• Kenneth Tan

A Struggle Understanding Passion

Updated: Nov 8

Something I've been struggling with my whole life, and I presume is the same for many people, is the pursuit of passion. I have not been given a satisfactory answer, and have been unable to come up with one myself. This is essentially an attempt to break it down, and express my frustrations about passion.


Passion, as I’m told, is this deep, uncontrollable desire; a role or action that gives us purpose in our short and insignificant lives. Each of us, supposedly, instinctively knows what our passion is without prompt. And when it finds us, or we find it, we then have our "raison d’etre". Life is finally fulfilling, choices become simple, and we sail through it working hard for our passion.


But, what is it? Where do we find it? It's elusive, mysterious, and something only WE know for ourselves. The thing is, we don’t.


ADULTHOOD VS PASSION

 

As veterans of mundane life, adults know what children do not; beaten into us: Survival supersedes everything. As children grow into functioning citizens of society, they discover for themselves the importance of time and rationality. Life does not wait patiently for us to find happiness. For all the years as children, taught to follow our dreams and pursue our passions, it means nothing as an adult.

 

Our modern metropolitan life revolves around money, and it hits you hard. Rent, Service and Conservancy Charges, daily essentials, groceries, the many things you take for granted as a child provided by your parents (if you're lucky). There are things like insurance or taxes, that you'd never think about as a child. Earning money is arguably an absolute necessity.


Beyond the necessities, independence, status, and power are all tied to money. Money allows us to buy the things we want, do the things we want. It puts food on our tables, hot water in our showers. It is possible, and some people do, to spend every waking moment of your life working for more money. Working hard promotes you, allowing you to earn more money. This requires you to spend more time on the job, and so continues the perpetuity of this rat race. You sleep for 1/3 of the day, work for 1/3+, and the rest is divided into travel, rest, upkeep, and attempting to regain your sanity. We will choose to cast aside our happiness, our soul, in exchange for the daily grind.


There's no space in your life for passion. Though, if there is, there's more to life! We have other commitments too. There is our familial responsibility to the ones who raised us. By the time we are adults, our parents will probably be nearing retirement. If they didn't plan or save well through their working years (and let's be honest, how do middle-class people save while raising children), the pressure on us, their children, to provide for them in the last leg of their lives. If not out of love, or filial piety, then “repaying the debt of our upbringing”. I’d discuss how siring children is a narcissistic, egomaniacal act and that our parents essentially bred us to project their self-hating ideologies onto tiny copies of themselves, but that’s a topic for another day.


LOVE VS PASSION


Then, the big one everyone is talking about: Love. WAIT! Before we talk about relationship commitments, FINDING the love of your life comes first. It's a time sink of dating, nurturing a relationship, giving your heart and soul to another person in hopes of reciprocation (on top of your apparent other heart and soul you give to your work). This is where the miserable amounts of change leftover you've been desperately saving after paying for everything else to keep you alive go to. Going out costs money; Presents, movies, or amusement parks, cafe hopping, whatever your darling may fancy.


So maybe you're lucky enough to succeed then. Guys, you've spent 3X your monthly salary on an engagement ring (as the internet tells you is only a MODEST amount). She said "Yes!" and everyone's happy. You've worked to pay for a 20k wedding which hopefully some of your costs would be recovered, then go for an amazing honeymoon in the Bahamas, or Hawaii, or Japan, Taiwan, wherever. You two lovebirds decide to buy a house. Great.


You're now in an amazing relationship, and in debt (hopefully, you'll pay off in another 20 years if you put your head down to work). Anyone who's in a long-term relationship will tell you that a successful and fulfilling relationship is a continuous process. Anyone who says otherwise has never experienced a proper relationship. 100% commitment to your partner is the least you need to be decently committed to another human being that has given themselves to you. It is effort and time you need to put into communication with your partner. And frankly, with the person you love, it's worth the trouble. It's worth the pain.


And with a good relationship or marriage comes the pressure of having children. But let's stop here. You know where this is going. No money, and no time, and what was this about again? Oh right, passion.


This is all really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of life. With a list of indefinite things to spend your time on, you never really get the chance to think and search for your passion. It falls by the wayside to more important, more useful, more sensible things. On a side note, I’m not discrediting people who find their passion in their family and their children. It is great, and if that's your cup of tea, I am glad you're the sort of person who finds fulfillment in your family. But, the fact is, most don't, and most can't find passion in their families. Let alone talking about LGBTQ+ which most of the world don't condone right now. Let's face it, the odds are stacked against us.


