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Ognjen Topic

Ognjen Topic is a graphic designer and three time world champion in the competitive martial art, Muy Thai. In this episode, Ognjen shares his mindset for how to use your fear as a tool to help guide you through a scary situation.

A fighter’s mindset
A fighter’s mindset

A fighter’s mindset

Ep
146
Aug
11
With
Ognjen Topic
Or Listen On:

Your mind can be your worst enemy.

The internet can make people look very one dimensional. When in reality, they are far from.

Ognjen Topic is a great example of that. He is a graphic designer and also a three time world champion in the competitive martial art, Muy Thai.

You’ll hear about Ognjen’s tumultuous life journey as a Serbian born in Bosnia. Civil war forced his family to flee the country and ultimately immigrate to the United States where he fell in love with graphic design and developed a secret fighting career.

You might think that fighting and design don’t have much in common, and you’re probably right. But one important concept they do share is mindset.

So how do you prepare when your life (or serious injury) is on the line? What kind of training do you need? And how can you develop the mental fortitude it takes to survive?

Not to overdramatize creative work, but putting yourself out there and taking on jobs can be scary. Maybe not get punched in the liver scary, but emotionally just as frightening.

In this episode, Ognjen shares his mindset for how to use your fear as a tool to help guide you through a scary situation.

Hosted By
special guest
produced by
edited by
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Episode Transcript

Ognjen:

Your mind can be your biggest enemy, and you're always contemplating the worst that can happen, which is good, but it can also have a detrimental effect on you as well. And as long as you can control that and look at fear from a positive aspect, you'll be okay. Once you step into that ring, instead of freaking out and wanting to run, let me use this fear to my advantage. So, what is fear going to do? It's going to sharpen all my senses. And so, you use that to help guide you through that situation.

Greg:

Welcome to The Futur podcast. The show that explores the interesting overlap between design, marketing and business. I'm Greg Gunn. The internet can make people look very one dimensional, when in reality, they are far from it. In fact, many of us live dual lives. For instance, I love to listen to death metal and also make friendly colorful illustrations. Our guest today is no different. He's a graphic designer and also a three time world champion in Muay Thai. A competitive martial arts and combat sport. Like I said, dualities.
We'll hear about his tumultuous life journey as a Serbian born in Bosnia, where civil war forced his family to flee the country and ultimately immigrate to the United States, which is where he fell in love with graphic design and developed a secret fighting career. Now, you may think fighting and design don't have much in common and you're probably right, but one important concept they do share is mindset. So, how do you prepare when your life or a serious injury is on the line? What kind of training do you need? And how can you develop the mental fortitude it takes to survive? Not to overdramatize creative work, but putting yourself out there and taking on jobs can be scary. Maybe not get punched in the liver, scary, but emotionally, just as painful. In this episode, our guest will share his mindset for how to use fear as a tool to help guide you through a scary situation. Please enjoy our fascinating conversation with Ognjen Topic.
So, what I've been able to gather from you is you've had this tumultuous life fleeing a war, relocating to America, falling in love with graphic design, but falling in love with something else too, which I want to spend a good portion of time talking about. So, you're like this very strange combination of things. Very interesting combination of things in that there's this artist creative person. And then there's this athlete who wants to express himself via martial arts via Muay Thai. And I find that the two can co-exist in a person. Usually, you don't find people like that. You find people who are very creative, who are very professional athlete driven. And so, what makes you, you? Why are you this really interesting split of athlete martial artist and artist?

Ognjen:

It's a difficult question to answer because I think, like you said, both are a way of expressing yourself and as far as expression goes, I always wanted to find something that's going to challenge me the most. And when you find something that you truly love or something that you're passionate about, then you strive to be the best that you can be within that field. And when I first found graphic design, that was my main focus. I wanted to be the best that I can be, at least, in my class and then outside of my class as well once I left college. And during that time, I was doing Muay Thai as well. I just started Muay Thai, and that was also something that I wanted to be the best that I can be at. But you also have to realize that you can only be great at one thing at a time. And so, I had to make a choice on which one of those two things I was going to pursue, and that was Muay Thai.
So, after I finished college or right before I finished college, I had a graphic design job that was great. It was paying me well, but I had to make that choice. And it was one of the most difficult choices that I had to make, but I was used to making those difficult decisions. And so, I knew it was the right step forward to pursue Muay Thai full-time.

Greg:

Okay. So many things to unpack and I got carried away here. I usually ask my guests this very question, which is, for those people who don't know you, can you introduce yourself and tell people a little bit?

