#037 Finding purpose at work with Dean Tong

#037 Finding purpose at work with Dean Tong

Episode Transcript

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Hi everyone. Welcome to How to Live, a podcast that explores ways to live a good life. I'm your host, Sharad Lal. This is episode 37. 

Many of us spend Monday to Friday waiting for the weekend. We've normalized this way of working two days of happiness and fun, five days of drudgery. How can we reverse this and make work more meaningful, connecting with the deeper purpose? That's the focus of today's episode with US Banker and  BCG partner, Dean Tong Dean is the MD and head of group HR and Transformation at U O B Bank Singapore. Prior to this, he was a partner in MD at the Boston Consulting Group. Dean went to Wharton Business School for his MBA after acing his career in a sought after consulting firm, Dean did what many of us dreamed.

 He retired early after only 22 years of work. When he was in his forties, he decided to pursue other interests like a PhD, teach and live a holistic life.

 His plans got disrupted when a great opportunity came knocking with the company he admired and knew very well. The CEO of U O B Bank had an exciting proposition for Dean. It was a tough decision, but Dean came out of retirement and took the job.

 In our conversation, we talked to Dean about early retirement. Coming out of retirement, the importance of purpose finding, purpose, having perspective stoicism and Buddhism, and using it at work and a lot more. I worked under Dean in my first project at BCG. In fact, he's been to a family house in Delhi and met my parents and was surprised to see both of them support a full crop of hair.

 He couldn't help asking how I ended up bald in my twenties, finding no other way to explain the situation. We had to give up the family secret of my dad supporting a tupe at the time. That was a funny memory Dean shared recently. Our conversation in the episode is a little more serious though.

 But before getting to the interview, thank you for your support. We are now listened to in 90 countries, over 850 cities worldwide And are ranked in the top 5% in the world. If you haven't already, please do consider subscribing.

 Do consider giving us a rating as well. Thank you in advance. If you're new to this podcast, you could consider listening to episode six on Stoicism, which was the most downloaded episode of 2022. Now here's a conversation.

Sharad Lal: Hi Dean. Good morning. 

How are you doing this morning?

Dean Tong: I'm doing very well. Thank you.

Sharad Lal: Welcome to How to Live. Thank you, Dean, for making time. I am so excited to have you. I've known you personally now for maybe 20 years. For a really long time we worked together at BCG and it's remarkable to sit on the sidelines and see all the success you've had.

 Of course you went to a top business school in Warden. You went to BCG and became managing director and partner, and then you decided to retire. So I think that's a great place to start. Did you think of early retirement and how did you plan for it?

Dean Tong: The decision came I would say not suddenly, but something that I've been thinking about for quite a while, a bit of context is that my father actually passed. Quite young at 53 and my grandfather passed away at 54 both from heart diseases.

So from a young age, I really have a recognition that life is not permanent. And that the time that we have is pretty short. And so even at BCG, I'm probably one of the most chill partners. You can tell me if that was the case. When I was there, when it came to a point where I needed to decide what to do next, first of all I wasn't particularly fond of selling. As you go more senior in the consulting firms, the job becomes more of a sales job. And it's not like I'm particularly good at it either, right?

So the opportunity cost there is not that great. And secondly, there was a significant person. I was traveling Monday to Friday every week for 20 years. So it came a time when you have to ask yourself whether that's what you want to do moving forward. Now, I wasn't thinking of moving to another firm because I grew up at BCG.

I knew that there was a place where I loved the work that I did. I love the people there. I also love the culture. I wasn't sure I knew there would be another organization that can actually live up to that. And rather than trying to fit myself into another organization and say, why don't I go into a retirement?

 And by retirement, it is a state of mind. So I was actually thinking about it. Something different. I actually started my PhD in Switzerland. I started teaching at the local university. I also did my first freelance project and I was with my current employer. Right now.

