The man on the cover of Million magazine is a person truly admired and respected. His life is an example of conscious choices. The choices in the direction of his path, choices in rethinking of his goals and his world view. Our story is about turning the unknown into something good and into a personal breakthrough to a new level of development. It is about the changes which may open new worlds, new horizons, and new opportunities. The one who told us about that and many other things is a businessman, blogger, TV host, public figure, wanderer, founder of the international travel community ONE LIFE Artemii Surin.
Your life is a ready plot for an adventure and, at the same time, motivational film. With respect that you are my countryman, I must admit that you are the living picture of Indiana Jones in the best sense of the word. Even your hats look very alike. You’re the first Ukrainian in the history of Ukraine who made a 280-day round-the-world trip named Big Circle, which met the requirements of the Royal Geographical Society. Moreover, you have shot all 6 continents with a drone. I mean, in doing so you broke two world and four national records that were registered by Guinness World Records. It happened quite recently, you returned to Ukraine in June this year. Tell me, what was your inspiration for this incredible journey? How long has it taken you to prepare for it?
For this trip, I was inspired by my boyhood dream. When I was a kid, my father brought home a subscription to the Soviet edition of Jules Verne’s works. We lived in another country and even couldn’t imagine an opportunity to travel. All we had were Geography classes, books, and films. Then I threw myself into the world of adventures, noble acts, exploring faraway places, crossing oceans and seas. I was inspired by that. I started dreaming of that. Jules Verne, Jack London, Rafael Sabatini, Alexandre Dumas, Daniel Defoe, and James Fenimore Cooper became my favorite authors. I devoured one book after another. Now I realize that the first moves towards my trip around the world were made at that time when I was 6-7 years old. You know the most cherished dreams of childhood do have consequences. Very often people hide their boyhood dreams under the routine which is considered an adult life. But, in reality, the most honest thing in us is something our soul responded to in childhood.
Until my 30, I also forgot about my desire to travel the world. First of all, I had to achieve something, find my fulfillment. There were education, professional achievements, and business. I deliberately put off traveling. I was a boy from an ordinary family in Kharkiv. After school, I got a law degree. What were my prospects? I had to get on my feet, become a self-made man, create opportunities. At that time, permanent hard work drove me on and there was a desire to become a major league professional; there was a need to get the respect of the surrounding.
Last year in Thailand I participated in a pretty serious spiritual psychological and emotional practice named “dark retreat”. In this practice, the one “turns off” all their receptors and is left alone with their thoughts. When I stepped out of that dark room, I realized, that was the moment. There would never be comfortable circumstances for such a trip. You will always have some business, obligations or obstacles. It is a challenge for yourself. But I understood I was ready for that, I had to start that year. I made this decision in March. It took me two or three weeks to prepare the route. I started on the 14th of October.
Is it very difficult to complete a tour all around the world in 280 days? Tell me about the brightest moments of your trip. Were there any cases when you regretted about your traveling?
I have been to all six continents of the Earth, visited 41 countries, crossed all the meridians, all the time zones of our planet, three oceans and equator - twice. All of this happened without a single flight. I was not at all tired. Probably, because I had prepared for that trip in advance. But to be honest, it was not so easy to consider the details of such a long way, bearing in mind all traveling canons. Moreover, such a trip is a loneliness challenge. As far as, for almost a year most of the time I was on my own. It is not for everyone.
Along the way, I even managed to meet and interview supercentenarians of the Hunza tribe in Pakistan; visited the middle of nowhere - Pitcairn island in the Pacific ocean. It is the most remote point from any continent. And one of the most amazing moments in my world travel was the night in the deserted Sahara.
I clearly remember one moment at the end of the trip when I was waiting for a ferry-boat to Batumi, which was supposed to take me home. I thought: “Well, finally, I can think of nothing and stop preparing for something”... But there was no fatigue. And even when, at the final part of my trip, I was illegally arrested in Iran, imprisoned and charged with espionage for shooting touristic spot with a drone (although, I had the official approval for that), and there was a risk of life imprisonment or capital punishment (these are the strict laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran), I have never regretted for having started that path. It was horrible but at all costs, I managed to take my smartphone over, call the embassy and write a short text on Facebook. Only later, I came to know that my post was shared by the network users and the Ukrainian media. So, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine surprised me with a quick and clear response and I was pulled out of prison. But even during that terrible moment of my trip, I had no regret that I had started it. Finally, I fulfilled my dream and achieved what I always wanted.
