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10 Things I Learned (Again) in 2021
Needless to say, it has been a rough 20 months for the world ever since the global crisis hit. In the Chinese language, the written word for crisis is exactly the same as it is for opportunity. It is true that the world witnessed the worst global crisis in 100 years, but it is also true that it brought many new opportunities for all of us. We might have lost many things like money and material things, but we gained grit, resilience, compassion, and other invaluable life lessons. Equally important, we gained precious time with ourselves and our loved ones. You see, nothing is ever black or white in life. It is usually both, but it depends on where we focus our energies. Without further ado, here are 10 Things I Learned (Again) in 2021.
1) Integrity is the foundation of greatness.
Live in such a way that would make your mom proud, even if she knew all of your worst moments in life. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall down. However, we should always strive to do the right thing and to do our best to live with integrity. For me, integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. Throughout my business career in the last 20+ years, I have had to make many tough and unpopular decisions that I did not necessarily want to take. I have had to fire good people who couldn’t make the grade. I have had to cut jobs in order to keep a company afloat. I have had to punish others for poor behavior to protect the rest of the team. I have had to ask decent, hard-working people to leave for all sorts of reasons like lying, stealing, egotistical behavior, laziness, etc. It is never fun or easy to deal with these types of situations, but it comes with the territory as a leader. Whenever I feel frustrated, upset, or angry at a given situation, I always take a pause and go back to gratitude. Through pure luck and good fortune, I have been blessed with the precious opportunity to help the world in a way that reflects my values and who I am. So, as a leader, it is my duty to strive to do the right thing always for the people I serve. True leadership has nothing to do with popularity, status, power, money, or fame. True leadership has everything to do with trying to do what is right. True leaders must be fearless in striving to do the right thing for the people they serve, even if they may be misunderstood, ridiculed, mocked, hated, wronged, or feared for their decisions.
2) Love is everything.
In the hustle of every day life, we often forget to pause and smell the roses. In a weird way, the global crisis stopped time for all of us. It gave us an opportunity to reflect. It gave us an opportunity to stay home. It gave us an opportunity to live with less. If anything, it reiterated the importance of love in our lives. For me, success has never about the external stuff we gain through work. It has always been about what we gain in our hearts and who we become in the process. 2021 taught me again that love is everything. Do what you love with people you love. Fill as many hours of each day with love. Success has nothing to do with the size of your house, or how many cars you have, or how big your bank account is. Success is doing what you love every day with people you love – and making a positive impact on the world. If you do what you love with people you love, you will be happy. Ultimately, happiness is the greatest barometer of success in life. At the end of the day, we all die. If you have not lived a happy life, you have missed the whole point of life. Nothing remains, except for the impact we make on our loved ones and on the world. Love fearlessly, do good in the world, and everything else will take care of itself.
3) Time is running out.
This point might seem to contradict the point above, but it does not in my mind. If anything, the global crisis has taught me (again) that the clock is always running out for all of us. When I was much younger, I made the mistake of assuming that time is infinite. When I was in my 20s and 30s, my baseline assumption in life was that I had time. The danger of this assumption is that it makes you live life in a way that is suboptimal to true success and happiness. We worry about our CVs. We worry about the latest material things. We worry about what people think of us. When we assume we have plenty of time left on the clock, we don’t feel a sense of urgency to chase our dreams and to live our greatest lives today. If we assume that we have a lot of time left on Earth, we can always delay what is important. We often forgo the things that ignite our souls. On the flip side, if we assume that time is running out, we will act – and we will act NOW. We will take that vacation to Paris because the opportunity might never arise again. We will take that risk and ask our secret crush for a date because there might be no tomorrow. We will go for walks on the beach and watch the sunset because it might be our last. We will start that painting class today because the moment may pass forever. We will take the jump today and get married to our soulmate because time is running out. We will have that coffee with our best friend who we haven’t seen in ages because time might not wait. We will spend time with our children today because we might not be here tomorrow. We will pour our hearts and souls into work that we truly love because we might not ever have an opportunity to do so. You see, there is magic in assuming that time is running out. In a nutshell, it forces us to stop playing it safe. It forces us to seize the day and live our greatest life.
4) Take out the garbage.
