With everything going on in the world I think it’s important now more than ever to spread hope, love, and inspiration.
Today’s guest is the very definition of all of those things.
Novak Djokovic grew up during two wars in Serbia. As a child, he would be woken up at 2 am to alarms going off and be forced to head to a safe place. He saw the night’s sky turn to light as he heard and felt the rumble of bombs being dropped around him.
Through all of this Novak didn’t turn to hate. Instead he turned to love and passion. He became the #1 tennis champion in the world.
Most of us can’t even imagine living in the kind of environment where your school is cancelled because it’s in a war zone.
Most children would feel unstable growing up in that kind of an environment. Novak persevered, however. He spent his school-less day training and playing tennis.
He focused on his love and his passions.
Even at the age of six his trainer believed in him and said he could become the best in the world.
More importantly, Novak believed in himself.
Today he helps Unicef, visits refugee families, and gives all of his love and everything he can back to the world.
This man is a human being full of nothing but love and inspiration. He’s someone I truly look up to and I feel so lucky that we have him in this world, sharing himself as a beacon of hope to people all over.
Hear his incredible journey, and how you too can be a beacon of hope, on Episode 565.
Lewis Howes: This is episode number 565 with one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Novak Djokovic. Welcome to The School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now, let the class begin.
Joseph Campbell said, “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. I am so thrilled and excited for our guest today. And for those that don’t know him, his name is Novak Djokovic and he is a Serbian tennis player who is widely regarded as one of the best tennis players of all time. He has won twelve grand slam titles and held the number one spot in the ATP rankings for a total of 223 weeks! He became the third man to hold all four major titles at once. He also won the bronze medal in men’s singles at the 2008 Summer Olympics. He has been playing professionally since 2003, when he was 16, and had a 43-match winning streak at one time. He is a member of the Champions for Peace Club, a group of famous, elite athletes, committed to serving peace in the world through sport, and in 2015 he was appointed a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador. I am so pumped up, guys, because we go into the entire back story of how Novak became into tennis in the first place, how he got onto the tour, but it was so much more before all this happened, before he became number one, before he became one of the best in the world, there were some things that he went through, that I am so glad that he opened up and shared about. We cover why Novak chose not to stay stuck in a feeling of hatred and revenge, after the Serbian wars that he was living through. Also the story behind why he is so passionate about helping refugees. When he knew he would become number one in the world, and this story is fascinating to me, also, how he got out of the mental pit of not being number one before he got there. We talked about so many inspiring things, and his humility, his grace, the person and human being that Novak is, is truly inspiring for me, and I hope to bring him back on at some point to talk even more about the mental performance of everything that he’s done, but man, this was just such a profound and powerful interview for me, so if you guys like Novak, and you enjoy this episode, then make sure to just take a screenshot right now and post it out on Instagram stories, on your Facebook, on Twitter, and again, the show notes, where the full video interview and all the notes we talked about are at lewishowes.com/565. Powerful story, guys, and I’m glad that you’re going to be listening to it, and please share with your friends.
Before we dive in, and I want to give a shout out to the fan of the week. This is from Michael Pfenner in New Jersey, who said, “This podcast has dramatically altered the direction of my life. Lewis has the best podcast out there and his guests are always so amazing. The School of Greatness is inspiring. It has helped me find myself, my passions, redefine myself and reignite that internal flame after a period of being lost. Thank you, Lewis, for your contribution to helping me in my life, and I’m sure many people feel the same way in their lives. And you know what time it is? It’s time for greatness! So, thank you!” says Michael Pfenner.
I appreciate you very much, Michael. You are the fan of the week this week, my friend. So, if you guys want to get shouted out on the podcast, you go ahead and leave a review over on iTunes or on The School of Greatness podcast app that you have on your phone and check it out and just leave a review. Someone on our team will pick out the best one of the week and make sure to send it to me for the review of the week.
And I’m going to give a quick shout out to our sponsor today, which is Four Sigmatic. Now, I’m all about optimizing the body and the mind, and there is an entire kingdom of mushrooms that exist, many with amazing health benefits for immunity, energy and longevity, that have been studied for centuries, and at Four Sigmatic they believe in the real magic of functional mushrooms to help us live healthier, more enhanced lives. They make drinking mushrooms and superfoods delicious and easy to do with mushroom coffees, mushroom superfood blends and elixirs. Four Sigmatic was founded to cut through the hype and help people consume more of one of the world’s most scientifically studied superfoods, which are mushrooms. For example, the active ingredient in their coffee, is lion’s mane mushroom, which has long been used by Buddhist monks for better focus during meditation. For those who are getting stomach pain from drinking coffee, mushroom coffee is a gut-friendly coffee option. They come in handy packets that you can just mix in hot or cold water and just takes a couple of seconds to prepare, and it doesn’t taste like mushrooms, it tastes like coffee, guys, it’s really powerful stuff. I love this stuff. And the best thing is, their mushroom products are shipped to over 65 countries, and to over a million consumers worldwide. You can get 15% off your order of Four Sigmatic products, at foursigmatic.com/greatness. That’s F.O.U.R.S.I.G.M.A.T.I.C. Again, make sure to get 15% off your order right now, at foursigmatic.com/greatness. Also, if you haven’t picked up a copy of my new book, Mask of Masculinity – how men can embrace vulnerability, create strong relationships and live their fullest lives, make sure to pick it up right now – lewishowes.com/Mask will take you right to Amazon, or you can go to Barnes & Noble or your local book store, they ship it all over the place. Make sure to pick it up, guys. We are seeing incredible feedback and responses to this message. It couldn’t have been more timely. Of all the pain and suffering that’s happening in the world, a lot of this is caused by men, who are in the news and in the media for all the killings that are happening, the bombings, all of the sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual violence, all of the domestic violence. The pain and suffering that is caused in the world right now, is typically seen happening from men. And it’s very unfortunate. I don’t want us men to have to suffer any more, and I created this book to help men, give them different awareness and understanding of why we’ve been conditioned to go to this place. And it’s been a challenging time, because we feel like sometimes there aren’t ways to express ourselves in healthier forms that are acceptable in society. So we break this down with a lot of great research, I have a lot of great psychologists who backed this and give us this information to show men how to fully break through and live their fullest lives, and the crazy thing is, I feel like more women are buying this and consuming this and devouring this book, because it’s helping women understand the men in their lives. Their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, their sons who might be emotionally disconnected or guarded or wearing these different masks. And when you are aware of the men and what mask they are putting on, you then have more opportunities to break through those masks and have deeper and more meaningful relationships and connections. So make sure to pick up a copy, Mask of Masculinity, send me a screenshot when you do and tag me over on Instagram or Twitter, let me know that you got it, I would love to have a conversation with you over on social media, and our link is lewishowes.com/mask that’ll take you right to Amazon, or if you want to listen to it on audio, then you can go to lewishowes.com/man and it’ll take you right to the audible page where you can download it and listen to me read the entire book to you. So make sure to check it out and let me know what you think.
