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Why This Millionaire Entrepreneur Thinks You Should Find Your “Big Why”

MMA fighter and ONE Championship founder Chatri Sityodtong on the Japanese concept of “ikigai”

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BY Tanya Mariano - 05 May 2017


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In more ways than one, Chatri Sityodtong is a warrior.

He had a comfortable childhood in Thailand, but the Asian Financial Crisis rendered his family homeless and penniless. His father eventually abandoned the family, and the task of supporting his mother and his younger brother fell on Chatri's shoulders. When he was accepted into Harvard Business School, he had to take loans to be able to pursue his studies, his mother had to live with him in his dorm room, and he worked several jobs in order to put his brother through school. At his lowest point, he lived on $4 and one meal a day. Everything he owned in the world fit in one suitcase. But he persevered, eventually started his own company at 27, and became a Wall Street hedge fund manager.

Still, he felt there was something lacking. He was financially successful, but, in the words of the Japanese, hadn't yet found his "ikigai" -- his reason for living.

“Ikigai” is a Japanese concept that says you can find your purpose in life in the intersection of what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. It’s what you get up in the morning for, and what will sustain you through sleepless and seemingly endless nights.

But finding it is not easy, says Chatri. During the recent Inc. 40 Philippine Forum held at A SPACE Greenbelt in Makati City, he said, “You have to search high and low, far and near to discover, what is your reason for living? Why were you put on this planet?"

For this, he turned to his lifelong passion: martial arts. He had gotten into it as a kid in Thailand, and in the midst of the numerous adversities he had to face in his adult life, it was martial arts that helped save him.

“I've been doing martial arts for over 30 years, almost every day of my life. It's something that I truly believe in, with everything in my heart. It gave me integrity, humility, discipline, work ethic, courage, fearlessness, a desire for continuous self-improvement, and a warrior spirit to conquer adversity in life,” he said.

He then started thinking about gaps in the sports entertainment industry, and found that, while every region in the world has a billion-dollar sports media property, nothing of that magnitude existed in Asia.

He worked tirelessly towards building something in this space, and it paid off: in just over five years, ONE Championship has grown into the largest sports media property in Asia, broadcasting to a billion homes in over 118 countries.

And perhaps it is finding his ikigai that helped set him apart from other entrepreneurs, especially those who are in business simply for financial gain. He says, “The worst reason to do a start-up is money. You have to be unbreakable, and when the toughest nights come, you'll run if you're not making money."

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