Passion VS Reality – Dato Timothy Ong

Dato Timothy Ong


Dato Timothy Ong is a leading Brunei businessman and the Chairman of Asia Inc Forum, he is also an acclaimed facilitator of business and public policy dialogue in ASEAN and beyond. He served as the Acting Chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), Brunei’s leading economic agency from 2005 to 2010


This article was published in the Oct-Dec 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!


Do you think that young people should find a job that they are passionate about? Or bring passion to their workplace?
To talk about pursuing passion in your career without talking about making a living is for most people, not realistic. It is very hard to be happy in poverty or when you have very little.  At the same time, it is also not very healthy either, if you are in a job that you simply don’t enjoy and your heart lies elsewhere.

Lang Lang, world renowned concert pianist who has performed with leading orchestras in Europe, the United States and his native China. Photography by Detlef Schneider

However, I think it is important to accept that sometimes in life we will not always find a job that we are passionate about, but we should still do it with gusto or passion – and you should put spirit into it. That doesn’t mean that we should give up on chasing our dreams or stop pursuing our passion. If you want to pursue your passion but your passion takes you to a difficult situation in life, you must be prepared for the consequences. A safer approach may be to prioritise making a living first, while pursuing your passion in whatever way you can after doing this. Now, this is not a very inspiring piece of advice but sometimes, the fairytale idea of success is most of the time, a fairytale. Sometimes you go to conferences and you listen to Ted Talks, it can be uplifting, but we also have to recognise that the reality may not always be like that.

For example, while you are writing your great novel, you will still need to put food on the table and therefore you may need to take on a second job as a teacher, or do whatever it takes for you to survive. And you’d also have to accept the fact that, at least in the beginning, you would have to forgo the expectation or desire to live in a nice neighborhood, buy nice clothes and so on because there are many factors outside of your control that can determine your success regardless of your ability. There is no magic book that says you should choose this or that. Folly would be making choices without regard for the implications. If you are ready for the implications and devote yourself to your passion, fine. But you need to do it with your eyes open.

So how does a person put himself or herself in the best position to succeed?
I think the approach should be to find something in life that you have a fighting chance to get into, and go for it! There is this concept called “flow”, it is when you do something, and time seems to stand still for you. When your passion and ability aligns, you are in a state of flow. If you have a passion for music, for example, and at the same time, you have a talent for it – you are in a state of flow. However, it doesn’t quite make sense to pursue a career in music no matter how passionate you are, if your talent is simply not there.

What is your dream?
My dream is to be a thought leader. To be someone who can influence in a positive way how people think about themselves and how people think about the world usually on current issues. When I first started my career the last thing on my mind was getting into business. When I was young I had friends around me who were natural business people that started buying stamps and making money selling them at a higher price to other kids. But I was never one of them. In many respects, I don’t see myself as a natural businessman. However, I recognised early in my career that financial independence and financial success are important to the life I want to live in order to be a thought leader. So I have devoted part of my life to doing business in order to pursue my passion.

As the world is evolving so quickly, what we learn in school often has little relevance when students step into the workforce. As parents and educators, how do we prepare the next generation to compete in the global market space?
Part of the discussion would revolve around the new ways of educating kids. There’s a lot of discussion now on moving away from the classroom to experiential learning or learning online. However, I am more interested in curriculums that are not taught in many schools, which I consider as life skills.

In my opinion, life skills include:

Positive Psychology or Resiliency
Looking at the world and life in an optimistic manner. How do we teach kids to have the perspective that no matter how tough things are, the future can be better?

Financial Literacy
Whether you consider money to be important or not, many kids grow up not understanding how money works.

Communication / Negotiations / Public Speaking
How do you get to a common solution when you have two different opinions?

We live in a world where most kids are distracted with their devices. How do we keep them focused?

And then, there is also the growing importance of Social Skills that are disappearing with our increasing reliance on technology.

This is why we continue to be a little surprised (which we shouldn’t be), by the people who go on to succeed in life despite not being “academically successful” because they possess the necessary life skills that put them ahead.

That said, I also recognise the value of traditional disciplines (taught in school) as they empower and help us to advance in our career. For example, the ability to write well is a key skill and so is the ability to work with numbers. You would be surprised by the number of young graduates today who are not able to do these basic requirements.

In saying that, are you referring to the YouTube generation?
Kids today learn so much from Youtube, from hair colouring to makeup, you name it. While this revolutionary advancement has significantly shifted the way we learn things and consume information; the danger is when you are tempted to think that everything can be learnt instantly. To be any good at all, hours of practice is required and that certainly cannot be done through YouTube. In fact, for anything in life, to be great, there’s no quick fix. Traditional education still has an important role to play, as you need to build a strong foundation before you can fly.