All right guys! I am super pumped about this one! We have one of the greatest in the world. Without further ado, let me announce to you the one, the only Novak Djokovic!
Alright guys, welcome back to the School of Greatness podcast. We have the legendary Novak Djokovic.
Novak Djokovic: That’s great!
Lewis Howes: In the house, man!
Novak Djokovic: You pronounced it very well!
Lewis Howes: I pronounced it the way you told me to.
Novak Djokovic: Thank you for having me.
Lewis Howes: I’m super excited about this. This is your first podcast.
Novak Djokovic: First podcast, yes.
Lewis Howes: And we had lunch a couple of days ago, your wife, Jelena, introduced me to you. She had found, I guess, some of my information somewhere on a podcast somewhere and reached out, asking me to do an interview with her, we had a great conversation, she was like, “You have to meet my husband, you’re going to love him,” and I said, “Okay, I don’t really know much about [him],” and then she was telling me all these things about you. About how you really are here not just to be the best tennis player that you can be, but to make a massive impact in the world. And that you constantly want to give back and you want to spread love and joy and bring humanity together, and I said, “Okay, if he’s more than just an athlete, then I must meet this guy.” So…
Novak Djokovic: She gives the best introductions of me, I must say.
Lewis Howes: That’s exactly right.
Novak Djokovic: I’m very grateful to her in my life and I think it starts from there, really. Emotional stability, the love, first towards yourself, of course, but then being able to share love and share everything that you experience in life with your partner, is something that brought a lot of joy, a lot of inner peace, and a lot of success later on in my life. She’s probably the only serious relationship I ever had, as I was telling you the other day at lunch, but she’ll probably not agree with that. She’s like, “Yeah, but you had a girlfriend three and a half months before me,” and, okay, yes I had, but we started dating when I was eighteen, she was nineteen and now we’ve been married for four years, no, what is it? three? Oh my gosh, I’m getting in trouble now, okay. I have the ring on, darling, it’s fine! Yeah, so… but we have two beautiful children and it’s great to be able to share my life with her.
Lewis Howes: That’s amazing. Now you started tennis when you were four. Is that right? Started playing at four?
Novak Djokovic: Yes, I started when I was four years old, and the story goes like this, basically. Nobody has touched a racquet before me in my family, so I don’t have any tradition that I inherited to play tennis. Tennis was never a big sport in our country before. We did have Monica Seles, I don’t know if you remember her, and she came over to States and she played for Yugoslavia at that time, and then she played for States as well, so she was our biggest star. Then we had Slobodan Živojinović who was top twenty in the world at singles and first in doubles, but that’s as far as we go in Serbia. Croatia on the other hand, had more success. They had Goran Ivanišević and Franjo Punčec and all these guys and they were top three, four, two in the world and winning Grand Slams and so forth, so… But tennis was never a big sport, you know, we were more a nation of team sports; basketball, soccer, and handball, volleyball, waterpolo, and we had huge amount of success in those sports.
Lewis Howes: Wonderful! You guys were Olympic Champions some years ago, weren’t you? So strong.
Novak Djokovic: Yes, and I mean, these guys, they’re one of the most dominant teams in world sports ever. I mean, these guys haven’t lost a game in like ten years, you know? They’re amazing. So, yeah… And so I grew up with my family in one mountain resort in Serbia called Kopaonik. My parents had a restaurant business there. We used to commute between the capital city, Belgrade, where I was born and where we basically lived and went to school and Kopaonik, often because of the business that was, we lived out of, and…
Lewis Howes: The restaurant was in Belgrade? Or where?
Novak Djokovic: No, the restaurant was on the mountain, so the mountain was quite popular in those days with summer and winter and all those…
Lewis Howes: Like a tourist destination…and it’s snowboarders and so on.
