(Ironic really that I should be writing about passion when I’ve sat at my desk all afternoon procrastinating from doing the very thing I love)
I met up with an old friend, Mabel, for tea yesterday, this charming, ridiculously-talented girl I knew from school, about 18 years ago. She’s living back in KL now, after having lived, studied, worked abroad for over 20 years.
Apart from the fact that she plays about six different musical instruments, she’s also led a fascinating life – having started in real-estate, handling multi-million dollar properties, she finally gave up the corporate world to start all anew in baking as an intern in a Michelin-rated restaurant in new York. As far as following your passions and living out the feelings that make your gut feel gooey-great go, she’s way ahead of many of us. She’s now one of two top pastry chefs in the city’s most popular, trending branch of F&B outlets – she’s got it going, she has.
Her biggest “thing” about being back here? How dispassionate so many people are about things, work, life in general.
And the sad thing, really, is that it’s actually quite true about a maddeningly large proportion of this part of the world. So it’s got me thinking about this whole passion thing – why don’t we, as a nation, have more of it?
Okay, so we’re a country that’s largely made up of migrants and the Chinese, unfortunately, no matter how many generations on seem to still live with this terrible fear that a famine will break out and their whole lineage will starve to a miserable death. So there is no time, no room for passion – just work to make money, save and make sure you always have enough for several monsoon seasons of rainy days.
Oh but c’mon. We’re nowhere near a famine anymore. Geographically, this just isn’t possible in a country like Malaysia which is so naturally abundant. Also, so many generations on, many, many people my age will not have the same worries that our forefathers did, when they came on a boat and had to make enough money to feed a whole family and the in-laws back in Guangzhou or whatever it was. Some of the most dispassionate, soul-dead people I know come from extremely wealth families with enough to last them several generations on and plenty in their bank balances to allow them some little dalliances in a personal passion. In spite of this wealth though, you still see disproportionately few people following their hearts.
Somehow, sadly, following a passion doesn’t quite seem to gel with the whole Asian thing of face, making money, finding financial security. For example, parents still discourage their children from following art degrees because there’s no money to be made there; teenagers are still, often unwillingly, pushed towards science streams; there are so few tertiary institutions offering purely arts or humanities degrees that you could count them on one hand. Those are considered subjects you’d choose purely for interest or passion, not tools for future success.
But who says, huh? Who? Whoever was it that said that an artistic passion doesn’t equate to success – emotional, happiness-quotient, financial or otherwise?
If you just went to one of the artisan bazaars around the city today, you’d discover this whole new, wonderful generation of people who are chemists-by-day-artist-by-night or lawyer-by-trade-soapmaker-by-passion – and becoming great successes in what they do. Just consider for a moment the two brilliant minds behind Just Heavenly, the gorgeous passion behind KinderSoaps, the talented beauty that crafts the wonders at The Lollipop House, the so-fucking-pretty-I’m-going-faint creations of Notbook Notbuk.
All done from passion.
There’s a little burgeoning revolution of passion people in the city and it’s exciting and fantastic to be here as we see all this new talent come up. I (and Mabel) just wish there was about a thousand times more of this!
And then, you come across people like this: a publisher I met last week when he called me in for a chat about some possible work with his magazines. After turning up a half hour later and not apologising for his tardiness, he launched straight into offering me a position as managing editor for this group of magazines.
I then expressed more of an interest in sub-editing work. He didn’t know what a sub-editor was, which shocked me because judging by the standards of their magazine copy, they certainly needed one.
I then asked him what it was that had inspired him to establish this publishing house. Was it a passion? Or…?
He cut me off immediately, “Oh no, no, no, no. It’s not a passion. I have no passion for health. I have no passion for babies.” I swear his face twitched, like he almost scorned the idea that anyone could possibly be passionate about these subjects. “We saw that there was a niche and we could meet a demand. This is purely a business opportunity.”
I balked quietly (politely) in my seat and felt like I might throw up over his messy conference room. Did people like this really exist? I guess so. At least he was honest, eh?
Now while I appreciate people looking for good business opportunities and being driven (passionate) about making money, I think this is the cruncher – you should necessarily also be passionate about the very thing you’re doing business in. The two are not mutually exclusive, as moguls like Richard Branson, Anita Roddick and Chanel have all shown us through the decades. For heaven’s sake, at least fake the passion until it begins to feel real.
But to tell a potential editor/writer for your group of magazines (group, mind, not just a single magazine) that you actually have no passion at all in what you’re publishing: well, isn’t that the surest way to kill any opportunity for sincere, passionate people to join your team? Sure, he may be terribly passionate about “making money” (as surely that’s all that his meaning of “business opportunity” boils down to), but evidently not passionate enough to truly invest his heart and mind and interest in the very things he’s trying to capitalise on.
Why is it even, that as I’m writing this, it all sounds so elementary and so screaming with common sense that I’m embarrassed to even have to call attention to it? The more frightening thing is that, sadly, a majority of the people you will meet in this part of the world probably wouldn’t realise this – people like this publisher who won’t ever see that a famine-sized dearth of passion will inevitably result in a business opportunity that falls flat before it even gets off the ground.
Poor fellow. How must it be to live without passion? I couldn’t imagine it.
Surely it goes without saying that if you’re truly following your heart and your passion and whatever it is that makes your gut jump up and down just by talking about it, you would find success anyway. You may not be making millions of dollars, but the happiness-and-life-satisfaction quotient would make up for that, even surpass the need for an obese bank account.
Often enough, if you’re invested enough in your passion, it isn’t surprising that you’d also find some comfortable financial success through it (as a bonus!). We need only think about people like Jamie Oliver, the two guys from Little Britain, Tony Fernandez, Marie Forleo, Gabrielle Bernstein, Mark Zuckerberg, Adele, Steve Jobs, to know this is true.
Now how to make all the dead-beats like that publisher understand this?