Discover Your True Passion (And Don’t Give Up Trying)

Businessman Midair in a Business Meeting

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. ~ Confucius

When I was a child, my father used to ask me what I would do when I grow up.

“Do business,” I would reply.

It was the right answer to give. After all, my father was a strong and influential businessman. I could not conceive of myself giving another answer even though I had other interests, like music.

It was a struggle for me in my first year of university when I broke the news to my father that I was switching my studies from business into psychology. He was upset and lectured me for 5 minutes over the phone, ending his lecture with: “it would be better for you to switch into music — then you could at least earn a bit of money as a piano teacher!”

I felt mocked. So I retorted, “I am actually majoring in music and minoring in psychology.”

I heard an exasperated sigh on the other end of the phone, and then a click. He had hung up.

Discovering our true passion is not easy, especially when there are strong personalities in our lives dictating what we ought to do. Often, these people mean well. But at the end of the day, we are the ones who will have to live our lives; we are the ones who will have to suffer the misery of our wrong choices. At the time, my father’s voice was too strong for me to go against, so after my music degree, I joined the family business. Although I learned a lot there, it was a difficult and dreary period. The life within me was ebbing away.

At 29 years old, after completing my MBA and turning around a subsidiary company, I called it quits in business and entered into academia to find my true calling. That too, was not an easy decision, nor a smooth sailing journey. I returned to complete my undergraduate degree in psychology with the hope of becoming a professor. But once I had come to understand the academic discipline of psychology well, I realized that it, too, was somehow draining me of life. I was lost as to the next step. That was when I found myself entering into seminary. It was a desperate move.

The closest major to what I felt I could study in seminary was counseling. Although the prospect of listening to people’s problems everyday seemed unappealing, I had no other choice. It did not matter anyway, I thought to myself, since I had only planned to be there for a year to figure out my next step.

Lo and behold, one year turned into another, and soon, I found myself at my first internship site. I was working with troubled teen boys and their families. It was not easy. Sometimes, a teenager would just stare out into space for the entire session no matter how hard I tried to engage him. Sometimes, the family would be highly conflictual and I would have no idea how to intervene. Yet no matter how badly a session went, I always found myself energized at the end of it. I was either filled with the euphoria of success or the excitement of having to figure out how to better reach my clients the next time around. Every session felt like an exhilarating roller coaster ride!

At the end of the internship, I read my own reflection report with open-mouthed surprise. After almost a decade of hating my career and my life, I stared at the words I had written on paper: “I think I have found my calling.” No matter how difficult my sessions were, or how tired my body felt from the day’s work, I always felt a deep sense of purpose in what I did. My work as a therapist imbued me with life and I loved it. I still do, after 13 years!

The quote by Confucius at the beginning of this post captures well the idea of finding one’s true passion. Once we are able to discover that thing that energizes us and brings life to our being, our work no longer feels like meaningless toil. Even on the worst days — yes, there will be bad days — we find ourselves rising to the challenge and overcoming the odds more easily than we would if we were doing something for which we had no passion.

When we are passionate about our vocation, we can become really good at it. Why? Because we will want to spend more time on such life-giving activities. Not only that, working on life-giving activities also fosters creativity and generativity in us. And so, time spent on life-giving, passionate vocation will tend to lead to excellence — one that flows from within, intrinsically. Steve Jobs put it brilliantly in his famous 2005 Stanford University commencement address:

I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don’t settle.

Going Deeper

Are you feeling a lack of passion in your life? Take a moment and reflect on the exercise below.

  • Imagine that all the significant people in your life are no longer present. You have said your goodbyes with full closure, you are financially sound, and you are healthy. Now, generate a list of all the things you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life. What do you notice?

Inspired to share? Feel free to leave me a comment. (Please note: only legitimate comments will be published.)

© Johnben Loy, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Johnben Loy and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

7 Replies to “Discover Your True Passion (And Don’t Give Up Trying)”

  1. Wonderful first post JB. You are so right. I can relate; whenever things have gone well in my life it is because I followed my passion. Those were times when I also was having the most fun.

    I’m looking forward to your next posts.

  2. It’s good to hear more of your story, Johnben. And passion is so important as an element of guidance for what we’re to do with our lives. It’s also hard for many people to identify their passion.

    Regarding career guidance as well as volunteer work…

    Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek people phrase it something like this (in their Network course): gifts/talents guide you in what you should do; personality often determines how you will do it; and passion motivates you where to make a difference — in what field, what issue, what age group, etc.

  3. Thanks Dr. Johnben for sharing this article. It is good to know that a public figure like yourself struggled with the same issues.

    I know this is comment is a little behind time, seeing that posts online are almost timeless, I like would like share a comment. I like the idea of seeking. I remember that 3-4 years ago, I was feeling rather low about my career and also direction in life. I had no motivation to and no clue what I wanted to do. My experiences and education did not pair up and I had problems defining myself portraying a proper identity during interviews, but did not stop seeking for a way. I talked to countless people, toyed with numerous ideas and finally found pieces of what I thought I was passionate about.

    Now after sometime, with those few bits and pieces of an answer I am building up myself and using the same pieces as clues to continue the search for my calling/passion. Like the title of this article, I totally agree that we all should “DISCOVER YOUR TRUE PASSION (AND DON’T GIVE UP TRYING)”.

    Thanks again

    1. Thanks for sharing Eu-Jynn! It makes me smile to hear others with similar stories of feeling lost but not giving up, continuing to journey the narrow road (rather than stay in mediocrity) and finally discovering true meaning and passion in life!

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