I’ve been feeling the need to write again — and writing specifically about the journey of listening to our passions and doing something about it. The following, I think, is a good way to get that series going. It was a talk I shared during the IMMAP Digital Youth Conference in October 12, 2016.
What happens when you think about the things you are passionate about?
Every time I’ve asked that of myself or of the guys I work with or students I teach, they get excited and energized but scared & overwhelmed at the same time. Because when you ask what are my passions the next automatic question is how can I act on them? Am I living them? Even: Is there a way I can make a living using them? Diba?
These are the questions that have bugged me for years. Finding the answers to them has led me to what I do today. And this is what I’d like to share to you today – four chapters of my life when the answers to those questions started to show themselves to me. What am I passionate about? What do I really wanna do ? And how can I do them?
- Not Fitting In & Fitting In: College to First Production Job
Growing up I never imagined a traditional career. I just didn’t seemed to fit. Thinking of myself as a lawyer like my dad or to be an engineer or doctor just didn’t feel right. In college I took Management to be safe and because i didn’t know what I wanted to do. By some accident of fate, I shifted to a non traditional (even impractical course) Philosophy.
A few years after college, I got into a non traditional job – segment producer for Probe Productions by Cheche Lazaro. I was assigned to a sports show called GAMEPLAN. We would shoot write and edit, three of us working on a weekly hour show. I’d be sleepless for two days at least once a week, and come back the next day to do it all over again. I’d go home tired but so happy that I’d cry. I didn’t make much but I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world. I was so inspired by athletes who could talk about passion, dedication, discipline… standing up when you’re falling down or representing the Philippine flag. Or everyday athletes who were cool & fit, and had an awesome lifestyle. (motorcycle riders, skydivers, scuba divers, windsurfers, triathletes). They became models of a life I didn’t even know I wanted. I got into triathlons probably because of GAMEPLAN.
Probe was also a company with a great culture. We were all young and passionate and felt like we were still in college but working on something with a purpose — something larger than ourselves. In our production meetings, Cheche Lazaro would always say “We have to strive for excellence in every episode.” Of course I would always react – “Hello, pagod na ako no?” Then one day she said why “we have to be excellent ‘coz we have to show what is world-class about the Filipino.” It was values like these, aside from great shows that was important to us. So having a stable career (or even a table and computer to work in) didn’t matter as much as the sense of purpose & meaning we had.
Things just seemed to fit for me here. For the first time, I found what I wanted. I could talk about values and meaningful things and it wasn’t church or school. In one story we asked a skydiver, “What goes through your mind as you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” He said “There are a few seconds when I don’t know if my parachute will open but I just trust that it will.” That moved me because it was exactly the same definition of faith that we grappled with in Philosophy. To jump into the unknown even if afraid and trust, with your life on the line, that things will be ok because someone will catch you.
2. Now What: Burn Out & MBA
I burned out, physically & mentally after two years of that schedule. I was spent. So I took my MBA at 27 (to take a break and find myself and buy time to find the answer to what will I do with my life) Being a creative in a business environment was tough. “D’yos ko nosebleed talaga Sa accounting, statistics, finance, excel, PowerPoint! ”
What kept me going was the answer to the question – How do I use this time to do what I want to do? I thought: what if I could use this MBA degree and work for a big company that was in media or would buy media companies. I’d have stable income & a career, the company would have big resources and maybe I’d be part of changing the media landscape. So the idea was to put my MBA plus my creative passions and make a successful liiving. I thought I had the formula.
After grad, I joined PLDT and did mergers & acquisitions. I would look at buying media companies (like Home Cable, Ch 5, 7, Infocom). I loved that I could wear a suit to work and had a company car. It was a high profile & stable job and had a career path; but I felt that I didn’t fit in or that I could do what I really wanted to do. If we bought a TV station, the creatives would look at me as finance. And the finance people would say I had no business dabbling in creatives. So after eight months I left and tried to look for what I really wanted to do. For the record, I never bought any companies. Everything that got passed to me never got bought. Malas yata ako.