Novak Djokovic: Yeah, exactly, but then after the wars came, unfortunately, it became only a very seasonal thing, just to go get a couple months of skiing and that’s all. And they were building three tennis courts in front of that restaurant, actually, when I was four, it was in ’91, it was just, I think, the year before the war started, actually, when Yugoslavia broke apart, and we still had a lot of foreigners coming and so forth, so it was a lot of interest for tennis, because tennis is a sport that was born in France, and in England and in more aristocratic environments. Tennis is the sport of gentlemen, it’s not a very easily accessible sport, affordable sport, like maybe basketball, soccer, football, those type of sports. So, I fell in love with it right away. I mean, I helped the workers make the court and in return I was bringing some beers to them as a small kid I was eager, I was curious as any other child, what is going on here. So finally I found out it is tennis, I just became aware that I am alive, you know, at four years old, I mean, I was that young, and I was like, “Okay, Dad. I would like to see what is going on here and maybe eventually get a racquet,” you know? And so I started asking and then begging and then “Please”, you know? And so eventually he said, “Okay, great, here you go,” racquet, ball, and then tennis camps started to come over from Belgrade and different cities in Serbia. I joined, right away, the first camp that I saw and it was like a bunch of kids coming from different cities in Serbia and it was like a program for a week. Because it was so close to the restaurant which my parents had, I just kind of walked there and hung on the fence and just tried to understand what the sport is, and I started watching it on TV, and then then the rest of it is history, you know, I really was very fortunate to meet, that same year, I think, or the year after, I like to call her my tennis mother. She has greatly influenced my tennis career, my life as well. My parents were really kind, and they trusted her, so that she can have influence off the court on me as well, which is tricky to do, as a parent, you know? I mean, especially if you have a child that is that young, you as a parent, you believe that you have everything that your child needs, in order to, I guess, help him develop into a mature and healthy human being, and so as a parent you always think, “Okay, who is going to be the mentor of my child?” Both my mom and dad were really happy with, I guess, the quality of person that Jelena Gencic was, and she used to train also with Monica Seles and so forth, so she was probably the best person that I could have at that stage, and she saw me right away, she said, “Okay, you have great talent.” She told my parents, she said, “Okay, this kid can be number one of the world.”
Lewis Howes: At five years old?
Novak Djokovic: Exactly, and I mean, that was at six or seven…
Lewis Howes: After you were playing for a little bit now.
Novak Djokovic: For a few years, but she said right away, she said, “Okay,” even said it was something different because I came to the practice, you know, first tennis practice ever, I came in with a little bag and a little extra Tee-shirt, I had a little bottle of water, and whatever, I prepared that, I was very much into it, I wanted to be ready and so on. She found that very odd and she found that very special, and so she said, “There is something about him that is different,” and she was telling my parents that they should support me. Bear in mind that those were the ’90s and we had two wars and with all this bunch of different difficulties and adversities in life that we were facing, which was making it as much difficult for my parents to support me to become a tennis player and to pursue my dream. And it was, as we talked about it five minutes ago, I mean, it’s an expensive sport, you know, you got to afford a racquet, coaches, all this stuff.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, coaches, court time…
Novak Djokovic: But, we went through all this stuff and my father saw that spark in my eyes and said, “Okay, this is what you are going to do.”
Lewis Howes: Amazing, man, this is crazy! So, do you think, that if she didn’t say that you could be number one in the world, do you think you would have actually become it? Without having someone else believe in you? With that belief, early on.
Novak Djokovic: You know, I usually don’t like to play with these questions, what if? What if? Because I believe that everything in life happens with a reason, and for a reason. I think, if we have to think about it, I don’t know if I would actually pursue the career of a tennis player if it wasn’t for the belief and support that I had from my parents and her.
Lewis Howes: Really?
Novak Djokovic: Of course, I fell in love with the sport, but when you are that young, kids are curious so we play different sports, you engage yourself and who knows where, I guess, the path takes you, you know. And I did play other sports as well, I mean, I did skiing, because it was mountain, my father was professional skier, my aunt, my uncle, they were all competitors, they were all competing on a high level, on a regional level and European level, so that’s actually how my parents met, as well. My father was an instructor and she was skiing and so the whole thing, you know, and here I am. So, skiing was and still is today, a great passion of mine. But, yes, you’re right, if I haven’t had her and my parents saying, “Okay, there is something that you should pursue here in this sport,” I probably would play other sports and probably the sports that were more popular, you know, with friends.
Lewis Howes: Team sports, yeah.
Novak Djokovic: You know how it is, I mean, when you are that young, you want to play sports and you want to belong to a group, to a little community, whatever, so nobody was really, there were not many kids playing tennis, because it was expensive, it’s not affordable, it was not maybe as much fun as some other team sports, because, you know, when you’re playing soccer or basketball, it’s more fun, like this…
Lewis Howes: It’s more isolated.
Novak Djokovic: exactly, you’re more isolated, more individual. You do play, you know, in groups and so forth, and camps and stuff like that, but half of the time you’re spending by yourself, on one side of the net, and that’s all you’ve got.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, that’s crazy. Now, the first war, you went through two wars in Serbia, right?
Novak Djokovic: Yes.
Lewis Howes: The first war you were six? Seven?
Novak Djokovic: Uh, five, I think, 1992.
Lewis Howes: Five?
Novak Djokovic: Yeah.
Lewis Howes: And that one was the lesser of the two wars, is that right?
Novak Djokovic: Yeah.
Lewis Howes: It was still kind of, you know, bombs everywhere, but it wasn’t as hard as…
Novak Djokovic: Yeah. The first war was more in Croatia and Bosnia. It was between, you know, Serbs and Bosnians and Croatians, and the whole Yugoslavia, was once a big country with six, seven states that, you know, fell apart. The war lasted for a long time, I think three, four years, and there were a lot of victims. Nobody wins in war, I mean, it’s a terrible thing. But I didn’t feel it, my family didn’t feel it in Belgrade, in Serbia, as much as people in those areas of Bosnia and Croatia felt it.
Lewis Howes: The second war was the one you felt the most, right? When you were around twelve?
Novak Djokovic: Yes, I was twelve and I remember actually that I celebrated my birthday during those two and a half months of bombing and I was turning twelve. I still remember that scene actually. We were having like this little birthday party at this tennis club. So as kids, of course we were frightened, we were scared, we didn’t know what tomorrow brings, but at the same time, as a child, you don’t really have the worries that adults have, so you’re living in the moment and for us it was great that we get to spend more time playing tennis, having fun, than in school, so it was like, “Oh, great! We get to do that and that,” we don’t get to sit for hours, but we get to actually play.