Sharad Lal: Dean, thank you for sharing that very personal story. But even getting to that state, in just 22 years of working when you were probably in your forties, takes a lot of thinking and planning and deliberation, and you had three, you have three kids as well. 

 So I'd love to hear at least that part. How did you plan for it to be in a position that you were in?

Dean Tong: I often tell people it's not how much you make, but how much you spend. That will actually determine whether you are in a good financial position or not. Now not to say the last employer did not pay well. I think they paid quite well. But I also live a very modest life now.

I did not take up any debt. I don't get into things which require me to be the slave to my job for a period of time. And that is a huge liberation. That's why I could actually be quite chill even while I was. At a very fast paced job because I know at any point in time I can walk away, if I cannot find my balance. So that uh, really free you up and financially as well that allows me to think about doing what is right for me and also my for my family. At the point in time I did my math, I have enough savings to put my kids through college, not the most fancy ones, but still enough.

 And I was still going to do something on a part-time basis. All in all, it was a position that I'm super happy with. But let me probably also challenge the paradigm that you must have enough before you can actually think about a more balanced life. Like some people, they have a lot more money than I did, and they were still chasing after money.

And they were miserable, And so it's not about the absolute amount of money that you have, but really how much you think you need before you can achieve. Take that step.

Sharad Lal: Dean, that's such an interesting point. And I remember the conversation we had when we reconnected probably a year back over lunch in that beautiful Japanese restaurant where you were talking about BCG, you got to meet so many smart people who were so well off. These were CXOs in the organization who had so much money and that.

Kind of gives you the side that it's not money as a determinant on retirement and happiness. It's a completely different mindset or motivation that drives, whether it's early retirement or holistic.

Dean Tong: Absolutely. I also mentioned that to you. I was lucky enough to be given a sabbatical during my time as partner at bcg, so I took the time to go on a 10 day silent meditation retreat. What I found there was more about myself. I learned a lot about what is really most important for me in life.

Now, if you lose everything. What's the one thing that you would really want to keep and cherish? It became very clear to me the answer was right in front of me. I also like to read a lot, especially books on philosophy, and you find that after a while now there's a lot of common themes and people from many thousand years ago. They have been contemplating the same issues and they have come to very similar conclusions across different cultures.

 And these things are staring right in front of us, and we are not seeing it. 

Sharad Lal: So if I understand right, the 10 day retreat was Verna, in terms of philosophy for people interested it could be anything, but I know for you, it's Buddhism as well as truism and the underlying. Principles and ancient wisdom is that what you really want is in front of you. is right in front of you instead of going, chasing that's in front of you. And being present and maximizing time is a great way to find meaning and fulfillment.

Dean Tong: Absolutely.

Sharad Lal: So Dean, you are in this state where you've to live a more holistic life, and then I know an opportunity came along where you went back to the corporate world.

 If you could talk a little bit about it. What was the opportunity and what drove you to go back to the corporate world?

Dean Tong: So as I mentioned, I started my first freelance project. I have the opportunity to work very closely with the CEO on the People transformation, that was also the specialization that I had at bcg in the last five years of my career. During which time I learned more about the organization and the CEO learned more about me.

 So when the opportunity came about, I was offered that position. At that point in time I was doing my PhD and my PhD was in family business transformation. So everything came together. Still not an easy decision not to step up from the life that I have imagined.

I would leave and go back to a corporate life. But I also knew that to do what I wanted to. I needed a platform. And I remember going to the hospice volunteering my service.

So I told them that I have been trained as a consultant, and people do pay quite a bit of money to get my services in the past. Like to volunteer my service here. Now if there's anything I can do, the person at the hospice actually looks at me and says, actually, we don't quite need the kind of sophisticated services, but if you can, cut the hair of our patient now, that would be good. I was at the stage of signing up for chemo. I remember I was at Marina Parade. It is a chemish, hair academy, I took the brochure, I was about to sign up, and it just struck me that this is not my comparative advantage. Probably many of the patients will suffer from my bad hand cut. I, my, my time could actually be better spent. Elsewhere to leverage the skill set that I have. So when this opportunity came about, I looked at it not just as a job, but also as a platform for me to make a difference within the organization and also a broader setting as well to the community.