You made your first million at the age of 25 and started working at 15. Tell us, how could such a very young man have so much desire to work from morning to night? How did you decide at your 15, at the rebellious times of perestroika, to create your own business and what happened next?
The desire to work appeared rather naturally. I had no cash and I needed it. I was fifteen. I wished to go out and date girls. It was no way cool to borrow money from my parents. I would stop respecting myself. And there was no such possibility. I come from a very simple family. I realized I had to earn my own money. What can one do at fifteen? Something simple. So I and one friend of mine got a job as loaders. Having worked there for a while, we were wrapped up in the business processes of that work. We got it. So, I suggested to my friend to work during the promised period and then start selling goods independently.
It was 1996. The only issue which remained unsold was: how to raise the funds to start our business. I calculated that for the first purchase, space rent and all the organizational issues we needed two thousand dollars. Those days this amount sounded terrific. But I played basketball and earned trust in the sporting communities. So, I turned to one of our trainer’s acquaintances and honestly told about our startup. We had nothing to mortgage but we were ready to borrow the money even at insane interest. And we received it. And repaid the amount in half of the year with all the interest.
I managed to help my parents. That time in one day I earned the same amount that they were able to earn in a month. Generally, I have a very trusting relationship with my parents. I have taught them to trust me since my childhood. They always support me.
Then, you stopped working at the market, got a law degree… And after your first visit to Kyiv, decided to stay there…
Yes, it’s my city of dreams. I’ve fallen in love with it. At the end of my studies at the judicial academy, I lived between two cities - Kharkiv and Kyiv. Even then I understood what I had learned was not enough for me. The field of law expanded considerably. I started learning the land law. I became an expert but felt I was out of practice. So I found a job as a lawyer for slave wages to Kharkiv City Executive Committee. But it was a wealth of experience. My legal practitioner’s experience provided me with a flow of customers when I relocated to Kyiv and started my legal practice. Even then I started earning very “serious money”.
Your company was in the TOP 10 most successful ones in Ukraine and had a serious clientele. What was the point at which you decided to leave a successful legal business?
Yes, from one point of view, I obtained what I was dreaming about. I became independent. I managed to support my family. Later on, I opened an investment company. We helped to attract foreign investments to Ukraine. We got a really large income.
One day I started feeling sick. It was a state similar to the flu. Weakness, lack of energy, I didn’t want anything, a slight temperature. I thought it would pass, I have just caught a cold. But I didn’t get better. I started searching for a reason, attending doctors. I got all the examinations and tests which were possible to get. I couldn’t just hide under the blanket. I remained in this condition for two years. Approximately from 25 to 27. It was the most active phase of life. It seemed like I had fulfilled all my dreams. I had a super office at Andriyivskyi Descent, an auto park, money, recognition by my colleagues, opportunities, and respect. But I couldn’t help it. All these things didn’t make me happy. It was a hard period for me.
I found the answer accidentally. At that time, I had a large pool of customers from the USA. I developed and frequently visited my American office. Once, I came to a meeting and while I was waiting for the customers, I started flipping through the magazine that was lying on the table. One article with a photo of some man in the tropics piqued my interest. It was a story of the owner of the chain of dental clinics from Australia. He used to be a successful businessman. But later on, something occurred to him. And I read all the symptoms that I fell at the same moment. He also tried to fight his state but everything was in vain. Then he understood that he lived a wrong life. His heart was in surfing, ocean, and nature. So, he sold everything and moved to Bali with his family. And he turned into a happy person.
That article struck me. Sitting in a posh hotel at the meeting and owning almost everything I had ever dreamt of, I thought, “We live only once. Life is one. One life”. And I just let my hand write that phrase and draw a star next to it. At that moment I understood I was able to save myself.
Did your family and your friends support you in that decision?
It was difficult. Everyone around me just twisted a finger at a temple and told, “Tioma, what the hell is going on? Just go on vacation”. My parents were more tolerant. They believed in me. But, of course, they were worried.
When you left your business, did you know for sure you would create anything similar to One Life?