Lewis Howes: There was no class during that time?
Novak Djokovic: No, no. Absolutely not. No, no, no. Absolutely not.
Lewis Howes: School’s cancelled.
Novak Djokovic: School’s cancelled, everything’s cancelled, you know, it’s just, many people fled and it’s just…
Lewis Howes: Wow!
Novak Djokovic: It was one of these things that, it was not just from one day to another. We were, kind of, warned about it, months prior to when it happened, but I think the super majority of people really didn’t believe that that’s going to happen.
Lewis Howes: Really?
Novak Djokovic: Imagine that we sit here and then you see planes, and, you know, dropping bombs here and there, I mean, it’s… and everything is trembling and the windows are breaking and everybody is screaming and the whole city, I mean, the whole country was basically bombed. It was because of the part of Serbia at that time and it was Kosovo that was… the whole thing, I mean, not to get into politics, because it just gets ugly. You know, it was one of these things where you just don’t know. That feeling of insecurity, of helplessness, it’s terrible. Because, you know, we as human beings, we like to have a control of environment, of where we live, of what we are going to do, you know, of our experiences, and this was completely taken away from us. And there was this higher power from above, that could do anything, to anybody. And you could be a collateral damage any minute, basically. So, uh…
Lewis Howes: Did you see bombs dropping every day? Every day?
Novak Djokovic: Oh, yeah! Yeah, I didn’t see it myself, I heard it, of course, I felt it, I’ve seen, I have this image still in my mind, where, I think it was the first week when it actually started, and we were still very much, of course, afraid, and we were running to the shelters, and my father’s sister, so my aunt, she lived with her family, you know, three, four hundred feet away from our building, so we lived in one building, she lived in another building, and her building had underground shelters, and ours didn’t. So we, literally, for every night for the first couple weeks, we ran, like around 2/3am that’s when it started, the bombs started to come.
Lewis Howes: Really?
Novak Djokovic: Yeah, exactly. That’s when we were going there, so we just wake up, pack our things, cry a little bit, scream, whatever, and then just take our whatever necessities and just go there. So we spent two weeks, most of the nights in those underground shelters. And I remember, I think one of the first nights, and you see it’s obviously middle of the night, and it’s pitch darkness, you know, and all of a sudden you see these flashes of light everywhere, you know, explosions, and you feel the ground trembling and it was a devastating experience, and then I remember us running, it was one night, it was I think the third night, second or third night of bombings, I was twelve, I have two younger brothers, the middle brother was eight, the youngest brother was four, so the middle brother, he was running as well, with our dad and my mom was carrying the youngest one, so I was behind. I dropped something, so I picked it up, I was losing my footing, so I, they didn’t hear me because of the noise, so there was this distance and I was frightened that I’m going to be left alone, so as I was running I tumbled, you know, on the rock, I fell down and I turned around and then I could see this, I don’t know, it’s an F16 plane or something like that, they call it the invisible one, this huge thing just flew and it dropped something there which was just very close, it was the military hospital I was telling you about. You know, it’s just those kinds of images stuck in your mind forever. But at the same time, as I was telling you, I feel like that experience has shaped me into the person I am today, has helped me to be more appreciative of life, give more value, I am more grateful, and just, because of everything that has happened, in those ten years, actually, because after the first war to the second war, the whole country was… we had embargo, so there was no imports, like, of gas, for cars, there was no bread and milk, you had lines of people, you know, queues, like, very long ones, so you had to wait, like, hours to get bread, and all these different things that have happened, made me and my family and all the people in Serbia, more resilient, you know, and just tougher, you know, for whatever challenges we face in life and whatever adversity is out there. And I think that some people stayed stuck in that emotion of, maybe hatred and revenge type of feeling. I am not, and I don’t believe that’s the right thing to do, because then you feel like you are a prisoner of your own emotions and your life, because you can’t blame anyone, can’t blame people, of any country for what has happened, because it’s not their fault, you know, or some maybe decisions of head of state or militaries, or whatever, I mean, at the end of the day, if you carry this for all your life, does it really make any change for you? Is it going to enrich your life? I mean, it’s not. So, you cannot ask people to forget, and that’s one thing that I realised, because I was fortunate not to lose anyone that is close to me, my family, my brothers, everyone is good, is healthy. Also cousins and so forth, everybody’s okay. But, you know, I know people that lost their parents, that lost somebody very close, and they lost homes, they lost lives and they had to start over, you know, from scratch. I think almost half a million refugees, and even more, I mean, God knows how many people died. And you can still see, and I hope one day you’ll come to Belgrade, and you still see the traces of that. You still see buildings that are ruins and since ’99, and it’s funny, but they use it as a tourist attraction today. But it’s hard to ask people, hey, just forget about it. You cannot forget about it. You cannot. It is one of these things that is deeply engraved into your subconscious, into your emotions, into your memory. But, I think you can get over it and let it go, and that’s something that I’ve felt like I’ve managed to do myself, and many people did, many people also didn’t. The wounds are fresh, it happened, I mean, when in ’99, it’s almost you know, twenty years ago, so it’s still relatively fresh.
Lewis Howes: And it was in your childhood, I mean, it was a time in your teens, I guess, right before you became a teenager. I mean, I couldn’t have imagined. Intense, man.
Novak Djokovic: Yeah, it’s intense.
Lewis Howes: Two and a half months, you said, every day, right?
