eric kim street photography beach

How I Found My Passion in Life

Dear friend,

I wanted to write you a letter on how I found my passion in life:

1. Define ‘passion’ for yourself

First of all, many of us are trying to find our passion in life. But the word ‘passion’ isn’t very accurate. I think what we are trying to find is what we are ‘enthusiastic’ about.

The word ‘passion’ means:

“A strong and barely controllable emotion: a man of impetuous passion.”

That isn’t necessarily what we want. You can also consider the ‘passion of the christ’ (how Jesus got crucified).

I think pursuing your passion with too much zeal can often be dangerous. Because passion is an emotion which often leads to self-destruction.

But honestly in today’s world, we use the word ‘passion’ and ‘enthusiasm’ interchangeably. So let’s continue, assuming you want to find your passion or what you are enthusiastic about.

2. Recall your childhood and youth

I think most of us know what our passion in life is, but we are too afraid to pursue it. We are afraid that we cannot make a living from it. We are afraid that we will be ridiculed for believing in our dreams.

I want to think back of when I was a kid.

I was always drawn to the arts. I loved to draw, paint, and doodle as a kid. As I got older, I became curious about hip-hop/bboy culture, because it was all around me. My best friend Justin Lee introduced me to underground hip hop music. I was hooked. I loved listening to Hieurspecs, Hieroglyphics, Murs, Nosajthing, A tribe called quest, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Nujabes, and other jazzy hip hop artists.

I also remember being drawn to b-boy/breakdancing culture. To me, it just looked fun, and cool. I remember spending countless hours with my friends on the mat, trying out new moves, techniques, and maneuvers.

I also remember starting to blog when I was around 15 or 16. “Xanga” was all the rage then, and everyone had a blog. I remember blogging quite regularly for fun, when I was around 16 — blogging mostly about life, my personal frustrations, and other ‘motivational’ stuff quite early on. I would love going to football practice, having some random ideas, and rushing home to jot them down on my computer.

Photography entered a bit late for me in the picture. I always had a horrible memory, and for me, photography was a way for me to remember. Also somewhere along the line, I lost my ability to draw. For me, photography was an artistic outlet.

I remember the Canon point and shoot, digital SD600 my mom got me for my high school graduation present. I loved it. I brought it with me everywhere I went. And best of all, it fit in my front pocket.

I remember learning how to make better compositions with rule of thirds. I remember experimenting with the flash. I remember experimenting with macro mode, different angles, and different compositions.

Everyone knew me as the photographer, the guy who took a photo of everything. I was hooked, taking around 1,000 photos in the first month I owned my camera. I took photos of random stuff I saw on the street, and even photos of my food (this was considered weird pre-Instagram days).

My passion for photography really came alive in college, when me and two of my buddies (John Son and Daniel Jeong) helped co-found The Photography Club at UCLA. Thank god to Cindy for encouraging me to help start it. The club started off as a random idea, because I was frustrated that UCLA didn’t have a photo club. Like Gandhi said, ‘Be the change which you wish to see in the world.’

Even when I started this blog in 2011 — I knew nothing about street photography. I simply discovered street photography on accident, and wanted to learn more.

To turn back the clock, I first ‘discovered’ street photography in 2009. I used to upload a lot of my photos to the black and white forum on the FredMiranda website. And one day, I took a photo of a stranger, uploaded it, and someone told me: “Eric, I love your street photography.” I thought to myself, “What is street photography?” I Googled around, but couldn’t find any practical information on how to shoot street photography, or even what street photography was.

Therefore for the next 2 years or so (2009-2011) I started to experiment in street photography. I approached people with and without permission. I used different cameras, lenses, and approaches. I shot in different neighborhoods. I found a hard time finding inspirational, so I would try to motivate myself in all sorts of ways.

Around 2011, I got a full-time job as an online community manager at While I worked there, I learned social media. And not only that, but Cindy encouraged me to start blogging on street photography. I contested: “But I don’t know anything about street photography!” She told me: “Sure you don’t, but just share what you learn about street photography along the way.” I listened to her. Thank God, once again, for Cindy— this blog wouldn’t exist without her.

3. How I found my passion in street photography

My passion and interest in street photography started to consume me. It was so fascinating to me — it was essentially applied and practical sociology (what I majored in school). I was terrified of street photography, but also fascinated. I wanted to build my confidence, overcome my fears, and become a braver street photographer. A lot of what I learned in psychology helped build my mental resilience, to not miss and hesitate before the ‘decisive moment.’

6 crazy years later, I’m still here, and not homeless (2011-2017). For the most part, I’ve been pretty regularly blogging on street photography, general photography, personal photography, and life. I’ve published blog posts consistently at least 3-7 times a week for the last 6 years. What keeps me going, motivated, and passionate?

4. Helping others drives me

Simply put, it is to help empower and uplift others.

I really think at the end of the day, this blog isn’t about street photography. It is about life.