Ognjen:

Yeah. My name is Ognjen Topic. I was born in Bosnia. I'm a Serbian born in Bosnia, and we had a civil war beginning in the 1990s. And so, when the country split up, we had to flee with my family. It was me, my sister, and my mother, and my father. And we went to live in Serbia. And from there, my father was actually working in America with his brother, construction, and he was playing the immigration lottery and he ended up winning the lottery and we ended up coming to America. And from there... I was always into art. I was always drawing and stuff like that back home, so I knew I wanted to pursue art, but then sometime in sixth or seventh grade, I just started watching a lot of boxing.
And so, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to become a boxer, but my parents, that was like, no go for them because for them their mentality was, "We brought you here from a war-torn country to make something of yourself. To be a doctor, to do this, to do that, lawyer. And now you're going to literally fight for money." And that's what they considered fighting. Even though my father was a fan of fighting as well, just watching it, to him, fighting was the last resort. You've tried to go to school. You've tried to do a regular job. You've failed that. Everything now, you literally have no other choice, but to fight for money. And so, that's how he viewed fighting. So, I said, "Okay. I won't do boxing. Just let me do Taekwondo or Karate or something because there's no punching to the face."
And so, they let me do that, but of course I was going to pursue fighting at some point. So, I did Taekwondo for four years and I got my black belt, but throughout that whole time, I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do. It wasn't as extreme as regular fighting. And so, I saw Muay Thai for the first time on ESPN and right away, I knew that that's what I wanted to do. So, I looked online and found a school and I've been with that school since I was 18 back in New Jersey. And throughout that time, my parents didn't know that I was fighting. I had a whole amateur career as a fighter that they had no idea until one day one of my fights showed up on YouTube. And my cousin from England saw it and he called my dad, told my dad that he saw me fighting. My father flipped out on me. And at that time I was still living in my parents' house. And so, we didn't speak for four months. So, you can imagine how awkward it was at that time. We walked past each other in the house, not say a word like neither one of us existed.
And so, that was a difficult time. But again, this was something that I truly loved and there was no way that I was going to let anybody stop me from doing it. So, things kind of came down after that because I have an ego and my father has an ego. I'm not going to talk to him. He's not going to talk to me. So, then, we ended up kind of just like started talking again after those four months. And he never questioned me about the fighting again, but obviously he knew that I was still fighting. They're not stupid.
And then finally when I turned professional, it was maybe after my first or second professional fight. It was on our Christmas, on the January 7th, which is Christian Orthodox Christmas. I sat both of them down and I told them that... I basically gave them an ultimatum, and I told them that they're either going to choose to support me or this is the last day that they're going to see me. And I was 100% ready to leave the house at that moment. And I knew my mother was going to crumble and say, "Okay. I'll support you." But my father, on the other hand, I really thought that it can go both ways. And I thought that he was actually going to say, "Okay. Pack your bags up and get out. We're done." But thankfully he said, "Okay, I'll support you." And that was it after that.

Greg:

Was your choosing of the ultimatum on Christmas strategic on your part?

Ognjen:

I don't know why I did that. I really can't remember. [inaudible 00:09:12] is being upstairs in my room and I'm just pacing back and forth. And I'm like, "I have to do this. This is the day." Because I was sick of lying to them. And it wasn't like a fluke. It wasn't just something that I'm just going to do a couple more times and then quit. This was going to be my profession. And so, I knew I was serious about it. So, I don't know. I think it was just, I don't know, something significant about it that I chose Christmas.

Greg:

Yeah. Okay. You've laid out a bunch of things in your origin story I want to revisit before we go to the present and the future. So, let's go first back to the past. You guys flee Bosnia. Well, how old were you?

Ognjen:

I was five when we fled Bosnia.

Greg:

Okay. So, you have some memory of Bosnia then. And how did this impact you emotionally as a young child? Did you understand... Could you comprehend what was happening?

Ognjen:

I mean, I was such a wild kid. My uncle was telling me like we would see tanks on the TV and I'd be like, "Yeah, there's going to be war." I was one of those kids. I was just all about fighting and I was full of energy, and I was just that type of kid. So, for me, it was like, "Whatever." But one of the most important lessons that I learned at that time from my father is just how he followed his intuition and how he just had instinct. And what happened was... The whole war was based basically on religion. It was for no reason. And so, tensions were rising. And there was a Christian Orthodox wedding and a Muslim man came by and he shot the bride. And that was it. It was the calling for the war. And right then in there my father said, "We have to leave and we have to leave tonight." And he told my brother that, and my brother said, "Ah, it's okay. We'll leave tomorrow morning." He said, "No, we leave tonight." So, we literally packed everything that we could at that time. And we left on the last bus that was available. And right after that, sanctions came up. There was all roadblocks and stuff like that. And so, we were really fortunate at that time.

Greg:

Yeah. Wow. He has good instincts and he's very decisive and clear.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

So, I can see where you guys would butt heads later.

Ognjen:

Right.

Greg:

Okay. Then you guys relocate to Serbia and then how long did you live there?

Ognjen:

We stayed in Serbia for three years. I was still young, so it didn't impact me that much emotionally because I was pretty much still young and I was starting all over.

Greg:

Okay. And then at this time, is it that your dad's in America working while you guys with your mom and your brother are at home in Serbia?

Ognjen:

Yeah. He would go back and forth from being in America and then coming back to Serbia, but he would stay in America for quite a while, probably like about... I think it was a year, the longest that he stayed.