As a process for a healthy and happy life, we should always eliminate the things and people who serve us no purpose and/or who are harmful to our happiness and success. The problem is that most of us do not have the courage or the moral fortitude to do so. We would rather be in an ugly relationship because we fear being alone. We would rather be deceived by words that make us feel good than be told the truth that might hurt our egos. We would rather clutch onto the certainty of the status quo than risk the uncertainty of a different life. It might sound harsh, but I quickly eliminate negative people from my life. We all know people who complain about how unlucky they are, how they have been wronged by someone, how the world is unfair, or how their life is horrible. I am sorry, but I have zero empathy for negative people. Negative people find a way to blame others for their problems. And 99% of the time, they are their OWN worst problem and the direct cause of their problems. Negative people do not belong at my companies and they certainly do not belong in my life. Life is too short for negative people who cause you problems. I believe in the Law of Attraction. If you allow negative people in your life, you will become negative and attract more negative people in your life. The opposite is true too. Surround yourself with happy people who live with gratitude and you will see that your life will be happier too. When you are happy, you attract other happy people. Happiness begets happiness. Positivity begets positivity. In life, nothing is worse than negative, selfish, entitled people in your life. It takes strength and courage to eliminate the bad apples from your life, but it is necessary so that you can unleash your potential. Think of those people as deadweight bricks. Cut out the deadweight bricks from your life, and watch your life soar.
5) Remember your foundation.
Whether it is our loved ones, friends, or passions, it is important to remember the foundation upon which our lives are built. For me, one of the pillars to my daily foundation is my martial arts training. It is my source of truth. It is my source of power. It is my source of happiness. When I reflect on my lifelong journey as a martial artist, I cherish most the purity of truth that both Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu share. The ring and/or mats never lie. In Muay Thai, it does not matter how many years of training you have. You either know what you are doing or you do not. In Jiu-Jitsu, it does not matter what color your belt is. You either know what you are doing or you do not. In both arts, it only matters what you can do in real life, whether it is on the streets, in the ring, on the mats, or in competition. What I love most is that there is no hiding behind a rank or a belt or a title. Either you can handle your business with an aggressive, uncooperative, resisting opponent – or you cannot. That being said, the biggest misconception about martial arts is that it is only about fighting. The true essence of martial arts is the journey of continuous self-improvement mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Through the practice of martial arts, we inherit integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, and so much more. Above all, it empowers us with an unbreakable warrior spirit to conquer adversity in life. I truly believe that martial arts is one of the greatest platforms to unleash human potential. Martial arts has the incredible ability to change lives, to turn weakness into strength, to mold fear into courage, and to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. For me, martial arts is the warrior way of life. There is no comfort. There is no luxury. There is no ease. A warrior is always ready to suffer for what he/she loves. In our suffering, we seek the truth. In our suffering, we forge our warrior spirit. In our suffering, we discover our greatness.
6) Suffering is the path to our greatness.
Similar to the point above, suffering is the path to maximum learning, growth, and discovery. If you are going through a tough time in life right now, always remember that the greatest stories in human history involve immense suffering and the triumphant overcoming of it. Nelson Mandela endured 27 years in prison for his belief that all races were created equal. He eventually became the 1st black President of South Africa. Muhammad Ali lost everything he had built in life for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War on religious grounds as a Muslim. Against all odds and well past his prime, he ended up coming back to win the heavyweight world title for a 3rd time, making history as the only heavyweight to do so. Nick Vujicic was born with no arms and no legs. At his lowest point as a child, he seriously contemplated suicide. Today, he is a world famous evangelist, author, and entrepreneur. Tony Robbins came from a poverty-stricken, abusive home. Today, he is arguably the world’s best motivational speaker and life coach. Steve Jobs got fired from Apple, the beloved company that he founded. He went to become one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history. You see, the most beautiful people in the world are not those with a perfect life. No, the most beautiful people in the world are those who have shed tears for their dreams, who have tasted the bitterness of failure, who have known the solitude of suffering. And yet, they march forward undeterred, unwavering, and unchanged in their quest to rise above circumstances, odds, and despair. The most beautiful people in the world are those who have scars indelibly etched on their souls because they choose to live their dreams and chase their greatness.
7) Choose light over dark.
There is a battle in each of us every day. Don’t succumb to anger, greed, sloth, jealousy, hatred, revenge, arrogance, entitlement or any other form of negative energy. I truly believe that negative energy begets negative energy. If you live with negativity, you will soon be a magnet for complainers, whiners, doubters, and naysayers. Do your best to choose positive energy such as gratitude, humility, patience, courage, happiness, hard work, charity, and kindness. It doesn’t mean that we must all live in the light every moment of every day with positive energy; no, it would be impossible because we are all human after all. However, I do try my best every day to choose light over dark. Goodness and positivity are choices just as evil and negativity are. Be careful what you feed every day. You will become what you feed.
8) Karma takes care of everything.
Good luck blesses good people. Bad luck curses bad people. I have seen it over and over throughout my life. Over the course of my career, I have had people lie to me, steal from me, cheat me, badmouth me, backstab me, deceive me, betray me, and more. It is easy to become jaded, but I refuse to let these bad apples taint my belief in doing good for the world. No matter what happens, always try to do good in the world. Good always conquers evil in the long run. In the end, karma always finds a way to bless those who do good and curse those who do bad.
9) Practice forgiveness every day.