Novak Djokovic: That’s why, I mean, it hurts me every time I hear about refugees, every time I hear about bombings, about war, and what’s happening in Syria, in the Middle East, it’s just… And Syria, let’s take Syria for example, I mean, I had one incredible experience, I mean, I’ve never cried that much in my life. I became a Unicef Ambassador of Goodwill for the region ten years ago, and then in the meantime became a global ambassador and as I became global ambassador some years ago, I start to do different things for Unicef, and my foundation, because Unicef and my foundation are collaborating, and I remember it was, I suppose, a year, a year and a half ago, it was just recently, I mean, when the whole Syrian war started. It was a huge thing in Europe, because probably a third or a quarter of the country just left. Can you imagine, you have twelve million people in Syria, so three or four million people left the country. Probably even more now, today. Because they lost homes, they lost their lives, they lost their close ones, what they going to do, you know, they want to search, they want go to some place that will offer them roof above their head, and social help that they don’t have in their country, because it’s completely devastated, it’s completely destroyed. So, you know, many, many, like, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of refugees went through Serbia to go to Germany, Austria, I guess, bigger countries in Europe. And so we were on their trajectory. I went to visit one of those kind of locations that was offered from a city as…
Lewis Howes: Like a resting place?
Novak Djokovic: As a resting place, as a shelter, temporary homes for people that are passing through and it was one of the hotels in town, in Belgrade, they gave them the whole lobby area, the whole floor. As I came over I already start to feel this, obviously I do a lot for my foundation and so forth, and it touches your heart, because, and we’re going to talk about it in a minute, but we focus a lot on education and it’s a different thing; you don’t get to see the devastation, the hurt, the pain as much. You see that, but not as much as you see it here. I knew I kind of could predict what is going to happen and what awaits me, so I start to feel all of a sudden these emotions, because I’ve been fortunate, I haven’t been a refugee myself, but I know many of my friends, and people around me who are refugees of the wars, of the ’90s. So as I come in, and I’m supposed to… there’s a camera, I think it was CNN and a couple of other cameras, and they wanted me to record a message, for people being there, to ask for help, to raise funds to help, you know, the refugees and to build homes for them and so forth. And as I came in and you see different rooms; there’s the play room and then there’s a resting room and so forth, and the look on these people’s faces was something that was, wow, boom, right away, first impression was like, pain, insecurity devastation, sadness, it’s just all these emotions. And just that they were flat, literally, they were flat. They didn’t know what’s happening. They’re like, “Okay, we’re here now, but where are we walking, where are we going, what’s going to happen, where is our life tomorrow?” So as I’m walking into this small area, this play area for children, there are plenty of children there, I observe them for a little bit and then one of the volunteers there tells me, “Why don’t you join them, you know, try to…” So, I didn’t know how to react, honestly. I didn’t know, I didn’t want to, I mean, I want to be with them, but at the same time I don’t want to be in their space, because, you know, because I could feel the emotions, I could feel what they are going through. So, I started playing around, and ten minutes later I really got into it and there was a couple of children around me and we started, you know, playing with toys and measuring things and whatever, and it was really cool. And then somebody taps my shoulder, and it was one of the people from Unicef, and she came with the mother of a child that I was playing with and she was a girl that was probably not even two, two and a half years old, and she told me her mom came to pick her up, it’s time to go. I thought to myself, “Where are they going to go? What’s going to happen?” I mean, it’s… sorry, I just, it’s even today, it’s just so emotional, you know? Because I don’t know where they went, you know? It’s like, having this girl and mom taking a boy who is six, seven years old, and this little girl, they’re travelling, God knows where, by foot, no home, no nothing behind them, you know, and in front of them, and then I was supposed to tell something to the camera, and then I’m like now, I’m like, “Guys, I can’t speak, I can’t speak,” because it’s just one of these things that breaks your heart. And it’s just… sorry. That’s what war does, that’s what war does. But at the same time, I’m really grateful that I’ve been through that. Through this experience, through the wars in the ’90s and all these things because it made me more human, it made me more connected with other people. Because whatever happens in the world, I know that we are all going through that experience of trying to live, trying to take the best out of this life experience for ourselves. And, I think, going through those emotions and those experiences and past, just allowed me to be more warm hearted towards people and I feel that I get the same, yeah.
Lewis Howes: Wow, man. Thanks for sharing that story.
Novak Djokovic: I’m sorry, man, it’s just one of those things that is…
Lewis Howes: That’s okay, man, it’s powerful
Novak Djokovic: That is really, that stays with you, it stays with you. And I like to look back to it, as much as it hurts me, I like to go back to it and then understand that what I have in life, and how fast I can lose all of that, if I don’t appreciate it, if I’m not living in the present, and knowing that there are people like that, even today, going through all of this, and us being in this incredible life and having this fortune to be successful and to be heard, as well, you know, everything that we say, thousands of, millions of people following you, myself. Children are looking up to us and saying, “Okay, this is something that I can use to be better,” and saying, “I want to be like him.” So I think, having this in my subconscious, you know, all these experiences of the past and never forgetting about that, keeps me grounded, keeps me aware that everything I say, is heard in these places that really need your advice, that need your help, that need your light. So, you know, it’s all about sharing that light and sharing that love.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, wow, man. What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned from war, from that whole experience personally?
Novak Djokovic: The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is probably that I should be always kind, to anyone and everyone, no matter what experiences they go through, because you never know. You never know what one person goes through. You just always be kind, because there is something, that we call God, universe, angels, there is this higher force above, and here on this planet, that is going to help us to live a prosperous life, to be happy, to be healthy, to be joyful, to have that peace, if we truly respect and appreciate ourselves and others in that process as well.
Lewis Howes: Wow. Now, were you able to even think about tennis? You know, you had this dream of being number one at four, five, six and then, during the war time, were you still thinking, “Oh, this is something I could still do”? Or, “I have no clue where I’m going to be tomorrow, because these bombs are right around me, within miles.” Were you able to practice, were you just not sure, were you just trying to, you know…
Novak Djokovic: Oh, I was practising big time, every day, yeah as I told you…
Lewis Howes: That was your time with no school.