Greg:

I see. And how was that like for you, your mom, and... You said you have one brother or do you have other siblings?

Ognjen:

It's actually a sister.

Greg:

Oh, a sister. Okay.

Ognjen:

Just her.

Greg:

Okay. So, you have a sister. So, how was it for the three of you without your dad?

Ognjen:

Yeah, it was very difficult. I mean, technically, we were considered refugees, but we never liked to use the term refugees because it's just how our father taught us. He didn't want anybody feeling bad for us. And so, we were refugees for a very, very short amount of time. My father didn't want to lean on anybody. He wanted to do everything himself. And so, when we first got to Serbia, we stayed a couple of nights in my cousin's house. And then we moved out into the [inaudible 00:12:59], how they call it. Where it was just basically farmland. I was in second grade at the time. And there was only one other student in the second grade. So, that tells you how big [inaudible 00:13:13] was.
And so, we stayed at a lady's house and it was in her basement. And we didn't have a shower or anything like that. We would have to boil the water and then we would all bathe basically in the living room. We didn't have a bathroom. My father built a bathroom on the outside when it would... It was winter. I mean, the whole inside of the door would freeze over and we would have to be sleeping in full jackets and stuff like that.
And I know, to some people, this may seem sad, but trust me when I tell you that there was many different families that were affected in much worse ways. I mean, people were dying. One of my further uncles, he got shot by a sniper. He lived, but there was much worse things. And so, after that, he slowly started building a house and he pretty much built the whole damn house by himself, him and my mom. Me and my sister, we helped as much as we can. And that was it.

Greg:

This is him building a house in Serbia, like in a farmland? Is that...

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

Wow.

Ognjen:

Yes. And before that, he's a professional soccer player. So, the only way he was making money was through soccer. And what does he know about building a house? Absolutely nothing, but that's another lesson that I learned about pressure. And when your back is up against that wall and you have nowhere to go besides forward, you'll figure it out. And so, that was a great lesson that I learned.

Greg:

Okay. So, there's a lot of things here that I'm seeing parallels between you and your father, but we'll get into that later. Okay. So, he figures out how to build a house. He has a skill now and he can then use that skill. So, is this when he started to look for jobs in America?

Ognjen:

Well, his other brother was living in America already. And he was well established. He's been living there for maybe 10 years already. And so, he had a construction company. So, my father would just come over and work, save as much money because a dollar at that time would go a long way. And actually in 91/92, that's when inflation was the highest in former Yugoslavia. You can buy a loaf of bread for a billion dinars, which is insane.

Greg:

Literally? A billion?

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

Wow.

Ognjen:

Crazy. Yeah. And that was the highest at the time in the world. And it's still one of the highest within top five or top 10. So, he would come to America. He would send over money and then when he would come back, he would also obviously bring money.

Greg:

Yeah. So, that money would go a long way then because of the inflation that was happening locally, right?

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

That was enough for you guys to get by?

Ognjen:

Right. Yeah. Because the packages that we would get... We would get a package once a month as refugees, but it wasn't good. Food would be like stale and stuff, and you weren't able to eat any of the food. So, sometimes my mom was telling me that we could go apple picking. We would just sneak in and steal some apples.

Greg:

Yeah. To be resourceful. You just have to do. Your mom had two mouths to feed. Okay. And when your dad left, was there any kind of emotional moment between your mom and did he sit down with you and your sister and say, "Hey, papa's got to go do something and you guys need to take care of each other." Was there any kind of goodbye speech like that?

Ognjen:

No, we're just not emotional in that way. Even though we have those emotions, my father has never said, "I love you," to me or to my mom or to my sister. I've never said, "I love you," to my father, but we all love each other and we all care for each other. So, it wasn't something that we sat down and discussed. He just had to do what he had to do. He had to provide. And he was going to figure that out by any means necessary.

Greg:

Were you feeling... I mean, how were you processing all this from an emotional point of view?

Ognjen:

For me, everything was okay. I was still a kid. I mean, it wasn't bad for me. I understood what my parents were going through and I understood they were doing... Even at that age, I understood that they were doing everything that they can for me and my sister. So, we just did the best that we can altogether.

Greg:

Okay. Fantastic. So, you guys come to America when he's able to get a Green Card or something. Is that a Green Card he was able to get when you said a lottery?

Ognjen:

No, he didn't have a... Yeah, he didn't have a Green Card. It was immigration lottery. So, with that, you automatically get a Green Card. Not a Green Card, but citizenship.

Greg:

Oh, wow.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

Oh, he did hit the lottery.

Ognjen:

Right.

Greg:

Holy cow. Then you guys are now in America. Where are you living?

Ognjen:

We moved to Haledon in New Jersey first, and [inaudible 00:18:19] my uncle was there already in New Jersey. So, we just basically followed. I always think back and I was like, "Man, why didn't we just go to California or Florida or somewhere warm?"

Greg:

So, this is the same uncle that owns the construction company?

