Together: Finding Purpose at the Intersection of ME+WE

Together by Alvin Ung

Together: Finding Purpose at the Crossroads of Me + We by Alvin Ung


Together is, as the title suggests, a fascinating book about finding life’s purpose. The book makes a case that there is a crisis of purpose in the world today in part contributed by the seemingly purposeless people we have as our leaders at workplace and elsewhere.


The book argues that all of us are here for a purpose. We may not necessarily know what our purpose is or how to find it. In fact, simple as it may sound, finding life’s purpose is hard. It requires searching within and without. But searching for our purpose is not a mysterious process. There are ways to search for it. This is where Together and its four-step approach come in.


First, discover your life’s calling. It comes at the intersection of your heart’s joy and the world’s pain. Respond to that pain with your joy.


Second, understand your core values. They are what drove you in the first place to your calling.


Thirdly, build the strengths required for you to be able to address the pain. We have weaknesses; the important thing is to acknowledge them.


Fourth, set big goals but go after them by going after smaller goals that build up to the larger goals.


But wait. Why do you even need a purpose in life? Can’t you just live life full throttle in, where else, the hamster wheel of our modern existence?


The short answer is: happiness comes from finding life’s answer.


Three Core Strengths of the book:

  1. The book uses captivating stories of remarkable people in Asia who responded to their life’s calling – found in all sorts of places – and went from living materially and socially successful but hallow existences to all-rounded successful lives with the crucial difference of helping other people in the most holistic manner.
  2. The stories dispel common stereotypes attached with nations in Asia. For instance, we think of Japanese people as those working themselves to death in meaningless corporate jobs. We think of Indian doctors treating patients all over the world except in India. But these stories show that there are remarkable people in all these countries united by a common purpose – helping other people.
  3. Alvin writes not in a stereotypical South Asian style (whatever that may be) but in a manner that will make even trained, native English writers to question themselves. The language he uses is clear and direct yet the insights are many and powerful.


How Can You Use This Book To Find Life’s Purpose?

Any Buddhist can relate to the method Alvin uses to show the way to finding life’s purpose. After all, Buddha, after many years of living a luxurious life, went on a long search for his purpose after encountering one suffering after another. That wandering brought us Buddhism.


People who become highly spiritual after being struck by a tragedy can also relate to this method.


How is This Method Applicable To Other Aspects of Life?

Together is a practical book but it is also a spiritual book. At the end of this book, what you will have is not just a piece of paper with your life’s purpose circled on it but an overall spiritual guidance that your and my life has a purpose, a task we are called to do, a vision we are asked to realize, in the service of others.


This same concept applies to other parts of our existence. Thinkers and authors uses them all over with different names given to it. For instance, if you want to make lots of money, the only way is to give value from your side to the market, whether that market is made of people or businesses. Without giving value, you will never earn money even though you may desire money like residents of Phuntsholing desiring respite from heat on a hot September day.


In our professional life too most of us make the problem of thinking that our bosses and our subordinates are the only ones responsible to guarantee our own happiness. We always think in terms of what we think, what we know, what we expect, what we want to see, and what we DESIRE. I, I, I…… that is our main driver of our thoughts, words and actions. But we never get happiness when we make it a point of asking for our personal happiness from other people. If you want happiness in your life, give happiness to other people. Want your boss to treat you with respect and professionalism? Treat your boss with great respect and professionalism.


To get what you want, you have to give something to others first. Unconditionally.


Key question

The key question that I have after reading this book is this: How does this way of pursuing life’s purpose match up with the other way, namely the way in which people make the best use of what they have and in the process go on to achieve remarkable things without having to give up their old lives? Leonardo Da Vinci was an illegitimate son who was unable to go to school because of that status. His loneliness took him to the nearby woods where he learnt himself to look at leaves and draw them, ultimately bringing us Monalisa. Think of a soldier who took up the job as a means to get the monthly pay but trained himself to be the nation’s hero.


I am a government employee, but did I really know the job I would be doing in my agency when I took it up, the petty politics you have deal with more than your work? No. If I suddenly feel frustrated with my superiors tomorrow, call it quits, and leave the job to search for a higher calling, that would be nothing more than an impulsive reaction originating from psychological immaturity.


After all, if one cannot see the reality for what it is but is always lost in the dreams of that perfect place, that perfect spouse, that perfect job, that perfect calling, it points to broader psychological issue. Experts call it the fixed mindset. Instead of seeing your reality and using it as the launchpad for your growth, we are fixated on an illusory vision of a distant land. What that does is we give up on our current reality.


Instead of looking for greener pasture, what I would do is make the best use of what I got and start from there, putting in the required effort to develop, to make myself valuable to the people in the organization (even though I do not necessarily have the wisdom to like them as leaders or as human beings (even though I agree you will love everyone if you hear their stories)). Do I find joy in doing what I do now in my profession? Absolutely. Did I know I would find my joy here? Not necessarily because when I was growing up I did not even know about the existence of my organization.


The key question here is: as a person, do we go in search of what we like, what we enjoy doing, or do we make the best use of what we have and try to be the best at it even though our job may be a packer at a factory? Do you want only orange juice no matter what, and you will settle for nothing less than that, or do you make a lemonade even though what you may have is a wilting, one skeleton of a lemon tree in your overgrown backyard full of unripe lemons?


Personally, I have read about and seen plenty of people who discovered their life’s purpose through both the methods.


I guess one should follow whichever method works for us as an individual. The only place no one wants to be in life, however, is that void called purposelessness.


Further suggested reading:

  1. Mastery by Robert Greene (author of the 48 Laws of Power, The Art of Seduction, 33 Strategies of War, 50th Law)
  2. The Gita Way by Shweta Chandra
August 10th, 2019 by