Discovering the Different Levels of Passion

‘Follow your passion’, a phrase often throw around by entrepreneurs or industry leaders, even sometimes by people do not know what it might mean. It is an inspirational ‘verse’, and rightfully so. I am amongst many drawn by the luring beauty of earning lots of money and doing what I love!

Truth is, in order to earn lots of money your passion has to be more than pure passion. You have to drive it more than letting it drive you. Here’s why.

When you let passion drive you, emotions get it the way of progress and efficiency.

When you are constantly asking “What should the next project be? When and how should I achieve an intended result?” then you are driving your passion further and pushing your own limits.

For those of us who are seeking opportunities through passion, I want to encourage you to search quickly and without ceasing because life is short. I shift focus extremely quickly, which is good and bad, because I get to find out how passionate I am with one thing but I give up quickly too. Through a course of one year, I learned how little I liked baking bread and cakes, developing new recipes, and being in a commercial kitchen for fixed number of hours.

But most importantly, I found the different levels of passion. While It does not apply to everyone, I discovered this through my journey. Only just recently did I find the fourth level of passion, which I call obsessive passion.

1. Given time, I would like to pursue it

This is where every hobbyist starts. It starts with a spark of curiosity, grows to an itch to find answers, and finally grows to a point where you start experimenting. How does the chef pulverise carrot into a puree? Why does wagyu beef taste so much more tender and flavourful than grain-fed beef? Which type of chilli was used to make this fiery garlic chilli sauce? Food sparked a curiosity in me. Whether it was fried kuey tiao, bak kut teh, beef rendang or gazpacho soup. I asked so many questions which I often forgot to answer, never the less, I asked. People around started to notice this trend and told me, “why don’t you google the recipe and try to make it?”

That was university. My love for cooking had its first spark in high school.

No one knew where my starting point was. It was this: I wanted to cook frankfurters and scrambled eggs for friends back in high school, because a friend of mine was a great home cook at the age of fifteen. I saw the faces and joy of friends as they shared the meal my friend cooked. I ended up serving them egg shells and salt.

My first edible meal was grilled chicken cubes with cheese. Sounds amazing right? Picture this. The chicken cubes were marinated with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Sauteed in olive oil and slapped on with a thumb-sized peeled Cheesedale cheese. That was it, it was…you know, food.

I thought it looked worse than those microwave meals but my friends encouraged me anyway. What a great bunch of friends! Especially a friend of mine who said “I didn’t know you cook.” I answered with a laugh, “I don’t!”

That was the day I decided that I will keep learning to cook, but it would be during my free time.

2. I enjoy what I do and I want to be paid for it

Fast forward three years. My dad told me to come back to Malaysia to run a pork butchery that sells premium pork. It was 2008, people were losing jobs and with a lower second class degree with no prior working experience, I knew I had little chance of finding a job in UK. I stalled and worked a part time job anyway. In that time, I did a lot of research and found myself more in love with food.

Another six years passed. I left Sanbanto to start Chef Up because I wanted to be paid for what I enjoyed doing. You know, the “follow your passion” mantra.

I was never so wrong about my passion. If you are somehow thinking “I can do this very well, I should be paid more for it”, it is not enough to get you through. It is very different from verifying data, beta testing or even making oodles of money. Every startup has to go through the leap of popularity, and to even come to that point, it takes a lot of discipline. If you are lucky and sharp, perhaps you have a high chance of survival. However, if starting a company was just to earn a lot of money, you will fizzle out when you only see red for months.

3. I want to share my passion with the world

When I started Ah Tuck Roast Pork. I knew I was called to do everything pork, but I am not the best. Not yet. I will get there, but let’s start with something everyone is familiar with. No one has ever asked me how did I create the (in)famous char siew that I sell. Well, here is the origin story. My wife, who is very well versed in creating processes, asked me “Do you remember how the chef made the char siew?” referring to a shop that I used to frequent many years ago. I closed my eyes. It is what I do when trying to remember smell and taste.