Ognjen:

Yes.

Greg:

Okay. I know this because my uncle who worked at the embassy was a big part of how we came to America. And so, we all, as an extended family, are very grateful for him and his position because otherwise we'd probably be a much worse off place than we are today. And I'm curious because your uncle brought his brother into the country to work for him. Is there a relationship? Do you guys have affection or appreciation for this uncle who's kind of the reason why you're here?

Ognjen:

Yeah, of course. Yeah. I mean, he helped my father out. He had him working for him and he was paying him well. So, yeah, of course.

Greg:

Wonderful. Okay. You talked about getting into graphic design, I think, as early as high school, which is really early because for me I was like, "[inaudible 00:19:30]." I listened to my parents more than you did, I suppose. When he said like, "Go do something legitimate with your life." So, I repressed all those design instincts, the creative parts of me. What is it about you that you're like, "You know what? I'm just going to do my own thing."

Ognjen:

Well, this is... I think my parents were actually supportive of the art stuff even though it's extremely difficult to find the job as an artist, but they were supportive. And I remember when I was living in... We moved to a different town and I just didn't like the scene of the kids. Everybody was doing drugs and drinking and stuff, and I just did not see any future. So, I said to myself, "I got to go somewhere where it's going to prepare me for the future better." So, I found a technical school, which is where one of my other cousins went to. And so, I went to that technical school and they had a bunch of different classes that you can take, which one of them was graphic design. And then they had all other curriculums.
So, it was basically like a small little college. So, I loved it. For me, it was amazing because I got to work like two hours or two and a half hours within that shop class, which for me was graphic design. And that's when I really started liking it a lot, but I also wanted to be an oil painter. I really liked drawing and stuff like that. And again, that was something that I had to question myself after I graduated high school. I was thinking to myself, "When I go on through college, I want to be an old painter. This is truly what I like doing, but how am I supposed to make money off of that?" It's not saying that I can't, but it's a very small percentage of artists, oil painters that can actually make a good living and sell their paintings.
So, I asked myself, "How badly do I want to work for it to be one of the best, if not the best oil painter in the country or in the world?" And the answer was not that hard. I didn't want to work that hard at it. And so, that was my answer right there. And so, I went on to pursue graphic design, and then I fell in love with logo design, typography when I went through college, and that was it.

Greg:

Wonderful. Okay. So, I'm going to get to the point now. We're moving really close to the feature here. Your interest in the martial arts and Muay Thai and fighting, and you're doing it kind of against the will of your parents. Ultimately, your father succumbs to your ultimatum and says, "Okay, fine. I'll support you." And in the meantime, you're doing this all on your own? You're sneaking off, you're taking the bus or driving yourself to the gym and getting into fights, and nobody even knows about it?

Ognjen:

They actually let me train because when I first told them that I found Muay Thai, my father flipped out and he said, "Absolutely, no. You're not doing Muay Thai. It's too dangerous for you."

Greg:

Right.

Ognjen:

And I said, "I'm not going to fight. Just let me train." So, he said, "Okay. No fighting, just train." But, of course, I knew I was going to fight. There was no way that I was going to go train and not test on my skills. So, after about two years of training, that's when I took my first fight on. And then I completely hid that. The only person that knew was my sister. And so, sometimes when I would have a fight... The fights were mainly all in New York City. And so, after a fight, if I had a black or blue mark on my face, I would go to my friend's house, sleepover. And then the next day... The fights were usually on a Friday. The next day I would have training, Saturdays. And they knew that. So, then I would come back from training and I'd say, "Oh, it just happened during training. It's nothing."

Greg:

You had this really well worked out because I was like, "How do you hide the bruises?" Because you get messed up in Muay Thai, right?

Ognjen:

Right.

Greg:

It's a lot of wear and tear on your body. Yeah. Very clever.

Ognjen:

Right, right.

Greg:

All right. So, you're doing these amateur fights. You've got a whole narrative in the story. So, for a while, your parents are cool with it. And, eventually, I think your cousin sent it to your parents and said, "Hey, man. Your son's fighting." And then your dad's shocked. Okay. You guys get through all this. Two headstrong people.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

I see that. Two athletes. I see that. Two people who are self-determined, who are very decisive and clear about what they want. I see that. So, it's almost like you guys are a mirror of the same person. And so, it's like there's no budging here-

Ognjen:

Yeah

Greg:

... but ultimately it seemed like it worked out for you.

Ognjen:

Yeah. I think we are pretty similar as people.

Greg:

Yeah. So, what takes you to Thailand? I think I know why, but what takes you to Thailand?