Sharad Lal: Wow, that's such an inspirational story. And while we found it funny, it's such an important point about going to hospice for a lot of people. Actually serve people that way. And that's such a beautiful way to do it. But then realizing that, you know what, my skills are better used in other places.

And for me, if I'm doing other things, it will give me better fulfillment and I can make a better impact. Then like you talked about, u o b Bank for people who are outside Singapore or outside Southeast Asia, u b is one of the largest financial institutions here. It was a bank, of course.

 It's a corporate world. What motivated you to think that you can go there and make a difference in the way you'd like to. How did you know that could happen?

Dean Tong: That actually goes back to one of the earliest conversations that I had with the CEO, Bahi mentioned to me that if I were to take up the job the mandate for me is not to maximize the profit for the bank or to help the bank maximize the profit, but to help the bank do well, but at the same time, leave money on the table for the customers, the partners, as well as the employees.

 And for me, that was actually quite refreshing. You don't hear that every day, especially from a bank ceo. the CEO of the bank is also one of the largest shareholders for ub. So the long-term perspective, as well as the holistic perspective was something that struck me to say that this is probably an organization that I can see myself fitting into because of the purpose and the values that we share. So for me while it is a bank, in financial services, there is a portion of it where we are actually making money. But the question is how are you using that to benefit others, and I think this bank that I'm working with does demonstrate that, and not just by words, but by true action.

Over the many years there has been.

Sharad Lal: A match in terms of values as well as a match in terms of purpose, which made you realize that this is a good fit. Through this platform, you can have a bigger impact. Now if you just take a step back and think about purpose, as you mentioned here, many people struggle with what purpose really is.

 So I thought, let's just open it up to your definition. How does it sit in your head? What really is purpose and how do people think about purpose in their life?

Dean Tong: I'm sure there's many different definitions of that, but for me it is about finding meaning in our life and in what we do. There are good and bad days. But it is the purpose or meaning that actually gets us grounded during those good days and keeps us going during those toughest of times.

 That's something that I found to be true based on my own experience. And there's something that I'm also encouraging people around me to to try to find because that's the extra feel that you need to get you.

Sharad Lal: And for people who are finding their path and figuring out who they are, what could be some ways in which they could think about, connecting to something deeper within themselves.

Dean Tong: First and foremost, I don't wanna pretend that I figure out everything but what I realized is that it is also a journey that means that you don't have to find all the answer immediately, you probably already know, what are some of the elements that for you are part of your purpose, although you may not be able to articulate the final vision and I'll say work with those.

 Let me think back of times where you feel you're particularly at ease with what you do. Or you feel that you are too proud with the things you've achieved? Something deeper.

And you would know it, right? So if you dig deep enough, you'll be able to identify what are some of those elements. For me, it is really about making. Positive difference in ways I can, I do have a unique perspective.

I also have a certain creativity, if I can leverage this and to use this to improve the lives of people around me then, this is something that I feel particularly good at. . It's not that I figure everything out, but I know that this is a big part of my Purpose statement.

 So my advice is work with that and use that to get closer to what you are looking for.

Sharad Lal: Absolutely. we've had those conversations earlier that once you find something deeper, which again could be a work in progress, even if you get a little peek at it, it gives you a good direction towards life and gives you meaning, that means, like you said, if the good days, bad days, salary doesn't go up go or you don't get your bonuses.

There's something deeper, something. There's something more that kind of motivates you. Sometimes pain does lead you to purpose, and I think that happened for both of us where there was pain, which makes you sit back and think of things deeply and then emerge. And there are a lot of people Not necessarily who've gone through that pain, but they still, some of them still have that purpose sometimes even from a place of nourishment.

