Many of us were completely different people before lockdown last year; if you weren’t committed to new resolutions and radical self-growth before 2020, quarantine certainly got you there. Now, as we stumble out of lockdown with new hobbies, facets, and modes of operating, we’re all looking for ways to keep that same energy. And when it comes to turning your life around, there’s no one better to talk to than Lawrence Okolie — he’s literally written the book on it.
Before lockdown, Okolie was at the start of a budding career in professional boxing. Now, the 28-year-old Hackney native is a WBO cruiserweight champion. He’s also become an author and a rapper, adding further layers to a brand that can’t stop growing. But profound life changes aren’t a Covid-era phenomenon for Okolie, whose accomplishments are prefaced by the almost fairy tale-like story that saw him go from an obese teen flipping burgers at McDonald’s to an Olympian boxer, just four years later. “Impossible” clearly isn’t a word in Okolie’s vocabulary. Instead, it all boils down to “a little bit of fortune, a lot of hard work, dedication and self-belief.”
For a lot of entertainers (that’s what Okolie considers himself), being successful is about having something no one has ever had before. But Okolie’s gospel is entirely different. At every turn, he stresses that he is “an unexceptional person,” despite his exceptional story. “The difference between someone who makes it and someone who doesn't is just consistency and going again,” he tells us. “There was absolutely no reason why I should have believed in myself. But I did.”
The overweight teen with self-confidence issues who “never really excelled at sports” is long gone now. In his stead is a champion, weighing in at 198 pounds and standing at six-foot-five, with 16 undefeated fights under his belt; 13 of them knockouts. It’s a perfect professional record. To accomplish this in such a short amount of time is a flex as is, but to do it on the back of walking out to your own song — the perfectly titled “TKO” — that’s just Lawrence “The Sauce” Okolie. “TKO” is all about working hard, making the sacrifices, but also enjoying the rewards. This, in short, is also the premise of his debut book, Dare to Change Your Life, which traces his story in a way he hopes will inspire others to turn their lives around.
If you’re looking for motivation, talk to Lawrence Okolie. That’s exactly what we did, and we emerged with a winning guide to changing your life:
Life Before the Ring
“It had good parts, it had bad parts — or parts that I wish were a little bit better. But moreover, I was overweight, I had some good friends around, but I was still dealing with bullying, self confidence issues, a lot of stuff like that. I also just felt like I was meant to do something cool. I wanted to be someone who could do something great or better than the average, but I wasn't able to find it. Then, fortunately, I stumbled across boxing, and that allowed me to put all of that ambition and focus into something to help me to lose the weight, and here we are now."
Putting in the work
"Boxing is one of the truest forms of ‘what you put in is what you get out.’ If you’re not gonna train and put in the work, someone will punch you very hard in the face. And then, because you're training hard, you're seeing results, so it kind of showed me that what you put in is what you get out. I lacked that mindset before. If I do my runs, if I watch what I’m eating, I'll lose weight. If I do my pushups, I'm going to get stronger — just like that, everything made sense. It was give and take, and fortunately I gave a lot to boxing and boxing has given me a lot back."
Believing in Yourself
"I think a lot of times, you have a lot more belief in yourself than maybe other people do, until they see it. As an athlete, or whatever it is you do, you live in your own shoes and you see stuff before other people can see it. I just believed in myself a huge amount and I showed through my actions that people should believe in me. Of course, it wasn't that they were telling me, ‘You'll never make it,’ but it was more so, ‘Are you sure? There're easier things — there's university, plan A, plan B, plan C…’ But for me, there was only plan A."
His Biggest Accomplishment
"I think starting. I think having my first fight, getting over the nerves of an amateur, someone who never excelled at sports, was never meant to be the athlete, going in there and having my first ever boxing match. I think that was the most important accomplishment for me. All of the steps afterwards are just the by-products of that."
Figuring Out What’s Important
"Quarantine affected me in different ways. It affected me positively in boxing, because it showed me I was investing a little too much into expensive jackets and stuff like that, before I even invested in a home gym. So my priorities were a bit messed up, but it allowed me to realign that. Quarantine also gave me so much time to really find other stuff to excite me, or give me something to work on. I like to do stuff; I like to create outside of fighting. I like to be expressive in other ways, so I had to find another way, another outlet. That’s how I segued into music."
Having the Confidence to Try Something New
"I did want to make music when I was younger, but I didn't have the drive or the confidence, and I never understood how to do it. This time, it started as a little bit of fun. ‘No one ever needs to hear what you say or do, just go there with an engineer and a producer, I might as well just have some fun.’ And that's what happened. Then, after I was finished, they're like, ‘This is actually good, maybe you should try and release it.’ I'm like, ‘Nah, I shouldn't, I'm a boxer.’ Then it just hit me that in this life, you've just gotta do what you want. As long as you're not hurting anyone or damaging anyone, just go out there and have fun.
Now, when I’m walking down the road and sometimes I get approached by people who like the music, that’s the one that makes me blush. The boxing stuff, it's normal. The rap and all that, that's when I blushing, you've got me. Free tickets to the next fight!"
"I didn't really want to write a book, because I felt like I haven't accomplished anything I want to accomplish. I hadn't won a world title yet, none of that, but then [someone] just reminded me that ‘When you were a young boy getting bullied, dealing with obesity, looking at people in the position you’re in now, how would you have felt if they told you, ‘I was like you once and now look where I am’? From there, I decided I'm just going to put it out there and hope it inspires at least one person. Everyone says this once they're in a position, but I hope that everyone that reads it gets a little something. Even if it helps someone make one better decision in their life, it makes it all worthwhile. Because it's all about that spark, then acting on it and turning it into fire. And so hopefully, if I can be a little fan, just a little one, that fans that little spark that they've got, I'll be more than happy with that."
Lawrence’s Three-Step Guide to Changing Your Life
"1. First and foremost, you have to be honest and realistic with yourself and what your goal is. So whatever's going on in your life that you want to change for the better, you have to be honest and realistic about what your end results are and where you want to take it to.
2. The next step is to believe in yourself wholeheartedly and believe that you deserve this change. Because once you've done that, then it allows you to stick to it and hold yourself accountable.
3. And then, third and finally, is to stay consistent. I feel that changes are easy. You can change jobs or quit your job and open up your own business, but you have to be consistent with it. It's not just about the change of life, it's about sticking to it. ‘Okay, I took the risk, now how do I keep this going?’
Do that, and you’re winning."