Ognjen:

Well, this is where Muay Thai started. And so, once I became number one in America, there was no way for me to get better or climb through the ranks. So, I had to come to Thailand to start testing myself against the best in the world. And these guys truly are one of the best in the world. And that was it. The first time I came was 2008. I stayed for a month, went back, and then 2010, I came back again for a month because I had to work the graphic design job. And then finally in 2013, I went back again. And then that was it. I had to just make that decision. And again, like I said, it was very difficult because the job was good and there's absolutely no money in the sport. I mean, you don't get paid like you get paid in boxing, millions of dollars, or even UFC, tens of thousands of dollars. It's very little. And so, I spoke to my bosses. My bosses were extremely supportive of me. They were like friends to me. We would go out and hang out together and stuff like that. And so, I told them that this is what I have to pursue. And they said, "Yeah, we understand. And go do your thing." And that's it.

Greg:

Who are your bosses? What job are you talking about?

Ognjen:

This is Pixel Graphics located right outside of New York.

Greg:

I see. Oh, this is what you were doing with your graphic design studies?

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

I see.

Ognjen:

In 2010 until about end of 2013, beginning of 2014, I worked for them.

Greg:

I got it. So, you were saying, "I have to leave," and they were like, "Cool. We support you."

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

You go to Thailand and you said Muay Thai doesn't pay anything? The prize fight is not a lot?

Ognjen:

No, you got to really figure out how to make money on the side. So, I supplemented it with my personal training, the design that I do on the side, and then the seminars that I do around the world and country.

Greg:

I see. So, you can make money as a teacher and helping other people.

Ognjen:

Yeah. And then now I also have sponsorships that pay me. So, you had to build value and the only way was to be as best as you can or the best.

Greg:

So, in terms of people who may not understand the differences between the different martial arts, what is the unique thing about Muay Thai?

Ognjen:

Muay Thai is similar to kickboxing. So, it's a standup part where you use your legs for kicks, you punch, and then also you can elbow and the knee as well.

Greg:

Can you clench and strike?

Ognjen:

Yeah. Yeah, you can also clench and strike and knee from the clench elbow, from the clench... So, yeah. It's a very brutal sport.

Greg:

It is. And you can also throw people on the ground, but you can't strike them once they're on the ground, right?

Ognjen:

Yeah, exactly. If they're falling down and they haven't touched the canvas, then you can get away with an extra [inaudible 00:27:12] before they hit the ground, but once-

Greg:

That speed there. You're like, you knock them down and on the way down, you got to hit them one more time before they hit the canvas.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

Okay.

Ognjen:

[inaudible 00:27:24].

Greg:

Okay. So, I understand. I'm just looking at your history here. So, you're a three-time Muay Thai World Champion. You're an international champion. You're ranked number one in WBC and the WKA. What weight division do you fight in?

Ognjen:

Lightweight. So, that's from 130 to 135.

Greg:

Okay. So, you're very lean.

Ognjen:

Yeah. I mean, right now I'm about 147, but you have to cut weight and make the weight for the fight.

Greg:

Okay. So, you work-around weight is 147 and you cut to make your weight. Okay. Makes a lot of sense.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

All right. So, are you still actively competing and defending your belt? Is that the idea?

Ognjen:

Yeah. I'm still actively competing. Right now in Thailand, we're still on lockdown. We've been on lockdown for the past two months, two and a half months. So, it's killing me because I'm not young anymore. I'm 35. So, I only have a small window of opportunity to get to the ultimate goal, which is to be a champion here in Thailand.

Greg:

Okay. And how far away are you from getting the title fight?

Ognjen:

I would say, a year and a half, two years.

Greg:

Okay. So, we got to get over the pandemic pretty soon here, right? Because time's not on your side.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

Yeah.

Ognjen:

And that's the [inaudible 00:28:36] of being an athlete. Your mind is going like this. You're getting smarter, but your body's going like this. The training-

Greg:

The training.

Ognjen:

... is just brutal. That's the most difficult part. Yeah.

Greg:

Yeah. Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Ognjen.
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Welcome back to our conversation with Ognjen Topic.
There's a couple of different ideas I want to ask you about. The first is, I think, this idea of fear. Are we supposed to be afraid? People say no fear. I think you have a perspective on this. I'd love for you to share it.

Ognjen:

Yeah. Fear is... I mean, it's readily available. Anything you do in life. And yeah, of course. We should be afraid because that's what saves our lives. I mean, if you're walking across the street, you look left and you look right out of fear, so you don't get killed. So, every time I step foot into the ring, I have fear. Just like if the young designers out there are listening, same thing with jobs. Let's say you get a big opportunity from a company that approaches you, right. And maybe you don't feel confident enough to take on a big job. Take it anyway. All you have to do is be honest with them and let them know. Let's say they're a Fortune 500 company and you have three years of experience, you're like, "Oh, my God. How am I supposed to do this? I mean, I don't have enough skill to take care of their needs." Just got to be honest with them. Let them know you have three years of experience. I charge $500. If that doesn't make sense for you... Maybe you're used to hearing $100,000. If that doesn't make sense for you, then we can part ways. If it does, then we can work together. And that's it.
I mean, either way, I would still take all those opportunities because what I was talking about earlier as far as the pressure goes. Let's say you have that big client, Fortune 500 company, and you're a small team of one. And your back is up against that wall, you'll figure a way out as long as you have that experience behind you.