You can find a purpose where you are, where you're comfortable, you're nourished, but there are certain elements like maybe solitude or thinking deeply or even writing down what's coming in your mind, and those types of things, even if you haven't gone through pain, can help you find purpose. So I'd love to hear if you have any additional thoughts on that.

Dean Tong: I think first of all, if you have the intention to find purpose, that's a good starting point, So whether you have experienced pain or you have not, That's actually not the prerequisite of finding that. But the one thing that's required in my view is that stillness. The ability to step back and see things as it is. I often use this example that I like to take ice, those ice cubes in my food. People ask why, I say, do you know where this came from? In ancient times only emperors actually got to enjoy ice cubes because they had to be shipped all the way from the Arctic or from comwhere down here. It has to be kept and then  served to the king.

And now with refrigeration, we have taken this for granted, but this applies to so many things overall. everyone's life, has improved if you just compare with people, in a few generations before us, Even in the past generations, we have improved so much, but yet people still feel they're unhappy and they're still chasing, Because we are always comparing to our neighbors who has a bit more, and therefore we feel inadequate. So the ability to put things in perspective, sit down and really look at it to say, “Hey, what's really important at the end of the day,”  will really help. Safe out what is important and what is actually less important.

 Different people have different mix. I find my mix probably a little bit different from yours. But this is something that is keeping me going. For me, a lot of the pleasures in life are things which are free.

I like to work in the park. I work out every day, but most of my work out is free of charge. You run outside, you cycle cause you have to buy a bicycle. But mine is a cheap month. Has been depreciated already, right? Seriously you can do a lot of things without having.

Having to spend a lot. But then when you really do your work, you're focusing on the true purpose of what you're doing rather than, to get the paycheck every month. It is a very liberating way of looking at work. 

Sharad Lal: If I can double click on one of the things you mentioned, Dean, which will resonate with a lot of people. You talked about comparisons there. And I know comparisons quite often come in the context of purpose where if you've got something deeper, the need for comparison reduces. I'd love to explore that with you.

How do you think of comparisons? What leads to comparisons? How can we get away from the negative energy that comparisons have?

Dean Tong: We humans always compare, I think we do need to recognize that we have this tendency of comparing and that we be a bit more mindful. Or what were the things that we should not be comparing? Now, social media has definitely added one dimension to this.

That's why after I, I actually did it about five years ago. I quit social media, I don't have a Facebook account. I don't have an Instagram account. The only account that I still have is data from LinkedIn, and that is for work purposes. I realized that in the past I easily spent an hour just browsing through. And I don't post much, I, I'm a bit busy body, you just check out. Other people know what they post and sometimes, this slowly actually adds to some of these needs for comparison. So I realize that all these are noise.

It really didn't help me very much. And through some of this free up time, I. for my meditation practice. And this is really about re-entering myself every day, reminding myself that the time we have is limited. And if you start to cherish with that, then you realize that some of these comparison are really not worth that time.

 Putting things into perspective. And that is one of the more critical element 

Sharad Lal: I love that. That's the theme across putting things in perspective and what you value is already here with you focusing on that and being present and removing all this noise that you have. I haven't been as disciplined as you in social media, but one of the recent steps that I took after reading Cal Newport, I don't know if you've read his book on digital minimalism.

 great guy, he's written on deep work as well. on digital minimalism. He talks about just simple things like removing it from your phones. And I don't have any of these in my phone, which itself has given me a lot of restless energy, if I can put it that way, which then gets you stable and helps you stay present with what you have.

But we can all have our journeys and our version towards it. 

Dean Tong: Yeah, but don't get me wrong I'm actually. Against technology. In fact, recently I was playing around with chat gbt, I asked chat gbt say, ask me questions that will help discover my life purpose. It listed down five questions and those five questions, and then I asked gpt  another question, say, help me write my life purpose statement based.

And it wrote a very good base so you can actually leverage technology to bring you closer to helping you find your purpose as well. Is this the right way of using it?