I then joined a small incubator company doing start up media companies. That company was a little closer to my passions – I was using my growing skill to build media companies and they had a larger purpose: nation building — Newsbreak, was an investigative magazine now with Rappler, Pathways was a radio production group turning social issues into radio dramas, Pulse Asia a survey company that was meant to give whoever was in the government information on what was important to the people.
Things were ok but I was still looking to do TV shows — and we weren’t getting into that. It was like I was waiting in the wings waiting for something to happen but at the same time couldn’t make anything happen because I was doing other things for other people who were following their passions & sense of purpose.
3. JUICE: Be Careful What You Wish For
One day I was getting tired of complaining I wanted to seriously address it. I met with two other friends and I wanted to figure out how to do what I wanted to do & make a living at the same time. We sat down with a mentor to help us/me figure out how to do it. I asked for a strategic planning session. But instead of plans he asked me a simple question: “Jake What do you want to do?” I said make local lifestyle shows that would make people think, be inspired feel good. Pwedeng food, travel, fashion, sports. He then asked, “Do you know how to do that?” I frustrating said “No. But I’ve been trying.” And I didn’t see any opportunities for it. “ We ended the day just promising to try to do research and pay attention to the opportunities that might come… even if they were small. As I was bringing them to the door, the phone rang, the makers of a travel channel on cable called Lakbay TV asked if we could help them. This is how the conversation went:
“Hey Jake what’s new and exciting?
Hey Tito Caloy not much. Nice of you to call. What can I do for you?
Well we’re pitching a young local lifestyle show and we don’t know how to do it.”
Truly you have to be careful with what you ask for because God might just give it to you.
In two weeks I was recruiting a team of executive producers (all former Probers) to start the channel. In five weeks we set up the company and conceptualized the channel. We called it JUICE. Since Philo major ako dapat may lalim and meaning so the idea was to talk about what people found meaningful in their lifestyles. If fruit gets it’s flavor from juice, what gives your life flavor? Where do you get your JUICE?
It was a meaningful time for me. At 29 I was CEO and it felt like things were coming together. Business & creatives and working with my friends on something we were all passionate about.
It was also the most challenging time for me. Suddenly in 6 months we were running out of money. I was trying to keep a company going and had no experience doing that, my salary was really low, I really felt helpless, pressured because I recruited my friends. I would wake up everyday scared and helpless. But I loved what I was doing. It felt like I was doing what I was meant to do.
That taught me something about the power of passion – it can keep you going & make you feel fulfilled even if all the external signs of success aren’t there.
Getting into triathlons helped me too at this time. Something about the physical activity was a great stress reliever. The sport also values heart & that value of endurance to keep on going. That spoke to me. I want to live my life with heart but I was tired and wanted to give up. Triathlon helped me build that endurance muscle not just in the body but also in the mind and the Heart.
After eight months of JUICE we had to close it.
Honestly it made me doubt – if I can’t sustain it, maybe i shouldn’t be following my passion.
I was jobless for about a month when my former boss asked for a meeting. He said he wanted to see if I could help him. He was talking about where the companies were: money was short, morale was getting low, direction wasn’t clear. After his story. I looked him in the eyes and said “I understand.” Because deep in my bones, I knew how it was like to be where he was. I was there in JUICE. He made me CFO right then and there. I accepted because I didn’t have anything else and it seemed like I could be of help to him. Funny thing is I flunked all my finance exams in AIM when I was taking my masters.
4. Tripleshot Media
After about six years there, I got the companies in as much order as I could and fixed the money problems. In fact we started getting involved in Today Newspaper and Channel 5 & growing the Ninoy & Cory Foundation. By accident, I started doing wedding and birthday videos. And I realized I felt more fulfilled doing that than being CFO. There was more prestige and security in being CFO but I thought i was happier capturing meaningful moments editing birthday videos. It wasn’t logical but I couldn’t deny what was happening inside me.
