Passion, Peace and Purpose

Words of Wisdom on a Fulfilling Life from Three Mentors

Before we embarked on our journey around the world for our six-month sabbatical, I sought the advice of three people who I thought would have the answers to the questions I had. These men who I deeply respect and admire graciously shared some of their advice with me, which gave me the courage to live my dream to “travel the world with my family.” Below are the stories and words of wisdom from these men that can teach us all about pursuing what’s most important in life.

These are the lessons of:

  1. PASSION – From Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
  2. PEACE – From acclaimed travel writer, Pico Iyer
  3. PURPOSE – From Pastor Mark Tumney

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PASSION – Advice from Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

Bleary-eyed, but freshly caffeinated, I walked into a posh fitness club in the Bay Area at 5:55 in the morning for the first time. The club was modern and fresh with every kind of exercise equipment imaginable, a yoga studio, a spinning room, and an aerobics room. It was completely dark outside, but inside was a bustling mix of heavy hitters from Silicon Valley, including executives from Fortune 500 companies, venture capitalists, early retirees, and wives of the rich.

My first stop was the men’s locker room to put down my duffel bag. I still hadn’t become accustomed to my new routine of waking up at 5am and getting a morning workout in before starting work at 8am. My next stop was the wash area, so I could splash some water on my face to wake myself up. The wash area was a long row of five sinks with large mirrors across the entire row and fully stocked with razors, shaving cream, q-tips, mouthwash, and hair gel.

I washed my face at one of the sinks and grabbed a freshly laundered towel. As I wiped my face dry, I noticed a man quietly shaving at one of the nearby sinks. He wore slippers and his lower body was wrapped in a towel. It was only 6am and he had already finished his workout for the day. I looked up and noticed his silver hair and facial features that vaguely resembled someone I recognized. I couldn’t quite figure out who he was, but he did look familiar.

Tim Cook

Tim Cook

He immediately caught my puzzled stare at him in the mirror that we shared. Once I saw him look up at me, I instantly knew who it was. I was standing next to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the leader of the biggest and most admired company in the world. (Holy caw!)

I was star-struck and shocked that I was sharing the same locker room with Tim Cook, and completely embarrassed as he sent a puzzled look back at me. I looked away from the mirror and proceeded to wash my face again to act as if nothing had happened. I didn’t have the courage to introduce myself just yet, especially after our awkward first encounter.

Over the next few months, my morning routine at the new fitness club included running into Tim Cook in the locker room. As I arrived, he would be preparing to leave. I eventually mustered up the courage to talk to him a couple months later after my initial embarrassment faded away. I spoke to him on a few occasions to chat about topics of interest like Apple products, Auburn football, and his public statements on civil rights. He turned out to be a very approachable and affable guy, even in the early hours of the morning.

Just as we started getting more accustomed to each other, my job at the company ended and effectively, my membership at the club ended as well. I would no longer be running into Tim Cook in the morning. Before the start of my cultural sabbatical, I sent him an email with a few questions. The latter part of the email read like this:

I’ve always been impressed how you can be getting ready to leave the gym every morning before I even get there at 6am. What is your philosophy on productivity and getting the important stuff done? How do you sustain it on a daily basis? And how much sleep do you get on an average night?!

It was a shot in the dark that he would respond to my email, but literally within 24 hours, he replied. Here’s what he wrote:


The only way I’ve found to sustain a busy schedule is to love what you do so much that it doesn’t feel like work. I think this is pretty much true in all aspects of life, or at least my life. I try to get 6-6.5 hours of sleep a night. I can go with less for a few days but my body will begin to shut down after several. 

Good luck in the next chapter of life. 



His reply to my email gave me just the boost of confidence that I needed at the time to move forward with my plans to fulfill my dream.

To Tim Cook: Thank you for helping me find the passion to pursue my dreams!

Words of Wisdom from Tim Cook: “The only way I’ve found to sustain a busy schedule is to love what you do so much that it doesn’t feel like work. I think this is pretty much true in all aspects of life, or at least my life.”


PEACE – Lessons from acclaimed travel writer, Pico Iyer

Rolf Potts, author of the acclaimed book on independent travel, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, interviewed Pico Iyer and his description of the author is:

Pico Iyer is one of the most revered and respected travel writers alive today. He was born in England, raised in California, and educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard. His essays, reviews, and other writings have appeared in Time, Conde Nast Traveler, Harper’s, the New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and His books include Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, Cuba and the Night, Falling off the Map, Tropical Classical, and The Global Soul. They have been translated into several languages and published in Europe, Asia, South America, and North America.

Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer

Though we’ve never met or talked in-person, Pico Iyer has been a mentor for me as I’ve been on this inner and outer journey through travel and writing. I was instantly drawn to Pico Iyer because of our shared California background and our experience of living in Japan as foreigners. His writing is magical and his article on “Why We Travel” helped me clearly understand why I’ve been addicted to travel and have been trying to share this love of travel with my family.

Pico Iyer on the lure of travel from “Why We Travel”: 

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

After viewing his TED talk titled “Where is home?”, I decided to reach out to him by email. Much to my surprise, he responded with a long and thoughtful reply. As I read more of his books and articles, our email correspondence continued. As a writer just getting started, he gave me insightful advice to have the motivation to continue traveling and writing.

Here are some of the notable pieces of advice he has sent my way:

On the benefits of traveling with kids: 

“And I am always so uplifted when friends of mine, with fortunate lives, introduce their kids to people in less fortunate places, and plant the seed in them for thinking about how lucky, and maybe unusual, they are.”

On writing: 

“I often tell friends—and myself—that if you hope to get rich and famous through your writing, become a rock ‘n’ roll icon or a Hollywood star first; but if you want to clear your head, to understand your experience, to enrich your life and open your eyes—then writing about what you see and think, even if only for a few people, seems like the ideal course!”

Thank you, Pico Iyer, for giving me the peace to move forward with my decision to travel and write.

Words of Wisdom from Pico Iyer: “If you want to clear your head, to understand your experience, to enrich your life and open your eyes—then writing about what you see and think, even if only for a few people, seems like the ideal course!”


PURPOSE – A challenge from Pastor Mark Tumney

What’s my purpose in life?

It’s a big question that we always ask ourselves. Some would say life’s purpose is to be happy. Others would say that life’s purpose is to be of service to others. As parents, many of us make our kids the purposes in our lives.

Before leaving it all behind for our six-month sabbatical, I asked myself the same question, “What is my purpose in life?” I also asked myself “Why am I doing this?” and “Why am I sacrificing money, security, and stability to pursue a life break for travel with my family and writing?” and “Is it all worth it?”. All of the questions came down to “Why?” I had my own answers and reasons for the decisions I was making, but I needed guidance, and that’s where my church’s pastor came in.

Pastor Mark Tumney

Pastor Mark Tumney

At the start of the new year, I invited Senior Pastor, Mark Tumney, out to a local hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese pho noodle lunch to hear his thoughts about my plan to drop everything and travel the world with my family for half a year. Pastor Mark has two similar aged kids as I do, so he was able to empathize with my desire to be closer to my family through travel. He also traveled to Guatemala, among other developing countries in his ministry, so I was interested in getting some advice on the region from him.

As I told him all of my travel pans and countries that were on our list of places we planned to visit, he provided a challenge of sorts.

“Cliff, I would caution you while you are traveling. While it’s great to pursue experiences, make sure you have a purpose for your travels and that purpose should be for God.”

This little piece of advice has stuck with me as we’ve traveled through the destinations on our trip. We are trying to move and live purposefully while on this trip not only for ourselves and others, but more importantly to bring glory to God who is blessing us with this opportunity.

How we do that remains to be seen, but now that I have the clarity that this is the purpose for this trip and my life in general, everything else is really just about following God’s purpose.

So, to Pastor Mark Tumney, thank you for sharing a pho lunch with me and more importantly, thank you for your words of wisdom that I will use to live my life, travel, and write with more purpose.

Words of Wisdom from Pastor Mark Tumney: “While it’s great to pursue experiences, make sure you have a purpose for your travels and that purpose should be for God.”

Wander with Purpose

Wander with Purpose


From my three mentors, I learned important lessons about Passion, Peace and Purpose, three essential ingredients to a fulfilling life’s work. To Tim Cook, Pico Iyer and Mark Tumney, thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. Your words of guidance have helped me in countless ways along my journey.

It doesn’t take a lot to help someone. In my case, two of my mentors sent notes of encouragement and advice that was enough to give me the courage and motivation to live out my dreams. If you have something to share with someone, please do so. Your one little gesture of generosity may reach and extend farther than you ever imagined.

Conquer Yourself, Not the World

Conquer Yourself, Not the World


What advice has someone shared with you that has changed your life? Share it in the comments below. 

Cliff Hsia is a writer, husband, and father, who is determined to live a better than normal life by traveling the world, slowly and purposefully, with his wife and two young daughters. His writing has been featured on MSN, TODAY, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and other publications. He writes about travel, parenting, and lifestyle design.

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