Somehow I managed to visualize every single ingredient, the way it was used, mixed, cooked, stored, packed, sold, with extremely vivid detail. It felt like I was physically walking in the shop. It sounds so dramatic but I kid you not. It was then that I realised ‘This is it!’ (I got over excited writing this part because I have extremely horrible memory.) It is amazing what the mind can comprehend. This was the first time I trusted my memory. I insisted that I got the ingredients correct, without second guessing myself. For those of you who are chefs or home, when you have a strong gut feeling about a certain recipe, write it down and work on it at your first chance.

Do not wait till things are perfect to make it happen. Adrenaline sets your mind to concoct recipes much faster, more efficiently and most importantly without fear. You might just end up with an amazing recipe that you will not be able to re-create again.

This is rarely repeated situation but often yield very satisfying results. I have done it, I have seen chefs make it happen too. Always remember to write down the entire process after cooking the dish because it hurts when you forget how to re-create it. It happened to me when once I made a perfect batch of guanciale, did not jot down the process, lost it. A wise man once told me ‘it is better to have a short pencil than a long memory’.

Starting Ah Tuck Roast Pork gave me an opportunity to see just how much I love to work with pork. I believed good food brought friends and families together, and one day when my cousin said “Hey, you should make this every gathering so no one will want to miss family gatherings!”, I knew this was it! This is how I can bring people together through food! Through food so good people find it hard to miss out on. Just like food that your grandmother cooked every Chinese New Year, and would never be the same without it. That is what I want to make! And then, something changed.

4. Obsessive passion.

After watching Steve Jobs portrayed by Michael Fassbender, I got curious. The movie is centered around the 3 iconic stages of his career, which were the keynote events of launching Macintosh, NeXT, and iMac. Movie buffs would notice that throughout the span of over ten years, Steve Jobs’ character had changed very significantly. He went from a man who let obsessive passion blind him from reasoning and became a legend who built the whole series of world changing, highly disruptive products that start with the letter ‘i’. He changed the way we use cell phones and made the walkman an obsolete tech. I never read his biography but the movie showed that his obsessive passion about advancing technology is unquencheable.

While I am not a tech person, I finally caught the heart of that same obsessive passion. It is difficult to describe this sensation to your peers unless they have experienced it. It is not just a force of encouragement, nor is it just a word thrown around by entrepreneurs, professionals and experts. It encompasses you and radiates from you and within you.

You know it is an insatiable thirst until you create something where people say “I’ve never experience such a good thing before”.

I can finally comprehend why people idolize him, why people say “he made a dent in the universe”, why every single product was so simple yet eloquently built. All because he had a solid vision, laser sharp focus, never troubled himself with people who say it cannot be done, ignored the part of the brain that says he cannot do it, and probably also because Michael Fassbender is a good actor. In the movie he also said to Steve Wozniak “I am the conductor, you are my best musician.” He was never shy about his capacity and talent.

One day, while my wife was asking me about a problem with the roast pork, I found myself saying “I want to make a perfect siew yoke(roast pork), one that will make people say ‘this is better than anything I’ve tried’.” Sounds pretty boastful, right?! But those words were not carefully thought of. I was frustrated with the feedback I often got, and with what people deemed as the best siew yoke in town. Both were not consistent. It was driven by passion I never knew I had, the obsessive kind. When I caught myself saying that, I immediately continued with “but I still have a long way to go”. What was my point again?

When people say follow your passion, they might not go into details and that is where the problem lies. Both the communicator and the recipient of the message have to interpret the meaning of passion in their own capacity.

Do not worry if you realise you do not have obsessive passion. I never knew it until after 7 years of being in the same field. Be aware of what you are attracted to, continue to pursue it, constantly stimulate your mind, be curious, be humble, hang out with crazy and highly driven people, and keep breaking your own boundaries, listen to others even if you hate it(speaking to myself). And do not let your passion drive you, you need to drive it even when you do not feel like it.

Breaking your own boundaries is a sure way to excel to a higher level of knowledge.

Even when others say what you have done is good enough but you know you can do better, keep going!

Even when everyone says you cannot do it, keep going!

Because one day, you will break the noise barrier(not talking science here). When that day happens you will hear your voice. Not your mother’s or father’s or friend’s voice or wife’s or husband’s voice but your voice. That is what you are looking for. And when you find it, you have your answer.

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