Sharad Lal: That's so cool. And I was having this discussion with a few friends a few days back about, coaches are gonna be outta business because you can ask Chad, gpt to coach you. You can say, Hey, why don't you ask me questions? You reply, and then it can do a better job than any coaches to ask you questions.

And with time it'll only get better and like you said, the starting point, it can already help you ask you five questions based on your reply and get a purpose statement in place. So Wow that's interesting. And I guess there are technologies, right? It's how we use it.

Dean Tong: Absolutely.

Sharad Lal: Great. Now just shifting a little bit to finding purpose at work. We've talked a little bit about individual purpose. Now obviously, many people join organizations and they might have slightly different purposes. So how do people get purposeful at work? How do people look at something just beyond the paycheck and beyond maybe the nine to five and find something deeper?

Dean Tong: First of all, I think it is important to us why we have a purpose at work, right? Some people say, if I have my life purpose, that's good enough. Why do I have to link it to work? In fact we have a bit of debate. In the office. I was trying to do this for my colleagues and then rightfully some of my colleagues asked, do we really need to find purpose at work?

 My perspective is the following rate. We are spending a lot of our waking hours at work. And if you don't enjoy what you do, it is going to be quite a shame. And I've also observed people who direct themselves to work every day. only looking forward to the weekends, essentially, of a week of seven days, they only live two days of their life.

And the other five days is the necessary evil to fund for that. The other extreme, you also have people who put so much identity of themself in their work such that they take things very personally and they're unwilling to let go. Even when the time comes, because you can imagine your identity is so attached to your job and you cannot actually get yourself removed, and if you, for whatever reasons get laid off from the work.

This is actually very hard for you to even come back from. So these are two extremes. One is that you totally do not care about your work or the other extreme is that you're so attached to work that you know it is everything that you have. I think in both instances, these two extremes are not how we should see work and the purpose at work in any organization, if we are able to find work that you can find meaning in it, no matter how big or small the role that you play, then you bring that extra dimension that feel that I mentioned earlier. there will always be noise. There will be bad things that will happen to you, and there will be no things, doesn't always work one way. And when it happens, you. easily recenter yourself and you can actually step back and look at the big bigger picture. These are a million noises, it will pass and you can actually refocus on what is important for you. So that for me is why the meaning at work is so important, right? To keep people grounded, to keep people with the beacon to lead them even during the most 40.

Sharad Lal: Very interesting. Dean, as you were speaking. One thing that struck me, which was very interesting, was identity with work and purpose and not the same thing. Sometimes people might think that if I am so passionate about my job, I'm passionate about being a BCG or a Googler, and this is who I am and et cetera.

That isn't necessarily a purpose, that's an identity thing. For good or bad can, sometimes when things go wrong, can start giving you an identity crisis, but purpose need not mean you go rah rah like that. But it could mean that you find something deeper in what you do, which gives you fulfillment beyond just salary and other things, which makes the five days a lot more enjoyable, a lot more fulfilling, and finding that in work is what then becomes the challenge.

As you think about your work.

Dean Tong: Absolutely. I also wanna make it quite realistic. I don't. Don't get me wrong, that you need to be rah on a Monday morning to actually go to work, right? Everyone has this Monday Blues, especially after a good weekend that you may not have rested enough. You may not want to actually go back to work, but you can actually do certain things to help you look forward to a Monday morning.

 My little trick is the following, right? For example I rotate around three exercises, swim, cycle or run. And of these three the moment I like cycling the best because it allows me to soak in a lot of the scenery as I recycle around the Marina area. So I always reserve it for my Monday morning, you know, something that I will actually look forward to and also keep my special breakfast for Monday.

 It's a small little thing that you can actually do. To make Monday a little bit, and once you get to work, you realize that hey, you're back to the groove. And you rediscover the reason why you wanted to do what you want to do.

Just a little bit of a little trick..