And our passion is supposed to be the MOST important thing to us? What a pitifully laughable notion.

 

BUT! Say we do find the time, we then struggle to split the time and the energy we have evenly between job and family to make headroom for passion. Where do we start to look for one when there’s just so much to experience?


OCCUPATION VS PASSION

“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ― Mark Twain

Let us for the sake of argument and simplicity, take the quote at face value. There are 12,000 existing middle-class jobs listed on CareerPlanner.com. This does not include blue-collar, labor-intensive jobs (as I assume you won't find your passion for tilling soil). How would I even begin to find a job I enjoy doing? How would I even begin?


Of course, educated guesses help whittle down the list. Say, I know I would not enjoy something like finance or data analysis, but I know friends who do. But really, how would I know I don't enjoy finance if I've never tried it? Do I know I won't like Surströmming? Most likely. The world thinks it's disgusting. Probably is. But I've never smelt it, touched it, tasted it; how would I know? But I love durian and century egg and smelly tofu (cause, you know, Asian), so not all common unpalatable foods are disgusting to me. Educated guesses are just that: Guesses. An incomplete substitute for real experience, at best. So I will never truly know, for certain, that I dislike finance without experiencing it.


Then again, how much time do I have to spend on something before I know it's not for me, or it's my passion? Will I sit down and juggle numbers and suddenly, "EUREKA! It was finance all along!" Not likely. But I will never know. Neither would you if you didn't do finance.


Point is, there are countless jobs we have never attempted, countless industries we haven't dreamed of yet, countless future jobs we will never get to experience. There are more jobs in the world than we can work for in several lifetimes, each more nuanced than the next. How much time do we spend on each before we can say for certain it's not for us? How would we experience enough of anything to truly know what our passion could be?


How would we know (and this is childish) that the fantastically boyish notion of practicing gynecology is not all it's chalked up to be? Smart, think that they can appease their parents by becoming a doctor, at the same time look at as many vaginas as they can in a day? The perfect plan for a forward-thinking, horny adolescent boy. Not knowing it's at least 4 years of medical school, drowning in medical texts that you barely care about, just to intern for another 2, rotating around clinical settings, days and years of your life wasted for a primitive, prosaic pursuit, that culminates to you spending 8 hours a day looking at yeast infections, bloody discharge, urinary incontinence, and prolapses in a completely sterile environment and manner? That's a decade of your life wasted to realize medicine isn't your thing. Maybe move on to acting like Ken Jeong?


Take me, for example. I grew up wanting to be a literature professor. As I became older, I gained a deeper understanding of the education infrastructure and pedagogical practices of my country, and it was an academic abomination, focused on passing students through the system like gallstones, making sure only the minimum requirement was met. Then there was the teaching system. A system to acquire the necessary teaching qualifications was worse than the actual education system itself, where the teachers were just an extension of the administration, pushed to follow pre-packaged lessons like thawing frozen dinners. Teachers are given the bare essentials for classroom tools, any extra care or benefits students deserve coming out of their own schedules and wallets. Teachers are graded not on the quality of teaching or inspiration to students, but through sterile reports that run off a checklist and adherence to collated classroom files that for the better part could be cheated and backlogged. And even when it isn't, schools, for the most part, tend to ignore the weak, problematic students, closing both eyes and promoting them out of school, sighing in relief as this blip in their system has been cast into society and no longer a problem for their polished school record, built upon a mountain of lies.


It left a dirty taste in my mouth, having finally realized what I had envisioned as my life’s dream all this time was unreachable not by a lack of effort, but circumstance. The current system was inept for both teachers or students to focus on literary exploration or discover the joy in learning. Studying for pleasure and curiosity was absent in this society. I was not willing to put myself through this system for a decade only to earn a specific but limited academic profile for a job I would end up hating but stuck in. Remunerations were poor, students unappreciative, unsupported by the system, it was a complete disillusionment. What if that was truly my passion and it was stamped out by society?


CHILDHOOD VS PASSION


So where do we look? Do we start with our childhood dream? What did they use to indoctrinate us with? Be a baker! An astronaut! A doctor! A lawyer! The list goes on. Yet, a child has such a limited view of the world, and our young “choices” are fed to us by parents, teachers, and media, who were told by their parents and so on. How could any child make a sound judgment? We experience new things constantly throughout our lives, yet we have to choose a passion as young as possible, limited in our knowledge of the world. Why would anyone think that's a good idea? "Oh he's wanted it since he was so young, it must be his aptitude towards it!" Using a childhood dream as a template to go on is as inane as saying fashion is my passion because my mum used to sign me up and dress me for child pageants. No! A child has no control over any decision at that point in their lives. We shouldn't be thinking that what we do as children is a sign of what we like to do as adults!


