Wilma Rudolph said, “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
We all have a sense of greatness within us, and it will start to manifest when we also start to dream big and take action on those dreams. In this episode, we’re bringing back someone who never underestimated the power of dreams — Novak Djokovic. He is one of the top tennis players in the 21st century, who has been number one for a record of more than 320 weeks.
We had him before as a guest here on The School of Greatness during episode 565 about finding your purpose and sharing that purpose with others. If you missed it, make sure to check it out.
In this episode, we discuss how Novak started playing tennis and how he persevered through so many different traumatic experiences during childhood, how Novak recovered from his lowest point in life, how to understand the power of the mind to build a Champion’s mindset, what love means to Novak and why it’s so important for him, and more.
Novak Djokovic is a Serbian tennis player who is presently ranked by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) as the world’s number one for more than 6 years. He also holds a record of 20 Grand Slam titles, sharing the spotlight with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
He started playing tennis at the age of four and quickly rose to the junior ranks in spite of the hardships of living in a war-torn country like Serbia during the early nineties.
“I celebrated my birthday during those two and a half months of bombing, and I was turning 12, and I still remembered that scene. Actually, we were having a little birthday party at a tennis club. So as kids, we were frightened, [and] we were scared.” – Novak Djokovic
Life in Serbia back in the early nineties wasn’t easy for Novak Djokovic and his family, who had to endure daily struggles for survival when bombs were randomly dropped day and night around their home. There was uncertainty about where the next bomb would drop. So, every day, they lived in fear. But as a child, they just lived for the moment and enjoyed the blessing of being alive every day, even finding time to play amidst the war.
“We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. But at the same time, as [children], we didn’t have the worries that adults did. So we were living in a moment and it was great that we got to spend more time playing tennis and having fun than in school.” – Novak Djokovic
In spite of the hardships in life and the daily struggles in the midst of threats, there were opportunities out there. Since classes were canceled because of the war, Novak was able to spend more time playing tennis, which allowed him to improve his skills further.
Years later, he became Europe’s top-ranked 14-and-under player. Later on, Novak became the number one player in the 16-and-under category until he turned professional in 2003. At the age of 18 in July 2006, Novak Djokovic joined the top 100 players in the Association of Tennis Professionals and won his first ATP event.
In 2008, Novak Djokovic won his first major championship event during the Australian Open. His popularity surged further in 2011 when he won the championships in three of the four prestigious major tennis events — the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Since then, he has won several major events per season, claiming the Grand Slam Trophy for the 19th time.
This year in 2021, Nojak Djokovic opened the season with another win in the Australian court during the Australian Open, followed by two more championships in the French Open and Wimbledon, making him a Grand Slam winner for the 20th time.
His life story from a place of survival — being bombed daily for weeks — to the international game courts and major prestigious sports events is very inspiring. Truly, his achievements and greatness did not come without struggles and hardships, and yet, his determination and passion pushed him to move forward to success.
It’s not easy to find time playing games while the entire place where you live is constantly bombarded with deadly bombs that could take lives away at any time. Novak Djokovic certainly had his share of fears and uncertainties during his childhood days.
“We spent two weeks, most of the nights, in those underground shelters. … [In the] middle of the night it was pitch darkness. And all of a sudden, you see these flashes of light everywhere. … explosions, … and you feel that the ground’s rumbling. … It was a devastating experience.” – Novak Djokovic
With daily bombing during the night, it would be pure luck if anyone isn’t hit or injured, and Novak wasn’t lucky enough. He was injured while running from one place to another through the bombing and frenzied crowd.“I remember running … one night, … and … I lost my footing. So, …. I fell down and turned around. … And then, … [when] I was in a military hospital, I was thinking about those kinds of images that are stuck in my mind forever. But at the same time, … I felt like that experience has shaped me into the person I am today and has helped me to be more appreciative of life, give more value, and be more grateful.” – Novak Djokovic
Every day is a blessing. The fact that we get to live for another day with good health and without threats is already enough to be grateful. But sometimes, we fail to appreciate our everyday blessings, while those in war-torn countries are happy enough to live another day.
For Novak Djokovic, being at the brink of death allowed him to value life more and be grateful for his daily blessings. His experience running in a place being dropped with bombs and the hardships of war may be devastating and traumatic, but it also helped him to be resilient.
“There was no bread and milk. … So you had to wait like hours to get bread. … All these different things that have happened, I think, made me and my family, and all the people, more resilient … [and] tougher … for whatever challenge that we face in life and for whatever adversity out there.” – Novak Djokovic
In every traumatic experience in life, there are choices to make. You can withdraw into isolation and self-pity, get back with remorse or revenge, or you can extract the lessons from the experience so you can evolve into a better version of yourself.
“I think that some people stayed stuck in that emotion of maybe hatred and revenge. … I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do because then you feel like you’re a prisoner of your own emotions in your life because you can’t blame anyone, and you can’t blame people of any country for what has happened because … it’s not their fault.” – Novak Djokovic
In the midst of war, Nojak Djokovic chose to play tennis while the school was canceled instead of taking a weapon to fight back in revenge. While being injured during the bombing, he chose to move forward and learn from the experience, allowing it to shape him into the person he is today. He didn’t blame anyone. He doesn’t hold onto hatred or have any thoughts of revenge. Instead, he chose forgiveness and love and focused on his training. That’s the mindset of the champions. Because of his choices, Novak is now living his dreams.
Guys, this is a powerful interview with Novak Djokovic, and it is loaded with so much value and words of wisdom from him. Listen to the full episode for more, and don’t forget to share it with someone who needs to hear it.
Follow Novak on social media. He’s on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also subscribe to his YouTube channel to access his videos about his regular training, daily struggles, and challenges. If you want to watch the highlights of his tennis games, including the schedules of his upcoming events, check out his website for the latest updates.
Novak Djokovic believes that champions are not born. Instead, they are educated, encouraged, nurtured, and loved, and he never forgets what it takes to become a champion. Because of this vision, he’s on a mission to make long-term investments in early childhood education programs by investing in every deserving child’s future through his foundation. By doing so, he’s investing in their dreams.
If you want to make a difference in someone’s life today, you can also start your own campaign to provide children in Serbia with opportunities for better development and education. Visit the Novak Djokovic Foundation for more details.
I would like to end this episode with my guest’s definition of greatness, and Novak Djokovic’s is truly inspiring:
“My definition of greatness, for me, is purpose. If you find your purpose, you’re going to give purpose to others. And you and I, as public figures, have this responsibility even more. And I think that on whatever level of society you are, or whatever experience that you go through, you’re going to maximize your life’s experience only if you find a purpose, and people will find their purpose because they will relate to the very same purpose that you are defining, and you’re radiating, and you are portraying.” – Novak Djokovic
When you have a purpose in life, you are living a life of greatness. Your purpose should not be kept within, but instead should be shared with others as part of your responsibility to society. For Novak Djokovic, his life purpose is to make a difference to others by believing in the dreams of every child and supporting them to achieve their dreams.
How about you — what’s your life’s purpose? Make sure to share your purpose and do something great every day.