Greg:

Yeah. So, take me through this because I can't process what it's like to step into a ring when you know the other person's job is to hurt you.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

And you say you feel fear. What does that feel like inside your mind and your body?

Ognjen:

Well, as they say, your mind can be your biggest enemy. It can be your best friend, but it can also be your worst enemy. And you're always contemplating the worst that can happen, which is good, but it can also have a detrimental effect on you as well. And as long as you can control that and look at fear from a positive aspect, then you'll be okay. And again, you can't fake it. You still have to put the work in and train hard every day. So, once you step into that ring, then you know, "Okay. Instead of freaking out and wanting to run instead of fight, let me use this fear to my advantage." So, what is fear going to do? It's going to sharpen all my senses. I'm going to be extremely alert. And so, you use that to help guide you through that situation.
And then once you get through that situation... If let's say you overcome those negative aspects and let's say you win the fight or you do well in the fight, well, now your confidence level just skyrocketed up. So, imagine how much better you're going to be the next fight. If let's say you fail and you lose, then two things can happen. You can learn. Obviously, you're going to learn something about yourself. So, one, you're going to learn that, "Okay, I made these mistakes. Let me go back. Let me fix these mistakes and then be better." And for the next fight. And again, it's not guaranteed that you're going to be better again, but you can try again.
The other thing is you find out that maybe this isn't for me. "Okay. This isn't for me. I gave it a shot. It's not what I want to do. Let me go onto something else or let me go within that field, but do something that might be for me."

Greg:

In terms of a fighter, when you step into the ring, and when you say you imagine what the worst can happen, what is the worst thing that can happen for you in the ring? And in your mind, what's the worst?

Ognjen:

Well, you can die. That's [inaudible 00:35:24]. And outside of that, you can break your leg. You can break your hand. I mean, I've broken both of my hands. Yeah. The other worst thing is something to do with your eyes. I mean, if you break your eye socket or something and your eye's hanging out and you mess up your vision then, I mean, for me, that will be the end.

Greg:

Yeah. Okay. So, parents who have children in Muay Thai, it's like these are their real concerns. I mean, you're talking about death in ways that your body can break, that might not be 100% restored after the fact, right?

Ognjen:

Right.

Greg:

Like Michael Bisping, he had a punch in his eye that dislocated his eye. So, he has a bad eye now.

Ognjen:

Correct.

Greg:

Yeah. So, there's the physical part. What about the emotional fears? Are there things where you think, "Oh my God. I don't want to be embarrassed by this guy. It's like I should beat him, but I was totally schooled." Is there that emotional fear?

Ognjen:

No. I never really had that because I always gave 100% of myself in every fight. So, when I would go fight and I would give 100% of myself, no matter what the outcome was, there was nothing that I regretted because of that. And so, I was always okay. So, even if I would give 100% of myself, I lose the fight, all I had to do was come back, fix those small little mistakes, and then go on to the next. So, it was always just the mentality of progressing forward. I would always find the positives. Even when I would win a fight, I would still go back and find little things that need to be fixed, and then I would get better for the next fight. So, it's basically just no quitting.

Greg:

So, you touched on several different concepts and I'm going to dive deeper into one of them, but you lean into your preparation. Was I prepared or was I not? And you talked about the difficulty of training, especially in heat. And I want to talk about that later, but... And then when you get into it, you kind of look at like, "I either win or I'm going to learn something." And whether you win or lose, you're playing back the event to find ways which you can improve. So, this is like the signs of someone who's going to do really well in life. Those are the traits I would look for if I'm going to collaborate with somebody. Are they continuously learning? Are they continuously improving? It sounds like that's exactly right attitude. So, the outcome of the fight doesn't matter that much. It's nice to win. It's not as nice to lose, but you're going to learn and progress. And that's how you get better every single day, right?

Ognjen:

Correct.

Greg:

Okay. I'd like to focus or shift the gear over to the amount of discipline, determination, and focus you have to have. You talk about this and you talk about the work. Putting in the work in the gym and why it's so brutal. So, can you expand on that for me?

Ognjen:

Yeah. Like I was saying before, the confidence is going to come from the preparation and the work that you put in. So, again, your life is on the line, essentially. It's either that or something very damaging can happen where you get seriously injured. And so, you give yourself no choice, but to put 100% of yourself during the training. I set these little mental triggers for myself when I'm training. So, let's say when I'm hitting those pads and I'm dying, I just want to stop. Then I set that trigger. And as soon as I start feeling tired, "Okay. Now, I know I can't push myself more because your body can only handle so much, but let me just continue. Let me sustain that level. Maybe I don't need to go higher, but let me just sustain that level, but continue forward."
So, when that happens in the ring, it's like an automatic trigger that I have. And you don't want to quit because even in the ring, when you get tired and when you get hurt... I don't know if you've ever felt how it feels to get hit in the liver, but that's one of the most difficult shots to overcome. That's when you can't really breathe and you need a certain amount of time to recuperate, which is usually about 20 seconds. And think about what 20 seconds is in a fight. So, just in my last fight, a couple of months ago, I had that happen to me. And I got hit in the liver and my first thought is, "I want to quit. I just want to hit that red button and I want this to be done."
But then you go back to your training. I promised myself a long time ago that I will never let another man put me down from a body shot. I'm just never going to allow it because to me, at that point, you're still able to think. The only thing you're feeling is pain. It's just pain. You can't breathe. So, as long as you stay calm under that pressure and say to yourself, "Okay. I just need to figure out how to survive for the next 15, 20 seconds." And there are ways you can do that in the fight strategies. "Then I'm going to be okay. I'm going to fully recuperate and I can continue on fighting." And so, that's basically my mentality for that.