As I get older, I realize that inner peace is one of the greatest treasures in life. For me, forgiveness is the elixir of the soul. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall down. We all fail. Forgive. It takes strength to forgive. Only the weak cannot forgive. Ironically, when we carry negative energy in our hearts towards others, we can never fully be happy. Don’t let the bad apples taint your belief in humanity. Humans are good. There really is goodness in everyone. I think it is important to remember that everyone was once a baby. And babies are innocent and pure (and awesome). No one is born to hate, to lie, to steal, to cheat, to discriminate, or to kill. My assumption with everyone I meet for the first time is that they are good. I always try to put my best foot forward with everyone I meet until I am proven wrong. I believe in a win-win philosophy in life. Life is not a zero sum game. Let go of everyone who has wronged you. Let go of everything that has brought you misery. Let go of those negative emotions. Embrace the lessons and look toward the future with hope.
10) Do what it is that ignites your soul.
If there is one thing that I have learned about life, it is that the world has it wrong. Success does not create happiness. Happiness creates success. We are happiest when we follow what is in our hearts. When we are at our happiest, we are most alive and naturally willing to give 100% to every minute of every day. When we give 100% to every minute of every day, extraordinary things can happen. Dreams can turn into realities. Do what it is that ignites your soul. The funny thing is that we don’t choose who or what we love in life. Our hearts want what our hearts want, irrespective of logic or reasoning. When you feel a strong attraction to someone or something, it is a sign. Embrace it (as long it is not harming anyone or making you do anything illegal or immoral). The world does not need more people who blindly chase material things. No, the world needs more people who are alive – truly alive – to make it a better place for all. Ultimately, I would rather risk being a failure at something I love than be guaranteed a success at something I hate.
I know my annual list always has the top 10 lessons for the year. However, I will cheat a little this year and add two more lessons that are perennially at the top of my lists every year.
11) People are inherently good.
I experienced so much kindness, love, and support from family, friends, acquaintances, fans, athletes, and even strangers in 2021. Do not let the bad apples in this world taint your belief in humanity. Of course, there are bad apples everywhere, but they are the rare minority. Humans are good. There really is goodness in everyone. I think it is important to remember that everyone was once a baby. Babies are born with purity, innocence, and goodness in their hearts. This essence is innate in all of us. I truly believe it.
12) No one succeeds alone.
I have been the recipient of many blessings in life, especially the phenomenal people in my life. First and foremost, I am full of gratitude to the most amazing woman in the world, Clara. Without her love, wisdom, advice, and support, I would be nothing. She is my love, my best friend, and my partner in everything. Thank you to Saurabh, my best buddy from Harvard. We were amongst the poorest kids at Harvard almost 25 years ago, but we both somehow managed to make it. The coolest thing is that we have always helped each other every step of the way. It is embarrassing to admit, but we have spoken on the phone almost every week without fail since 1997 until today. I am so thankful that we are together on this extraordinary adventure called ONE. Thank you also to everyone at Sequoia Capital, Temasek Holdings, GIC, Iconiq, Qatar Investment Authority, Guggenheim, Heliconia, Greenoaks, and Vulcan for your leadership, strategic advice, friendship, support, and belief. ONE is blessed to have some of the world’s smartest blue chip institutional investors as our partners. You guys have been absolutely instrumental in building what will be Asia’s greatest multibillion dollar sports media property in history. Thank you to Team ONE, the most extraordinary team on the planet! It boggles my mind how Team ONE is full of the most amazing superstars, rockstars, dreamers, achievers, rebels, adventurers, mavericks, and originals. We defy odds every day. We achieve the impossible every day. We live our greatness every day. I am so blessed to serve you as your leader. Finally, thank you also to the world championship athletes and the incredible fans of ONE for everything you do to make us the greatest promotion on Earth!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Let’s smash 2022 and make it the greatest year of our lives yet!!! May you be blessed with magical memories and extraordinary achievements in the coming year. It’s time to chase our greatness and light up the world!
LET’S GOOOOO!!! #WeAreONE
Chatri Sityodtong is a self-made entrepreneur and lifelong martial artist from Thailand. His rags-to-riches life story has inspired millions around the world on BBC News, CNN, Financial Times, Bloomberg TV, CNBC, Channel NewsAsia, and other major media. He is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of ONE, Asia’s largest billion dollar global sports media platform in history with a broadcast to over 150+ countries around the world. He is also the star of the first-ever global edition of The Apprentice, the award-winning reality TV series on Netflix. Sityodtong was named “Asia’s King of Martial Arts” by the Financial Times and was ranked the “2nd Most Powerful Person in Sports in Asia” by FOX Sports. Sityodtong was also selected as one of “Asia’s Top 100 Business Leaders” by Business Insider. He is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD, Europe’s top business school. Inducted recently into the Black Belt Hall of Fame, Sityodtong is a Kru in Muay Thai under Yodtong Senanan and a Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Renzo Gracie. Sityodtong holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Tufts University.