Life begins at 50: When passion is a day job

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From left: For Ruby Gan, Mawen Ong, and Christine Jacob-Sandejas, the road to that ‘one thing’ — which some call ‘passion’ — was paved with insecurities, detours, and the occasional turn of luck. Photos by JL JAVIER

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Presented with Nestlé Health Science Boost, the line of nutritional supplemental drinks formulated for the specific needs of active ageing adults, these inspiring individuals are only but a few Filipinos who show that life only begins at 50, that ageing healthily and gracefully can mean a host of possibilities: staying fit, picking up a new sport, helping those in need, and changing the world. Nestlé Boost — which has key nutrients and proteins, as well as vitamins and minerals — celebrates the lifestyles of dynamic individuals who, with their wisdom, experience, and accomplishments, show no signs of slowing down.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “Find your passion” is one of the biggest clichés of our time. Once this elusive thing called passion is found, it is supposed to unlock a treasure box filled with trinkets like success and happiness.  

It has been argued, however, that finding a passion or pursuing one is reserved for the privileged; that it is unrealistic to advise people to “quit your job and follow your dreams,” precisely because circumstances differ for everyone. But then there are the chosen few, the ones with an inexplicable blend of talent, determination, and luck; those that have found an affinity to that “one thing” at a particularly early time of their lives.

This holds true for Christine Jacob-Sandejas, a mother of five, who, as a young girl, has taken refuge in swimming. In 1983, at 16 years old, she already found herself in the podium of the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore, and qualified to compete at the Summer Olympics in the U.S. a year later. “Being an Olympian was a result of something that I did, so it was just the daily training, the passion. I loved swimming … I would cry if I couldn't swim,” she says, unintentionally shrugging off the magnitude of having been in the biggest sport event in the world.

It was as though her light could not be dimmed, but as most athletes, playing sports competitively comes to an end relatively early. “I didn't know what I could do, who I was, because that was who I was. … I was in search of myself. What else can I do? I was lost,” she recalls.

But as luck would have it, she was offered to be one of the hosts of “Eat Bulaga” in 1990 and has since frontlined various T.V. programs. Now, she hosts CNN Philippines’ “Real Talk.” “I never thought that I'd even be in this business, and it found me, opened its doors,” says the 50-year-old host. “I really, really love it. I always say that if you love something, it'll always love you back. And so with that, it just came naturally.”

It is this same natural proclivity for the “one thing” that has driven Mawen Ong, whose brainchild, MOs Design, is a furniture hub replete with international brands like BoConcept and Vitra. Besides her eye for an iconic Tom Dixon S-Chair, Ong has always had one thing gnawing at her heart — art. “The hat I wear during the day is the MOs Design hat,” she says. “But the hat that I wear constantly when I sleep, when I wake up, during weekends, the holidays, it's always the artist.”

"I can't really say what success is because [even at my age] I'm continuously growing, so I cannot say that success is [being up] there and set … I want to grow, I want to learn, and I want to be able to do more as much as possible.” — Ruby Gan

After attending several workshops with other artists under famed conceptual artist Roberto Chabet, she decided to open MO_Space, an artist-run gallery that houses works by the most important contemporary artists in the country. Being the businesswoman, the artist, and the gallerist, Ong credits her ability to do all these things to the people she works with. “We've grown a very good team in our store, in our head office, and I was lucky to have good people around me so that we just relied on each other while I had enough time to pursue passion projects,” the 52-year-old artist says.

It is an idyllic vision to find that one passion, to have people support you as you explore it, and to be assured that everything will eventually line up in life. But more often than not, life is not as straightforward. Ruby Gan, founder of lifestyle stores Schu and Myth, did find her passion for fashion retail. She answered the local market’s need for more experimental footwear and the clamor for upscale Filipino designs. However, the influx of fast fashion forced her to cut her losses.

“It was difficult,” she shares. “We had to close Myth because that was the wisest thing to do. We decided to close in 2015 because it was not sustainable anymore.” She could have wallowed in self-pity, but her spirit was not to be defeated. At 56, Gan recently joined her family’s tire company, Bridgestone Philippines, as head of marketing and has already partnered with the ICanServe Foundation where they were able to raise a little less than half a million for breast cancer victims.

Gan, also a competitive powerlifter, affirms that there is no reason to assume that having that one passion for the entirety of our lives is representative of one’s happiness and success. “Regardless of whether I am in automotive, in fashion, or in sports, I am able to achieve what I want to achieve,” she says. “I can't really say what success is because [even at my age] I'm continuously growing, so I cannot say that success is [being up] there and set … I want to grow, I want to learn, and I want to be able to do more as much as possible.”

Sandejas, Ong, and Gan may have pursued diverse passions and discovered them in different stages of their lives, but indeed, they have shown that sometimes, passion comes one at a time; sometimes, it comes all at once.

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