It took me about two years to leave the business and finalize the projects. At that time One Life as a personal idea has already been in my head. As my living credo. I started traveling. When you want something, you don’t feel the shackles of conditionality. I organized my first expedition to the North pole. By myself, spontaneously, without any experience. It was a hard trip. There I understood I was on the right path.
Tell us, how did your community appear and what are its principles based on?
Following the northern expedition, I started working over a TV project in Kyiv. I kept traveling. I started writing about my travelings on one bloggers’ website. And I finished every story or video with such words: “I consider, life is one. I have changed my life and if you feel something similar, change yours. There will be no second chance. Hurry up. One life”.
I received a lot of positive feedback, a lot of support. It was 2010-2011. The number of subscribers got more and more numerous. They commented, followed my posts, were inspired. I understood they needed my support and I had to unite them. On September 3, 2011, I decided to organize an offline-meeting of my like-minded subscribers in Kyiv. I was not sure whether at least one person would come. As a result, there were three hundred people from several countries and many cities. At that moment I felt the One Life synergy for the first time. Nowadays there is a large deficit of people who educate you; who you move in the same direction with; who you wish to talk to and to travel with. Without any social parts, double meaning or a kind of showing off. Just to communicate sincerely.
That’s how the One Life community started its path. We just gathered, communicated and traveled.
How soon did One life stopped being just a community and turned into a business?
We organized the first yacht fleet in Greece. There were 10 yachts, 100 people. That was the first time we invented the yacht-week format which became an example not only for Ukraine but also for the whole world. We showed that the rest at a private yacht could be available. The second fleet consisted of 20 yachts and 200 travelers. That’s when I realized I needed a professional team. The important thing for me was to preserve the idea. And we did it. One Life is an active attitude to life. Exchange and creation of positive emotions. We profess a philosophy that life is one and we have to live it to the fullest.
How many people in the world are united by your community?
There are over 200,000 followers. But, actually, it’s hard to count. In different countries, I get in touch with people who I haven’t known before. They follow our community and profess our ideas. Concerning the trips, for 8 years, we have fulfilled hundreds of them. Thousands of people from different parts of the world traveled with us.
What is needed to join your movement?
Nothing. Just share our principles and love life in all its manifestations.
Have you personally changed upon the start of traveling?
Of course. Traveling is very educational. My first trip was to Poland. I remember how I was impressed by everything, I was interested in every minor detail. The first time I went abroad was at 24. The first time I saw the sea was at 20. I mean, I was not an experienced traveler. I started traveling seriously in 2008 when I had already left my business. In reality, your life is not enough to see the whole world. At the moment, I have visited 130 countries. But, in total, there are 240. So, I need to travel around another half of the world. But even if I fail to do it, I wish to come back to many countries and places again, examine them more carefully and enjoy them.
What countries would you like to return to?
I love Southeast Buddhist Asia very much (especially, Thailand and the islands). I like Georgia, Nepal. I love and respect the USA. Their way to preserve nature is perfect. Generally, I like nature very much. I am not an urbanist. In the round-the-world trip, I understood that the best places in the world are those where there’s no sign of man.
My impression from this discussion is that you are not the kind of man who stops. You have already made a million; built a successful business; fulfilled a round-the-world trip. What is your next dream?
Unexpectedly, I felt it during my round-the-world trip. I concluded that our planet is very compact and very solid. Dnipro, Antarctica, and Sahara belong to every person living on the Earth. And, especially after that unpleasant accident in Iran, I thought over the meaning of my Homeland. I keenly felt I needed to be there. I want to bring the order to Ukraine. I have seen it with my own eyes: many other, more developed countries don’t have as much potential as we do. I dream that our country became attractive to tourists. I want other people wished to visit Ukraine.
What does success mean to you?
Success for me is to be in harmony with yourself. To fulfill the project you came to this world with. And, more importantly, success is a possibility to live in harmony with your soul.
What is the secret of the success of your community?
First of all, it is sincerity. People feel that you believe in your idea. So, there is nothing more valuable than sincerity. I live it. It changed my life. I have a full-body tattoo “One Life”. These are my principles. The second idea is very simple. It is natural and clear for everyone. Every person in every part of the world just wants to be happy and live life to the extreme. Your life is one. Don’t miss your chance. Come on, One Life!