For me, street photography is the closest analogy to life and living. Most of us live in cities, and are surrounded by people and strangers. Yet it is so hard to get closer to other people. We face fears talking and interacting with strangers. It is hard to get closer to others (both physically, emotionally, and spiritually). Street photography has given me the strength to overcome my fears in life.

Therefore, I’ve been able to connect ideas on street photography, with practical advice on how to live a better life. These things I write are things which have helped me, and I write them (hoping) that it will help others. I know very little of what I write will actually resonate with others, but as long as I have 1 reader who benefits from what I write, it is worth it.

Not only that, but I have a passion for building communities and bringing others together. Even when I was a kid in Bayside, Queens, New York (around 11-12 years old), I was the one who called up all my friends to hang out. I remember when I left and moved back to California, my friend Spencer told me that I was the glue that held all of us together, and he was sad to see me leave.

I have the same passion now — bringing my friends together, through organizing community events, by teaching workshops, and building this virtual online photography community (through this blog, social media, etc).

Much of what I do is also driven by self-growth. From when I was younger, I always had a sense that I was born for a greater destiny than just working a menial 9-5 job. I wanted to grow, explore, learn, improve myself, in order to help others. Since college, I was addicted to self-help books, and nowadays I’m quite addicted to philosophy books. I learn in order that I may share and teach others.

5. Lady luck helped me

I always had an inkling that my passion in life lie somewhere between the intersection of photography, teaching, and blogging. I just had no idea how to put it together.

I had no idea I could make a living from photography, certainly not street photography, and certainly not blogging. Yet, with enough hustle, creativity, and luck — I’ve been able to make it work out.

6. Don’t stick with what you hate

eric kim street photography spa

My biggest benefit was probably pursuing Sociology, instead of sticking with Biology (the major I entered college with, in order to become a doctor). I hated Biology the first quarter, and wanted to immediately switch.

Looking back, that was probably one of my best characteristics— I knew not to stick to things I hated.

Everyone told me I was crazy. Biology meant I could become a doctor, get a secure job, and make a bunch of money. When I told my family that I was switching my major, everyone thought I was an idiot — except my mom, who supported me 100%.

The bad thing about Asian-American culture is that they teach you to stick with something, no matter how hard or how much you might hate it. I thought this was always bullshit — I took the American way, of being a selfish individual and not doing what I didn’t want.

To be honest, I had no idea that sociology was my passion. I just hated biology, and wanted to do the complete opposite, with as little math and science as possible.

Sociology was the ultimate generalist major. I didn’t really specialize in anything. But it prepared my mind to ask fundamental questions about society, that nobody ever questioned. I learned how to question race, masculinity, feminism, technology, society, politics, and any other societal-imposed ‘rules.’

Sociology taught me to be a dissident, and not to follow the masses. It taught me to think for myself, and to go against the grain.

So the big take-away point was this: we might not know what our passion is, but we certainly know what we hate. So to find your passion in life, the first step is to avoid what you hate.

7. Do you care about the grade?

I hated the competition in Biology, the subject-matter bored me to death, and I did poorly in my classes, no matter how hard I studied. Sociology was effortless, I showed up to class with enthusiasm (I was actually interested in learning for the first time in my life).

The biggest ‘aha’ moment I had studying Sociology was this: I loved this Sociology of Communication class in college, but at the end of the quarter, I only got a “B” (instead of an “A”). Yet, I didn’t care. I learned so much from the class, which directly helped and was applicable to my life.

I no longer cared about the grade. I was learning for my own benefit.

8. Pursue what is practical

For me, in following my passion, I only was interested in what was practical and useful to my everyday life.

Sociology was about society and living life. It made sense to study this, because I knew I could directly apply the thoughts and ideas to my everyday life.

Biology seemed too theoretical, and I doubted whether I would ever use any of the concepts in real life.

This is why recently I’ve been so drawn to Stoic philosophy — it is the most practical philosophy on how to live a more courageous life. All other forms of philosophy seem like mental-masturbation to me. I don’t care about the nature of the cosmos; teach me how to be less angry with Cindy, to be less frightful of my future, and how to make the best of today. I don’t care about the meta-physics of time, just teach me how to not waste a single hour of my life. I don’t care about whether I can see or perceive the color red or blue; I care about not getting tempted by gold and silver.

If you are studying or pursuing something that you don’t find practical, or will help you in some concrete way in life, you might not have passion or enthusiasm for it.

9. What couldn’t you live without?

For me, studying philosophy, learning, talking with others, writing, and sharing is like breathing. If I go a day without doing any of these things, I feel like I’m dying, and shriveling, creatively, emotionally, and mentally.

Photography is also a part of me. If I go a few days without taking photos, I feel sick. I feel like a plant that goes without sunlight and water for a week.

So a tip about finding your passion — what couldn’t you live without?

10. Do what is effortless

For me, writing, teaching, and learning is effortless. I don’t need to force it. It flows, just like water. I follow the philosophy of ‘wu-wei’ — action without action. Or non-forceful action.

