
“Joy will be the light I travel by, faith my rock, and a vision to be realized, a reason to fight. When my triumph has been secured and victory declared, I will give thanks for I have enjoyed true success for all.” – The Journey, my college application essay
Before writing this reflection, I re-read my college application essay from almost 15 years ago. Reading it made me chuckle. I was an intense teenager. The essay was a treatise of my philosophy on life and the path to self-actualization. The writing style was stiff, but the themes still resonate today. I’ve made it this far by faith, the gift of joy through pain, and a vision for greatness. However, the most important part of my life’s journey still lies ahead.
Launching Metamora Growth Partners is the next step in my journey and realizing God’s purpose for my life. I don’t know how the journey will end, but I’m excited about the ride. When it’s all said and done, I hope my eulogy reads something along the lines of this:
“Ali, you inspired us to be the best we could be. Through the storms of life, you thanked God for the pain and continued to toil. You were a man of steadfast character and generous tough love. You left it all on the field. You deserved victory and achieved greatness through your service to your family and the lives of every person whose life you touched. Well done, good and faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21)”