Greg:

So, it sounds to me like when you're in the gym and you hit that break point where you're like, "I'm done," you have to find your second when you're... I guess that fire within you to say, "No, I can put in more time. I'm going to keep going." So, as you continue to expose yourself to that feeling, that wall, then when you're actually in the ring or when it matters and you're fighting for a title or just, you have an opponent in front of you, you can dig deeper, but when you get hit, metaphorically or literally, in the liver, you want to shut down.

Ognjen:

Yeah.

Greg:

So, when your client fires you or when a client doesn't pay you for a job and just disappears on you, or they said that we're going to award something to you and they didn't, that could be the equivalent to that kind of blow-

Ognjen:

Absolutely.

Greg:

... in the ring. You have to find somehow the 20 seconds so that you can recover, but outside the ring, what do you have to do? Do you find that... If you're a designer or an artist, when you have these setbacks, what can you tell yourself?

Ognjen:

Well, if we take that example of your client not... I've never had a client not pay me fully, but I've had clients not paying me for the amount that I was worth. And so, I basically chalk it up to a learning experience and not just the learning experience from the client to me relationship, but I would use it as like, "Okay. This was a good learning experience for me for the job and I got something out of that job," because I learned every job, every logo design that I do, I learned something new. Some way to be efficient or somehow to like... Let's say, for example, put letter forms together in a different way. And so, I learned something from that. So, it's not just complete throwaway. Even though I didn't get paid for what I was worth, I got something out of it. I'm okay. I can use it for my portfolio. Let's go on to the next and try not to get effed over again.

Greg:

I guess your thinking is very consistent. So, everything is a learning opportunity for you.

Ognjen:

Yeah. I mean, I don't have time to just quit and give up. I only have a small window of opportunity, not just for the fighting, but even for design. I'm on this world for the next, what? 40 to 50 years, I guess. Maybe 60. And that's it. It's blink of an eye. And the older I get, the faster time passes me by.

Greg:

Right.

Ognjen:

I'm always in pursuit of perfection, even though I know it doesn't exist. We don't even know what perfection is, but the fact that there might be a small little chance that we know what perfection is, I continue to pursue it.

Greg:

Wonderful. There's one more thing here I want to ask you about which is about criticism. We get this a lot. I think we're afraid of doing something because... Or the fear of someone else saying something bad and it's going to just ruin our day or week or our month. What's your perspective on processing criticism?

Ognjen:

Again, for me, I think it goes back down to the confidence and having a high self-esteem. And so, for me, criticism, whether it's positive or negative, they both have the same amount of value. It doesn't matter to me. So, let's say if my coach tells me, "Oh, that was a great session. You did good. You're going to beat the next guy. And it's going to be decisive." It doesn't matter what he says. All it matters is what I think. So, if he can tell me all the positive things in the world, but if I feel negative about it, I'm going to be the one that loses that fight, no matter what. It doesn't matter if you told me the positive.
Now, same thing goes with the negative. If somebody tells you, "Oh, you suck. You're not going to amount to anything." Again, it's all about what you think of yourself. Maybe as like learning experience in the gym, maybe you won those small little battles. Let's say you had a sparring session and you did just a couple of moves that were really good, but maybe overall, you lost the fight, but still you're starting to see small little increments of improvement. And so, that person telling you that you suck, you just lost this sparring match, you're going to amount to nothing, it shouldn't matter to you because you know that you're getting better and better, but day by day. And all it is is just time. It's just going to take a long time. I mean, it is what it is. It's going to take at least... What they say. 10,000 hours or 10 years, whatever the case is, but eventually you're going to get there.
And I almost want to guarantee the people that they will succeed as long as they stick by. And if they're passionate about something, don't give up on it. Just keep going forward, keep going forward. You will get there. It's almost guaranteed.

Greg:

You're saying something that I very much believe in, which is about having the patients. I think so many people think if they don't get what they want within a very short period of time. And people's expectations are so unrealistic. They want to be the world champion, fill in the blank. They want to be a huge influencer overnight. They want to have a YouTube channel with every video goes viral and they're not willing to put in the work. They're not going to stay focused on just putting in effort every single day, looking for those small incremental improvements. And then, therefore, they quit and they change their mind. They move on to something else.
And so, you've been at this game for some time and you have your mind clearly focused. And if all goes well, a year and a half from now, you're going to have a title shot. And hopefully you can realize one of your dreams before your body ages out and you can't take the kind of punishment, right? And you're really focused. That's years and years of practice.