THE HOLY GRAIL OF PASSION


So brings us to the fallacy of “The Holy Grail”. Humans have chased and, for whatever reason, been enthralled by simplicity. Nothing embodies this better than the Holy Grail, a cup that provides its drinker eternal youth, happiness, knowledge, and sustenance of infinite abundance. Even as ludicrous as it sounds, I’m attracted by that idea, fueled by the greed of my internal demons. We constantly yearn for more, and the Holy Grail epitomizes it, in scale and simplicity.


The Holy Grail is a one-stop solution to the woe of life. It is “the one answer”, “the philosopher’s stone”, “the skeleton key”, or “a soul-mate”. It exists as an idea of fulfillment in a single form. Technical Forex traders hunt for the ONE single strategy they can implement across every pair, on any timeframe, to earn them money 100% of the time. Romantics fantasize about soul-mates, the one person in the 7.594 billion people on earth (as of 2018) that will immediately enrapture them, giving them joy and happiness for the rest of their lives. Thing is, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Weirdly enough, "one true passion" sounds eerily like a holy grail.


As sure as I am sure Loch Ness does not exist, so doesn't the Holy Grail. Without constant studying and monitoring, no forex strategy will stand the test of time or a frenzied market. Just as there will undoubtedly be people who make us fall irrevocably in love with them, but without work and dedication to a relationship, that person does not become your soul-mate. Relationships can be hard or easy, but they are never effortless.


As rigorous as men have scoured the sea for Atlantis have they searched for their one true passion. We will end up like them, only to return dejected, tired, and more lost than before. Nothing is perfect or certain in our world. Untrue. The only certainty, in fact, is atrophy. The existence of a Holy Grail, in its eternal perfection, breaks this fundamental law of our universe, diametrically opposed to atrophy. Its existence should be treated as fantastical, a mythical antithesis of atrophy. To understand this and accept that no Holy Grail exists is the only way to realizing your true passion.


There is no perfect soul-mate. There is no eternal life. There is no one passion for you.


There is, however, a solution. It is the simplest thing in the world. Simple does not mean to say it is not arduous, or tedious, or immensely difficult; it is only meant to say the solution is simple.


THE SOLUTION TO PASSION


Your passion is not one thing. It is ever-changing to match what is most important to you at the moment.

With no one to tell you where to go, what to do, and how to do it, there is very little left but to reflect upon yourself to find out what you want. Observe yourself for small amounts of time every day. Realize what thoughts pop into your head the first thing in the morning. Figure out what topics of conversation excite or intrigue you. Deconstruct what the core of all the feelings you have in a day leads you to. That’s when you know. You’ll know.


The caveat is to truly reflect, and not many people do that. Not many people are able to just leave their phones, and sit in quiet wherever's most comfortable for them for 15-30 minutes at a time just to think about themselves. No music, no distractions, just you. Hardly possible to do when we're all plugged into the internet all the time. And not just "are", when we WANT to plug in all the time.


There are somethings I hear sometimes. “I love watching TV” or the popular “I love sleeping. Sleeping is my passion.” I think most, if not all of us love these things. We would love to kick back and spend the rest of our lives sipping Pina Coladas and watching new seasons of The Bachelorette. These are perfectly viable answers, of course. But then, you wouldn't be here if you're content with your current life. Mundane, consumer-type activities are harmless for those who want to stay right where they are. Those who decide it is too much of a hassle to pursue their passion have a right to coast through life easily and simply. They either do not or have decided to ignore the calling to achieve, to do something bigger than themselves in the limited time they spend here.


That's really okay. We are all not Min-Max power gamers. Some of us like to play life casually; bathe themselves in carnal sin, latch on to vices that light up the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine.


But for everyone else. You, who are lost and want direction, you need to think about this. Some things to chew on.


MONETIZING YOUR PASSION


The old adage was to find a job that you enjoy. But as I explained, this is just compromising. Working in any job is on someone else’s terms. Never yours. It's a good start, mind you. But it's not on your terms.


What is on your terms is to find a way to earn money from the thing you enjoy doing. It’s a simple idea. By monetizing your passion, you are now solely responsible for your personal success, while uncompromisingly only doing what you truly enjoy.