Sharad Lal: Great hacks there, Dean. It's, and it's backed by science like James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, talks about stacking the good habits along with something that's a little difficult, which makes you interested to do the little difficult thing. So if Monday Blues, Monday morning blues is a thing you've already done exciting stuff, and then this stacks after that, which makes it a lot easier to do.

Great to hear. Any other hacks or things you have in mind, Dean, that can help people get a little more not necessarily Monday mornings, but just work or maybe late nights or sometimes when they have to do extra work or something that can help them find something deeper?

Dean Tong: A typical day is pretty intense.

I've back to back meetings, sometimes overlapping meetings as well and sometimes over lunch too. But you know what, that's part and parcel. But what I try to do is to make sure that I'm home for dinner every night. If I need to continue the work afterwards, I can. But dinner time is the secret, time for me to spend time with the kids to listen to them about their days.

And to also use that to impart any advice you have in the disguise of a dinner conversation, , if you like. So it's not so much in your face. One of the things that I do is that I actually don't think of work at home at all. I started this even during my days at BCG. So people ask me, why I. Look, stress. Even when we are under a very stressful environment, that's because you need to learn how to let go.

All right? And it comes with practice. It doesn't happen overnight. You must know, you know when to actually leave your work behind and focus on the things that you're doing next with your family. Don't think about work. If you're at work, don't think about your family, right?

So just be there. Do. What you need to do, comes with practice. And while you leave your work behind, you need to leave that burden in your mind behind as well, And then you realize that, hey, it's actually not so tough. Even after a tough day, now you can let it go.

You can come back to it again. You find new solutions to the problems that you've been struggling with.

Sharad Lal: Thank you, Dean. What I'm hearing is that along with work, if there are certain things which may be non-negotiable for you, such as dinners with kids or meditation in the morning, if you can have certain things that are set in place, have a little deliberate purpose and consciousness in life. I love the other point on letting go, which you said then comes with practice where work is done now I'm fully focused on something else. And of course many of us talk about it. And like you said, it's difficult to do, but we need practice.

What kind of practice can we do to train our brain to compartmentalize work at work, home at home?

Dean Tong: Perspective again, right? With work, as I said before, in order to really embrace work, you must be ready to walk away when it's no longer the right balance. This is the irony of it. It's like in life, to really live, you need to embrace that there'll be death. And this is something that is certain, and it will come at some stage.

And if you have that right perspective at the end of the work, you will be more willing to actually put it down, because this is the balance that you need to achieve in order to preserve your work. Otherwise you get burned out very soon and you will not be able to do that and or enjoy the work that you're trying to do.

Then you'll be searching for the next thing and you'll figure out then it's actually not the work itself, it's you, right? Because that's the constant thing that's following you, right? But if you are able to compartmentalize it, it doesn't mean you're not passionate about your work. When you're at work, you do it with passion.

But once you're done with that, leave it behind, move on to the next thing. Similarly, when you're spending time with your family, know that your family will not always be there with you. We have an expiry date. I look at my kids. I know that at some point they will move out from their house knowing they'll move to the colleges, they'll get married and, the kind of dinner environment that we have is not something that I take for.

 So if you can appreciate that, then you will be able to better compartmentalize 

Sharad Lal: Yeah this concept of impermanence, which is in Buddhism as well as truism is such a powerful concept. And not just death. I think death is one part but impermanence of stages in life, impermanence of. This stage where your kids are having dinner with you or the stage when your kids are young and you're with them, all these pastimes.

So that I think could be an interesting perspective. Like you said, what I have right now is important and being able to spend enough time on it. One of the things that sometimes people tell me who are a little younger, say that, You know what, when I'm young, if I start thinking of all this, it takes away my ambition.

 I'd like to just go hard, and go, because you went to BCG, Dean was in bcg, which of course was very demanding. We all gained a lot out of it. So how does life stage, ambition, purpose, how does all this sit together in your mind?