Novak Djokovic: Exactly, no school. I mean, I enjoyed school, I think it’s great, but at the same time, I liked to be on the tennis court more, I mean, because I was completely in love with it and it’s just a huge passion of mine. And I started to do better and better and started to win some local tournaments, I was eleven, twelve years old, and during those two and a half months of bombing, we actually spent, after the second week was done, because for the first couple of weeks were were like, “Okay. Let’s just survive, and let’s just figure things out.” We don’t know what’s going to happen. And then after the second week we were like, “Okay, this is going to happen, God knows how long it’s going to go for, so let’s just continue living our so to say, normal, daily lives.” Whatever that is, you know? And so I spent a lot of time on tennis courts and we had a lot of tournaments, and I actually remember, I haven’t been part of it, I was still young, I was too little, but there were people who were organising this so-called, “target group” activities, because they were bombing our bridges as well, so they would go out and one of the most important bridges that connects the two important parts of the town, so people would go there literally more or less every day, with Tee-shirts that would have like, a target drawn on them, and also on their faces they would draw a target, or on top of their heads. And they would sing songs, they would be together, united and that was like a message out there, “Okay, we are the target, try to do something now. This is us. We are here.” So, thankfully nothing happened there, but that is how powerful this whole experience was for people to get together. It was devastating, it was all these things we talked about, but there was something positive that people survived because, and we got through it as people, as a country, because we were together, we were united. And we talked about it the other day on the lunch, is that I was complaining to you a little bit about Serbian people, that we are not united when we are supposed to be.
Lewis Howes: Like, pulling each other down.
Novak Djokovic: Exactly! I was telling you that joke, yeah! I think it’s especially younger generations at that time, they were like, “Okay, this is our time to be rebellious.” You know, when you’re younger, you’re rebellious, you want to be part of those activities and it’s fun. So, we try to turn it into fun, as much as we could.
Lewis Howes: Yeah, during bombings. Crazy! Now when did you start to fully believe in yourself, that you were able to achieve what you wanted to do in tennis? When did the belief set in, when you were like, “Yes, this is possible for me.”
Novak Djokovic: Oh, very early I already knew I am going to become number one of the world. Like, I was seven, I think, it was probably the first TV show I had, I was guest on one of these kid’s shows on national TV. I said tennis is my commitment, it’s my obligation, it’s something I have to do, I mean, I was already so disciplined, you know, at that time and they say that there is a great quote of discipline, they say discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments, right, so whatever in life you envision to do, you got to be disciplined. Disciplined spiritually, disciplined in sports, in whatever, in your family, in your relationships. So, very early, I think, and my parents and my tennis mother Jelena Gencic, they have deeply ingrained that discipline in me, and that I knew… I mean, already at seven, eight I was like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I knew. It was very clear. What is strange about it is that if you take into consideration all the circumstances in which I have grown up as a child, it was very odd. And there were many people, they were laughing at it and it was just, it was… My father, he went through so much, I’m eternally grateful to both my parents and my father has borrowed money from people, they were chasing him in cars, I mean, you would not imagine the experiences that he had and we had in order for me to travel to United States, for example, for the first time in my life. And during those ’90s and because of embargo and those things the criminal rate raised, so there was a lot of kidnapping and different stuff and it was… It’s not even close like that now, now it’s great, it’s fantastic, it’s safe and it’s all fine, but during those seven, eight years, it was really tough. People were scraping and people were fighting for their lives, basically. Surviving. It’s a matter of like, if you take one bread or two breads it makes the difference, you know, you won’t need to stand in line, and God knows if you’re going to have a bread in a week’s time, you know? So, it was literally that kind of survival mode for everyone. And so I think from very early stages of my life I knew what I wanted to do, but not just what I wanted to do, but what I wanted to achieve, what is going to be my accomplishment in what I do. And I think, because I had these objectives in life, I managed to have the mental clarity, I manage to, kind of, in tennis is Andre Agassi, is my coach now, and I’m proud to have him on my team. He always says in tennis you work from top backwards. From basically setting up a goal and then you work your way back. It’s just, you know exactly, the whole season, how it’s going to look like, because this is my season goal, let me work my way back to this moment. So this is probably the definition of how I felt at that moment mentally and the plans that I had, the visions that I had. I was seven, I was making already, out of plastic or like, a little paper materials, I was making the Wimbledon trophy, I was lifting it up like this. It was very, very clear in my mind that that’s going to be my mission.
Lewis Howes: Have you ever doubted yourself, going on to, you know being a professional and going against some of these top players for the first time? Did you ever have doubt? Or were you always, like, “I can beat them, I can be the best”?