Ognjen:

Yeah. And think about that gamble that I have. It's like going to Vegas and just putting all your chips on black and just hoping that something's going to happen. I mean, none of it is guaranteed. I'm just going to continue moving forward. And obviously I'm going to get something out of it, no matter what. I'm still going to be successful even though maybe I don't reach that goal. So, it's not like it's going to be a complete failure. But again, it's a big gamble.

Greg:

So, for you, whether you realize that goal or not... Once you feel like, "I've had enough," do you continue on training and then teaching others? Is that how you continue to participate in the sport that you love?

Ognjen:

Yeah, that would be the goal at the end. I would still continue doing my seminars, teaching people, sharing knowledge.

Greg:

Beautiful. Is there anything else that's coming up for you that we can find out about?

Ognjen:

No, I'm just waiting to fight again. That's it, man.

Greg:

Okay. Are they rolling out the vaccines there in Thailand?

Ognjen:

They are. Yeah.

Greg:

Okay.

Ognjen:

And they're going to be getting some more, I believe, by the end of this month, July.

Greg:

Yeah. So, when the country shuts down and you're under lockdown, how do you stay mentally sharp and focused and physically... Because I imagine a person like you who's very used to being active and doing things and being around people. How are you staying sane in this time?

Ognjen:

Yeah. I mean, like you said, you nailed it. It's very difficult, but again, you got to figure a way out. And I'll tell you when it first happened last year in March, I was here in Thailand and I was supposed to stay for an extra three months. And I was here with my girlfriend. My girlfriend came to visit and she also fights too. And so, as soon as that happened, we booked our flight back and we continued training in the living room. And then after that... Throughout the whole time, throughout that whole year of last year, I was really afraid that my skill level was going to go down because, obviously, I didn't have the training partners that I normally do, the elite level fighters here.
And so, I was doing whatever I can to continue my training with whatever partners I can. Even if I didn't have partners, it would just be me training by myself, but a lot of what I did was just mental training, I guess, if you want to call it. But I was just thinking about it mentally. What I needed to do as far as small little minute details in fighting such as timing, fakes, faints, things like that, that are found at the elite level. And so, when I came back here to Thailand, my coaches and some of the other fighters told me that they noticed an improvement. And I noticed an improvement as well when I was training with them. And so, I think that break really gave me a good amount of time to rest and to help me improve and helped my improvement.
And, actually, the same thing happens when I design a logo. If I tell a client that it's going to take me about four weeks to do a logo design, I'll put in specifically about four or five days within that time where I'm not thinking about the logo. I step away from it. I walk away and that's it, I'm done. And then I come back with fresh eyes and I see all these little small details that I can fix, that I can alter, and that really does help out a lot. I think resting should be a part of training, not just for physical stuff like Muay Thai, but for the graphic design as well.

Greg:

Yeah. I think there's... I don't know the term for it, but there is a scientific term for like when you work on something, you start to lose perspective and you don't understand any more. You just fall in love with this thing and you can't see what someone who walks by and looks at your work and says, "Oh, you should just move that over there." And you're like, "Oh my God, why didn't I think of that?" So, having rest and a clean break. So, when you're doing color correction, they say you lose your sense of color within 15 minutes of looking at the image. So, then you have to switch to something else, and then you keep switching. So, you cycle through that. So, it sounds like that time off allowed your body to fully heal. So, probably really healthy, but hungry too. Your desire to get back in the gym and then staying focused and thinking about the things like maybe revisiting some of those previous fights where you're like, "Oh, I could do this. I could turn that in. That's where I can improve." That seems like it's a thing that's improved yourself.
So, anybody who's listening to this, you don't have to be a martial artist, you don't have to be a Muay Thai fighter, you just sit there and think, "You know what? With some rest and reflection, always looking for one or two small things that you can improve," because I really believe that the small things that you do have big consequences.

Ognjen:

Yeah. Those are the building blocks.

Greg:

Wonderful. If people want to find out more about you, where can they go?

Ognjen:

For the creative stuff, they can look at topiccreative.com and then follow me on social media, all topiccreative. And then for the fighting, it's topicfight.com, and then social media, topicfight.

Greg:

Wonderful. Well, it was a real pleasure chatting with you today. I think this is a first for us. If it's not the first professional athlete, especially in Muay Thai's martial artist, you're most definitely the first person that's been on the show that has this duality to them where you have this creative side and you're practicing an art. And then you have a physical side you're practicing a martial art. So, thank you very much for chatting with me today.

Ognjen:

You got it, man. Thank you for having me on. Appreciate it. My name is Ognjen Topic and you're listening to The Futur.

Greg:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode, and thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music. If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make Futur episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me, head over to thefutur.com/heyChris and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode.
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