At this time three big ideas helped me move forward: 1. If a passion keeps on coming back, then it is real. This bug to do lifestyle shows kept on coming back even if my life was ok na naman. I thought if life is short, maybe I should listen to this again. 2. No one was going to give me the job I wanted. No one was doing what I wanted to do. 3. People I was helping were building companies out their passions, why not me. I didn’t have to be an employee. If no one was doing what I wanted to do, maybe I had to build it myself.
Of course I didn’t know how to do it. So without a plan or an idea of what I was getting into, I jumped and quit. That’s how tripleshot media started. Luckily I was getting paying clients for AVPs and was teaching in the Ateneo grad school and that kept me financially afloat. After 3 years of freelance AVP work, one day i thought: getting multiple projects from one client is easier than getting one AVP contract at a time. Tv shows are potentially multiple productions in one contract. What’s the harm in pitching shows? The worse that could happen was they said no. And that’s where I already was and it was ok naman. So I talked with my friend Paolo and came up with two concepts based on things we were passionate about. The COO of ANC at that time, was a former editor of Newsbreak so I called her. We pitched the idea of a green show and a business show and we got approval for the green show with just a piece of paper and a meeting and then was given 5 weeks to get a pilot. That’s how Green Living started. So in 5 weeks, we rented an office, recruited people, got 2nd hand furniture and bought a camera, lights, and mics. I was executive producer, driver, PA, editor and my friend Paolo Abrera was the host, graphic artist , executive producer & driver. It’s been a little more than 6 years, 5 shows, and 4 awards since then.
At this point my story becomes a story of how I’m building tripleshot. And boy do I have stories to tell. But for now let me just say that the formula for building the company Iwant has worked for me so far – tell people what I want to do, think of shows that moves us, pitch ideas, beg the universe for what I need, take leaps of faith, learn from mistakes, find a way to make it work and just never giving up. Today we have Green Living on ANC, GAMEPLAN on Rappler, The Eco Traveler in the GoAsean Ch in Malaysia, The Crawl for Lifestyle Network, and Harvest on CNN Philippines.
Let me end by saying this. I never planned my life to be this way. In fact I never imagined it to be like this. What has worked for me is to listen to my passions and follow them even if there seems to be no opportunities to do what I believe in. I didn’t have a plan. And t
o be honest, I couldn’t make one. But once I followed my passions, doors of opportunity would open that I never expected or could even plan for. Triathlon taught me that – even if scared to start, just jump in the water and things will be ok. and sooner or later you will discover that there is more to you (and in you) than your fears, fatigue, and the challenges you face.
To me there were no accidents and wasted years. Each chapter of my life seemed to build on the other: and I found myself like I was prepared for the next job I took. Philosphy and production, MBA and media, finance and start-ups, birthday videos and TV shows . I guess God and the universe had to get me ready to do what I’m doing today. And today it feels like every chapter of my life had to teach me something I needed to use today. And the story isn’t done yet.
It’s taken me 20 years to do what I’ve always wanted to do and I count myself lucky.
- I’m building a company that’s in the business, not of making money, but of telling stories that move people and as a result get paid to do it.
- Green Living is about believing one person can do something today that makes a difference in sustaining the environment and in the bettering the lives of the community.
- GAMEPLAN is about passion, personal transformation, being the best version of yourself and living the adventure of life to the fullest.
- The Eco Traveller is about showing how beatiful our country and it’s people are to the rest of the world.
- I’m lucky I get to do triathlons. It has taught me to face my fears and discover that there is more to me than fatigue and fear. And that I’ve got heart to keep on going even when things are some difficult that I want to give up. And if that is true in my sport that is also true in my life.
- And I”m lucky to journey with people trying to find their way: be they students taking their MBAs, friends over coffee, or people like you who sit in their chairs and watch a guy talk about their life. I get to share what I’ve found to be the answer to who am I and what am I supposed to do in this world; in hopes that those who hear will find and listen to their passions and follow where they lead too.
- Coz it’s our hopes and dreams & passions (no matter how crazy they sound ) it’s things like that, that move people and will change the world.