Novak Djokovic: Yeah, I had plenty of doubts, and plenty of doubtful moments. Probably the one that stands out the most was back in 2010, when I was already number three of the world, I was already a Grand Slam winner, I was an established player, in the top five in the world already three, four years before that, so I was already into it. One of my first Grand Slams, an Australian Open, in January 2008, I was twenty years old, and it was a dream come true, the whole thing, I was very successful in junior days, I mean, it was just, I had this upward kind of spiral and trajectory, in my tennis career, in my life, and everything was great. And then all of a sudden I had this period of two and a half, three years when I didn’t win a Slam, I was managing to be three, four in the world, but I just, I struggled a lot, and for me, being number three of the world wasn’t enough. I just, I was not satisfied with that. And I just always go back and say, “Okay, when I was seven, eight years old, my dream and life call was always to be number one and win Wimbledon. That’s it. And I need to achieve that, no matter what.” But then I reached a kind of mentally low point in my career, I think it was after Roland-Garros, you know, one of the four Slams, and I was, I lost, I was two sets to love up and I lost in five sets in quarter finals, it was against a guy called Jurgen Meltzer, he was top ten of the world, very good player, but I had a match and I just lost, and I just had a breakdown. I remember going first to my parents and talking about this and that, and I just cried, and I was like, I don’t know if this is worth it, I don’t know if I should keep going, and my father was like, “Toughen up! Toughen up!” you know, and da-da-da, and it wasn’t enough, you know, I felt like I needed to think about it more, I felt like I needed to share more. So I went to my coach at that time Marián Vajda, and one of my best friends in life and my former physiotherapist, Milan, and I was in the room, and I remember sitting on the floor, and again, I had another breakdown and I was saying, oh, I don’t know, and they were like, “Okay, take your time. Let’s first breathe and let’s calm down. Let’s look back.” And they were really wise for telling me, let’s look back, first. Why did you start playing this sport, and the whole thing? Do you love it? You know, leave aside what you want to achieve, what you want to do, you know, but do you really like holding a racquet in your hand. And then I’m like, “Actually, I do, I really love holding a racquet in my hand,” whether it’s a Grand Slam centre court finals, whatever, or it’s just a normal public court, I still like playing for the sake of playing. They’re like, “Well that’s your source. That’s what you need to tap into. And that’s what’s… take a little bit of time.” And literally, they thought it was going to take a few weeks, the next day I was like, “Okay, I’m back on track. Let’s go, let’s keep going!” And I never looked back ever since that moment. I remember the next tournament was Wimbledon pro, we made semi-finals and then after that I won Davis Cup with my country, with my guys 2010, that was one of the highlights of my career. And then after that I went into having 43 match wins in a row, and I had that streak, I became number one.
Lewis Howes: How long was that for?
Novak Djokovic: It was almost six months.
Lewis Howes: Six months? You didn’t lose one match.
Novak Djokovic: Yeah, yeah.
Lewis Howes: You lost a set, but not a match, right? Not a game?
Novak Djokovic: Yeah. That was McEnroe and myself, we hold the record for longest streak of history.
Lewis Howes: You tied him?
Novak Djokovic: Okay, so this is, if you go online, you’ll say, John McEnroe 42 Novak Djokovic 41. Why? Because they didn’t count the two matches of the guys that retired the matches to me, so they didn’t count them as wins, and I would have the 43, but you have it, okay, John, you have it. So, it’s John, yeah.
Lewis Howes: You were just in the zone.
Novak Djokovic: It gave me wings. I just felt, all of a sudden that, I started to play and play freely. Between winning the first Slam and that moment, it was three years and I felt like I was playing for the wrong reasons. I was playing because I wanted to achieve, I wanted to do this, I wanted to lift trophies, I wanted to do this and that. And that’s okay, but that’s secondary. The primary motivation needs to be what inspired you to start playing, what made you fall in love with the sport. And that is the love, the joy, the passion for it, to play it. I all of a sudden became the kid that I was when I started. I felt so much power and energy. So I never looked back after that.
Lewis Howes: Amazing man! We have a few minutes left and I want to ask, like, a thousand more questions. So I’m going to be very mindful of this. The thing you’re most proud of, that maybe a lot of people don’t know about, maybe that’s not this big public announcement, but something that you’ve done, recently or at any time of your life, that you’re most proud of.
Novak Djokovic: I usually don’t like to praise myself. I don’t feel like that… I usually leave this to other people, and also I don’t feed myself out of someone else complimenting me. Because I find my happiness inside. I find that working on my own character, virtues and features is something that is essential to me and being able to establish this kind of inner peace and happiness in life, regardless of what’s happening externally is essential, because it keeps me connected to myself, to other people, to planet, to universe, the starting point. Things that I have done, I have done with my pure heart and intention. It’s hard to pick one, because I remember during the bombings, I remember I was going in our neighbourhood and sharing the food with other families, with other children, giving clothes away. Of course, it’s not something that is very special, but it felt very special at that time for me. I’ve done things after. Many, many other things and philanthropically myself individually and also with our foundation, but again, going back to that times of the war, I think that’s something that probably would stand out and something that I was very proud of and I am proud of, and I’m very grateful to my parents, that they were able also to give me this kind of education, and, I guess, consciousness about the fact that we’re not alone in this world, and that we need to share because sharing is caring and vice versa. And so I remember going around the neighbourhood and just offering my warmth and my friendship and my love and whatever I had at that moment, and then I felt more loved than I probably ever felt, I mean, it’s one of those moments, where, in the biggest of adversity, that’s where your pure self surfaces. I would probably mention that, yeah.
Lewis Howes: That’s cool. The thing you love about your wife the most.
Novak Djokovic: Honesty and compassion. We, as men, can’t even imagine what women goes through, especially women that have experience of becoming a mother and all of that, and, I mean, going through the pregnancy. It’s another level. It’s another level of sacrifice, it’s another level of pain, but it’s another level of love and dedication to family and to what matters most. Having her in my life is one of the biggest blessings I could ever ask for, to be honest, and to this day, I am trying to always remind myself what I have, and what we have, and how grateful I am.
Lewis Howes: That’s cool. This is called, “The Three Truths”. So, if this was the last day for you, many years from now, and for whatever reason, all the videos and interviews you’ve done and stuff you’ve put out there is gone and no-one has access to your information any more, but you had a piece of paper and a pen to write down three things you know to be true. What are the three lessons that you’ve learned, that you would show to the world, and this is all they have to remember you by, these three truths. What would you say are your three truths.
Novak Djokovic: I would probably say, Live freely, breathe deeply, and love fully.
Lewis Howes: Hmm. Simple.
