A few weeks ago, my wife threw me a lovely surprise party to mark my entry into the 40s club. Besides being quite surprised, I was stunned by the people that she had thoughtfully invited. It was a very small group of close friends from different moments of my life.

Some say that just before a person passes away, one will have a flashback of the people we love and who mattered. I would say that the very small group of people in the room would certainly appear in such a flashback in my case.

So, it got me thinking about how I got here and how I discovered this work that I do now.

I believe that everyone has a special place and plan on earth. But the problem for most of us is how to discover it. I know I had struggled with this in the beginning. So it is interesting to find that one of the definitions on Dictionary.com for the word vocation is: a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career. So if it is an impulse or an inclination, how can we be sure that it is the right one?

The late Chiara Lubich – Founder of a worldwide movement of unity – and whom I admire very much used to say this: “If you do everything out of love, then soon you shall understand the plan that is meant for you.”

In a sense, I tried to follow this approach and it has worked for me. But to explain how I discovered my way, I would like to break it down to three things that could also be useful for you:

Discover your passion

When I met the movement of unity that Chiara Lubich founded, I was taken up by this whole idea that young people can change the world by bringing about unity wherever they are: in schools, civil societies, religious communities.

Attending an international youth event in 1992, with thousands of youths from all over the world, a revolution in my 14-year old heart was ignited. As I listened to youths of every creed and race share in concrete terms on how they were changing and influencing society, I became hooked by this big idea. That moment of 1992 never left me. I think it is absolutely important for everyone to have this passionate discovery of a great idea – a falling-in-love moment, with something to dedicate your life to.

Unexpected turns happen for a reason

Pursuing this impulse to bring unity to the world, I often wondered where I could best do so. I was extremely active in my parish church community, involved with youth formation, assisting the priests during service and holding several leadership positions. I even got into design at a young age because I wanted to do more for the parish community.

Lawrence Chong from Singapore (in the middle), Co-founder and CEO of Consulus, a consultancy company, shares his vocation story.
Lawrence Chong from Singapore (in the middle), Co-founder and CEO of Consulus, a
consultancy company, shares his vocation story.

So naturally I was drawn to join the priesthood. Since I was familiar with the processes, I actually thought out a career path that might increase my chances of becoming a Catholic bishop. Or so I calculated.

Then in 2002, a chance encounter with a group of childhood and design school friends which began my journey as an entrepreneur. We even prepared a business plan over a few months as a sales pitch to a prospective investor – with grand ideas for a unique business model office and a nice office. When that fell through, I thought it must have been a distraction and I should better be on my way to the seminary.

However, my friends suggested that we should still go all in to try it out even though the chances for success were dismal. Another six months passed – we were pitching to many companies but nothing happened. At the end of the sixth months, with no income to bring home to my family, my Dad asked me to think twice. That very morning – a day that I remember very clearly – I prayed to Mary to ask that she intercede with God and show me the way. In fact that day, we were about to pitch to one of the largest confectionery companies in Singapore.

It was expected in any branding and business pitch that one would present a preliminary idea. But we did not present any idea, but rather our approach and scope of work. After listening to
our presentation for an hour, the boss glanced at the manager who had invited us to do our presentation; then he looked at me and asked: “Is it possible to have a discount?”

Since I wanted to get an answer for my path and the path of my friends, I politely said “Sorry, it is not possible.” Then the boss again glanced at the manager before turning to me and saying: “OK”, whereupon she left the room. I was a little stunned and did not know quite how to react so I asked the manager what happened.

He simply congratulated me on having obtained the job. Then I asked him if it was normal for the boss to agree so quickly to a project after meeting a consultant for the first time. He told me that this had not happened before, and that we were the first ones.

That first project launched me on the unexpected path of entrepreneurship and took me to unexpected places to work on projects of a great variety from SMEs to MNCs and now to Smart Cities. It was an unexpected turn, though I later understood how my skills in discernment, community building, facilitation and design had given me certain advantages but it was not something I could have foreseen before, when considering this path.

Above all, my impulse and desire to want to shape a better world continued to urge me on. Another client of mine would explain to me years later: that the reason why we had left a deep impression during a tender meeting and got the project was because I spoke differently and with purpose, almost coming across like a pastor.

Then another CEO whom I have been in contact with for years, shared how talking to me felt like he was talking to a therapist. So when I informed him later that I had once thought of becoming a priest, he understood. Hearing all this feedback has helped me understand why I am today on this path.

You will find your way through others

Over the years as my core team kept faith with me despite the uncertainty – occasionally losing projects because we didn’t want to be doing business as usual – this commitment to our purpose to build a different type of consultancy that shapes a better world became our saving grace and our inspiration for creating a whole new method for transformation. Even though we all come from different faiths, we share the same belief that each one of us is uniquely called to make a difference.

It still amazes me how every single month, we receive emails from all over the world, from talented people who seek to partner with us and bring our work into their countries so as to shape a better world. This year, we will experience another major wave of expansion.

Last year after a strategic retreat, a client told me: “Lawrence, I believe in this idea of having a Purpose CORE so as to bring about unity and shape a better world. And I have made this my personal mission too.” I was deeply moved.

I have understood that these individuals are like confirmations of the vocation that I have discovered so it is really true that if you are on the right path, then the right people will come along too.
One day in February last year, close to my birthday.

I was in Italy and was sharing in private the journey and experience of our company Consulus – the effects of unity that we experienced in our company and in our projects for companies and cities – with Prof. Piero Coda, the Dean of Sophia University, who is also a Catholic priest. After an intense hour of sharing and just before we left each other, I decided to share with him a regret of mine, that I felt guilty about not having become a priest.

He looked at me and told me that he felt from my experience that I did not become a priest in the Church becauseI was asked to be another Christ in the business world. It was an unexpected answer and a gift! Then I understood what it meant to do everything with love and that subsequently the plan for us would be revealed in time.

Lawrence in an audience with Pope Francis in March 2014
Lawrence in an audience with Pope Francis in March 2014

I thank God for this vocation and also for everyone I have encountered along this great adventure that still continues today. I also pray that for those whose plans have not yet been revealed, that it may happen to you soon, and that all of you may live out your vocation with courage and joy. It might not be easy but I can assure you that in following your purpose in life, you will have the best adventure ever.

Lawrence Chong
Lawrence Chong is the founder and CEO of Consulus, an innovation consultancy firm with business management and multi-disciplinary design capabilities. He is a featured speaker at global events such as Innovation by Design, World Marketing Summit and World Brand Congress. Lawrence also served as the Immediate Past President of Design Business Chamber Singapore. His thoughts on innovation and creativity appear in regional media such as Fortune, Nikkei Asian Review, Business Insider, Business Times, Marketing Magazine, Newsbase, Prestige Magazine, VTC10. In his personal capacity, he is a member of the Focolare, a movement which favors building a united world through dialogue, economics, and politics.  
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