If you want to know whether you’re passionate about something or not; see if you need to force yourself (against your own will) to do something.

For example, I know I’m not passionate about yoga. I have gone with Cindy for the last few years, and I have got a lot of benefits from it. Yet, there is always some resistance before I go to a class with her.

Yet, powerlifting is one of my passions. I don’t need to force myself to go to the gym and deadlift. I want to go to the gym to deadlift. I dream about it. I go to sleep in the evening, excited to go to the gym the next morning.

With writing, it is something I don’t need to force. I do admit, I drink a lot of coffee (enjoying a nice Vietnamese ‘phin’/drip style coffee right now) but writing is something that flows from my fingertips, and spills unto the digital screen. I never write when I don’t feel like it. When I don’t want to write, I don’t. Instead, I go for a walk, I take photos, meet friends, and drink (more) coffee — until I feel an inner-motivation to write. And you can’t fake motivation or passion.

One of the best tricks I’ve heard is this: you know what you’re passionate by learning what you do while you procrastinate. For example, when I procrastinate on doing my taxes, I end up writing blog posts. If you draw or photograph as a form of procrastination, perhaps that is your passion. Cindy has a passion for organizing stuff and playing with boxes when she procrastinates— which has manifested into her starting ‘Haptic Industries’.

11. Can I turn my passion into a living?

The next topic is whether you can turn your passion into your living. That is a totally different topic. Because I don’t think all passions can be turned into living. You often need a lot of luck.

For example, you’d have a hard time turning your passion for stamp-collecting into a full-time living. This is why most philosophers either took a vow of poverty, or whether they did philosophy in their spare time (Spinoza was a lens-maker, and Einstein worked at the Swiss Patent Office). Seneca was a multi-millionaire, Marcus Aurelius was an emperor, and Nassim Taleb worked as a full-time trader while he wrote ‘The Black Swan.’

Having said that, I think if you’re resourceful enough, hustle hard enough, and lucky enough — you can turn any passion into a living.

For example, I had a passion for street photography. Somehow I made it into a living (teaching street photography workshops, later selling books and products). Everyone told me I couldn’t turn it into a living. I myself didn’t believe I could turn street photography into a living. Yet, I got lucky (got laid off my job), which pushed me to try pursuing street photography for a living.

So really — if you want to learn how to turn your passion into a living, study entrepreneurship and learn how to build an appetite for risk. And street photographers love taking risks, or certainly know that the more risks you take, the more likely you are to succeed.

12. Be like a kid

eric kim street photography - tokyo-0000324 - mood
Gotanda, Tokyo, 2016

Honestly, my mom is my biggest inspiration. She is like a big kid — constantly curious about everything and everyone around her. She always asks questions, without fearing looking stupid. She did a yoga class with me and Cindy recently, and she asked the teacher a basic (and what one might think a ‘dumb’ question):

“Why is breathing important in yoga?”

This ’why’ question was so simple, but so deep, and complex. The teacher took about 10 minutes explaining why — and I actually learned a lot.

Don’t take any answers or ‘truth’ without asking ‘Why?’ The more curious you are like a child, and searching for truth, the more you will learn.

I became passionate about coffee, after I got addicted to this black-gold elixir of the Gods. I had no idea how it was made, grown, or processed, or extracted. I would follow my curiosity — being nosy, asking baristas a lot of annoying questions, but learning a lot along the way. And honestly, although a lot of these hipster baristas look pretty snobby and hard to talk with, when I showed genuine curiosity— they let their inner-child out, and they also shared their passion of coffee with me.

To sum up, ask ‘why’? as much as possible, be nosy, be curious, and be like a kid.

13. Pursue your passion everyday

eric kim portrait hanoi cindy
Hanoi, 2017 (portrait by Cindy)

So if you think you know what you’re passionate about, pursue it everyday if possible. You don’t need to make it your full-time living.

If your passion is photography or street photography, figure out how you can shoot it everyday. Use your smartphone. Shoot during your commute, on the bus, during your lunch break, after work, and perhaps on the weekends, or when you travel.

If you have a passion for writing but no time, make a way. Find a way. Blog on your smartphone with the IA Writer app (I do this sometimes), or blog for 15 minutes a day during your coffee break. Or wake up 1 hour before work to write (I used to do this), or write after work. No excuses.

We are our habits. The simple thing to improving yourself: do more of what you like doing, and do less of what you don’t like doing.

14. Take your passion to the next level

If you want to really make your passion into your living, I encourage you to learn more with my free entrepreneurship articles. Everything I write about is based on my own experiences, and won’t necessarily work for you. Yet, I hope it to take you in the right direction.

Most of all, if you want to pursue your passion for a living, don’t fear death or pain. Then nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams.


Hustle 101

Learn how to follow your passion for a living:

Entrepreneurial Principles

How to be a Full-time Photographer

How to Start a Blog

How to Teach Photography

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