If you truly like watching movies, take more steps. Write a movie blog, make a movie review channel. Read about movies, and capitalize on your obsession (read as passion) with watching movies. Maybe you'll be able to pen your thoughts more coherently than buggers out there doing it, and maybe you'll get popular. Maybe ad revenue gets good, and sponsors come to you. Now you're running a successful movie blog and people are sending you tickets to movie premieres. Pipe dream, of course, but you can always aim high.


Maybe reviewing isn't for you. What you enjoy from movies is the direction, art style, editing, prop designing. Maybe movie production is your end-game. Maybe audio engineering or foley design for animation is something you're completely fascinated with. Who knows? You don't. Try it, and maybe you will.


WORKING ON YOUR TERMS


If your passion was cooking, the premature solution would be to work in a kitchen. But this means you might end up a busboy, a cleaner. Sure, you might end up cooking in a line, but you will inevitably end up cooking things you don’t like, cooking somebody else’s menu, for the majority of the job. It's a poor start, but you can go somewhere with this.


You start moving around the kitchen, maybe trying out dishes in your spare time. You either share with your colleagues and your workplace, or you keep the menu to yourself. If your boss likes it, maybe he introduces it into the restaurant's menu. If you have your own menu planned, maybe hire out a small space to throw a sampling party, opening your small line of gourmet food no one else is able to get anywhere. Work out of home, use technology like Grabfood or Carousell to sell your food.


You could even sell your services! If people like your food, maybe they can hire you for special events, get your name into the business. Eventually, you'll be able to open your own home bakery or food shop, become a private chef. Whatever it is, it will be on YOUR terms. Anything you do towards your larger goal, even working as a bus boy, has the potential to grow if you work towards the direction you want to. Any amount of experience in the field will be an up for your eventual success in life.


The harder you work for this, the less you will compromise and work on someone else's terms.

 

GET GOOD ENOUGH AND PEOPLE TO PAY YOU 


This applies to people with passions that exist outside a conventional job or service. Before the year 2000, people could only dream of gaming for a living, where the international phenomenon of E-Sports hasn't blossomed into a trillion-dollar industry, where winners of WCG or TI bring home millions of dollars every year.


Yes, there are limits to this, and most of you will undoubtedly fail. For every winner, there has to be a mountain of losers. Becoming the best in the world is not something small and easy to accomplish. But if it's something you love, if you do it well, and you give your life to it, you WILL be noticed and people will pay you for it. Professional sports, MMA, dog-keeping (looking at you Cesar Millan), shoe-collecting, whatever. It is a tough road, and it may take decades to realize, but it is possible, if you are skilled enough, and if you put enough effort into it.


I’ve been able to see people who have dedicated their lives to passion. They have this instinct about it I never did understand. These people have found the one thing they want to spend their lives working towards, uncompromisingly. They dedicate, and I’ve seen this personally, hours upon hours in a day, in repetition, mastering their craft. Mind-numbing, repetition. I personally have never been able to do this. But if you can, all the power to you. Good things will come much faster to you than me.


ENDING THOUGHTS


As what Victor E. Frankl said in “Man’s Search for Meaning”, asking for a solution for our passion or purpose in life is akin to asking a chess master, “What is the best move in the world?” There is none, but only the best in a person’s particular situation and particular opponent.

 

There may be no answer to this question. There is no limit of how many interests we hold. Passions can be a single, burning interest or a multitude of fleeting ones. There is no set place to look for passion. Passion can be found in the most likely AND unlikely of places. Passions can be intense and rash, or slow burning and calculated. Passion is not set in stone or instilled from birth. There is no right and wrong for passion. There is no where, when, what, who, how, or why.


“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ~ Edison

However you feel now, what you enjoy, do it. If it changes, don't scoff or think lowly of it. You may have tried a hundred things in your life and failed. They’re all still valuable, and they were worth investing the time in. Doing them helped you figure out what you should be doing now.


Stop being afraid of missing out. We experience new things every day without even trying. Stop fretting about success. It will come as a byproduct of hard work and dedication to your current craft.


The only thing that I can say for certain, is that we do not limit ourselves. We grow every single day, learning, experiencing new things. Restricting our ideas and beliefs close the mind, a disservice to our current selves and our true selves. I think we all have the potential to experience as much as life will offer us. So, whatever it may be, just follow your heart, and you’ll be wherever you want to be.


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