Novak Djokovic: It really comes to that. It comes to you being one with yourself and others and just being present. If I have to pick one of those three, which, I guess, is probably the biggest and most simple lesson that I have learned in my life, is to breathe deeply and to learn how to breathe. Because when you learn how to breathe, which is something that we take so much for granted today, you learn how to live in the moment, be mindful of yourself, all of a sudden you observe things from a different perspective. You’re not as, maybe, impulsive, and all of a sudden, everything opens up, because, we talked about it a minute ago, you have help. We have, the nature is there, the universe is there, there is something and nobody can deny it. There is something that is there, that is out there watching for us, supporting us, loving us. But if we close our doors, and we are living in a shell, how can we receive help? You gotta open some windows, right? Doors, and then eventually have no shell. Live with no shell. Be authentic, be original, pave your own path, don’t just follow the paths that society is telling you to. We need more creativity in this world. We need more innovations, we need more people that are free. Today’s society is shaping us to be a bit of robotic beings. You got to do this, you got to pay this, you got to do that, you got to follow this, you got to take that. Try to understand what’s the best experience for you. But at the same time, live freely and share.
Lewis Howes: Powerful! How can we best support you? What’s the best thing we can do to best support you, to make sure we follow you on social media, but is there a way we can support the foundation, or a big cause that you’re…
Novak Djokovic: I leave this completely up to you. The thing that you can do best for me, is to do best for yourself. That’s all.
Lewis Howes: There you go. Oh, before I ask the final question and get you out of here, I want to acknowledge you for a moment, Novak, for your incredible ability to live for your dreams, but also make sure that you’re inspiring the world in your dreams and not making it all about yourself. You are truly a global citizen of love, and for me, it’s really inspiring to see that someone like yourself is in the world right now because when there is so much hate, that’s happening, specifically in America, you’ve been through the worst of the worst and come out on the other side with such a giving heart. So I acknowledge you for all that you do, for your country, and for the world. You’re an incredible human being.
Novak Djokovic: Thanks, brother. Thank you. And I need to, before you continue, I need to also say thank you for sharing that love as well. Thank you for bringing people with inspiring stories, thank you for sharing passion, for life and for greatness. We need to inspire people to dare to dream, and children, you know, today we need it more than ever, so thank you for that.
Lewis Howes: Yes, exactly. Final question is: What is your definition of greatness?
Novak Djokovic: I thought you were never going to ask me that. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to get away with this!” My definition of greatness for me, is purpose. If you find your purpose, you are going to give purpose to others. And you and me, as public figures, we have this responsibility, you know, even more. And I think that on whatever level of society you are, or whatever experience that you go through, you are going to maximise your life’s experience only if you find purpose. And people will find their purpose because they will relate to the very same purpose that you are defining and that you are radiating and that you are portraying.
Lewis Howes: Make sure you guys follow this man all over the place on social media. We didn’t even get into, like, the tennis mindset, the habits, the rituals, routines. That’s going to be for another time. When you’re back in L.A. we’ll do that, or when I’m in Serbia. I’ll come to Belgrade and I’ll bring the crew.
Novak Djokovic: Official invitation right here!
Lewis Howes: I appreciate, yes, alright! So, next time we’ll have to have Novak back on to talk more about that, but this was a powerful story, man, and I think it’s going to help a lot of people, so make sure you guys follow him.
Novak Djokovic: Thank you!
Lewis Howes: Novak, you’re a champion, man! Appreciate you, appreciate you.
Novak Djokovic: Thank you!
Lewis Howes: There you have it, my friends! Such a powerful interview! I was blown away! I did not want this to end. I’m going to beg Novak to come back on at some point when he has time and he’s back in L.A. But man, if you felt like this was powerful and inspiring to you, as it was for me, then take a screenshot of this right now on your phone, share it out with your friends everywhere. Tell them to listen to this, send them the direct link which is lewishowes.com/565 or just send them the link over on iTunes or Spotify. You can listen to it anywhere podcasts are. We are over on Spotify as well, so wherever you feel like your friends will listen to it, share this out so they can hear it. I am so inspired by, again, not only the results that Novak has created in his professional career and his personal life, but the way he shows up to serve humanity, to lift others up, to bring the world together. That’s what this is all about. He is the ultimate man of service, because he is serving his own dreams and then helping the world as well. So make sure to share this out, support him, support his cause, support his foundation as well, we’ll have that linked up on the show notes, again, lewishowes.com/565. Big thank you to his wife, who introduced us and made that possible. Appreciate you very much for making that happen and again, I’m just so excited for the journey ahead for Novak. So, make sure to check it out and share this with your friends.
Again, a big thank you to our sponsor today, foursigmatic.com/greatness, you get 15% off your order right now when you go to foursigmatic.com/greatness. Again, their active ingredient in their coffee is lion’s mane mushroom which has long been used by Buddhist monks for better focus during meditation. And for those who are getting stomach pain from regular coffee, mushroom coffee is a gut-friendly coffee option, and it doesn’t taste like mushrooms, guys. It tastes like coffee. It’s one of the most powerful superfoods out there and I’m very excited for you guys to get this. Let me know when you do. Again, 15% off at foursigmatic.com/greatness. And if you haven’t got the new book yet, The Mask of Masculinity, make sure to get your copy today! You can get it on Amazon, or barnesandnoble.com or in the stores of Barnes & Noble. Get your copy, take a screenshot, take a photo of it, when you do, tag me on Instagram or on Twitter. I’d love to connect with you when you get it and hear your thoughts. Again, thousands and thousands of people are sending me reviews and images and messages about what they are learning from this. All human beings, both men, women and gender non-conforming, are wanting to learn more about The Masks of Masculinity. Make sure to check it out and let me know what you think. Again, if you enjoyed this one, please share it out. As Joseph Campbell said, “We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” Just as Novak does, he lives in joy even though he has been through so much in his past. I hope you guys live in joy today, even if you feel like you have been suffering or going through some struggle. You have the opportunity to shift your mindset and live in joy, right now. I love you, and you know what time it is. It’s time to go out there and do something great.