Dean Tong: I actually don't think they are contradicting. If you will, you must find the right balance throughout your life. I've seen many people who actually postpone living their life. Assuming that no, they can enjoy it. At a leader stage, sometimes a leader stage doesn't come. You have to live your life without regrets at a different stage.

That doesn't mean you don't work hard for it. In fact, when you study, when you work hard, you can also in the moment, in the flow of things like when you're, in fact, you would probably enjoy it even more. And if you are able to put it in perspective, I will bet you that you are probably going to perform better at work as well.

And the decisions that you make will be a sound decision rather than based on your ego. I don't see any contradiction. In fact, I see, if you're able to manage yourself well, that is your competitive advantage in today's world where everyone will be looking out for themself.

You are also looking out for yourself, but with a bigger purpose if you will.

Sharad Lal: I like that. I like that thought. Which if you step back and think about it, if you're present with work, there's fulfillment to come out of there. Whether it's intellectual stimulation that you feel fulfilled or whether you've completed a task. Achievement also gives you fulfillment that I've achieved this, I'm successful in this.

So there are those things which give you some sort of fulfillment and meaning. And I love the point that you said that postponing enjoyment where you're thinking that, Hey, I'm gonna work hard. I'm gonna make this stack of money, but after five years, that's when I live holistically, and that's when I'm gonna live this life.

 You don't know what's gonna happen five years from now. And quite often many people and many of us are guilty that five years keeps becoming five more years and five more years and tell me before we know it, we're done.

So that's another interesting perspective.

Dean Tong: Yeah. But it's important not to take what just said as an excuse to live a reckless life uh, . You know, some people, you go drinking every night because, you know, now just focus on the moment, right? Tomorrow doesn't matter. Just focus on today. That's actually not what this is about.

It is finding that balance that will allow you in terms of peace of mind. A lot of times when you do something and the next day you regret doing it. Now these are not what gives you that peace of mind.

Sharad Lal: Trivial behavior whichever we de define it, will not. Giving peace of mind will not even probably give you fulfillment and other things. if you're looking at those kinds of things all the time, just because we've read some part that hey, let's just live for today, may not yolo, you live only once, may not, be the best way.

 Dean, moving on. I know you are again very interested in stoicism and Buddhism and spirituality, so I'd love to understand how this come into work?

Dean Tong: I find a lot of this principle has helped me throughout for a number of reasons. Let me maybe share with you a few that I have found to be particularly useful in work. One is that bad things do happen as I mentioned before. In fact the term is that shit happens, We can't control what is thrown at us but we can actually control how we react. So that's actually one thing that I took away. uh, Stoicism, right? Control what you can control and don't worry about the things that's outside of your control. Two, don't take things personally. A lot of times, we create drama in our mind when we see something that's not to our liking or when we think something's unfair, you know, we actually stitch together a story, and a lot of times the stories are only dramatized. There will be differences of opinions in that work. And when you walk away from that, right? Let it go. And don't take it personally. This is work, and the next day you come back, you can have another set of conversations, but if you can do so, then it will just prolong your career a bit longer.

 Third, practice compassion.

In whatever you do, right? We either with your peers, with your superior, with your subordinate who needs your guidance understand that they two are also going through their own life challenges, and they're also seeking their own happiness.

So practice compassion if you can feel for them, then you'll be a happier person. You know that, that's actually the irony of it. If you are able to feel for others, you don't feel so much about your own problem as much. Last but not least is the life we have as I mentioned before, for life as well as for work.

They are limited. So cherish it and when it is time to let it go. Let go. So while you're at it, really cherish the moment that you are at work. don't take the things that I do for granted. I know at some stage, everything will be over, I need to hand it on to the next person.

 But while I'm at it, I cherish what I do, but when I have to let go, I need to learn to.

Sharad Lal: These are very powerful principles and that's the beauty of stoicism where they're practical. I can already see how some of them can come into play. I was wondering, just throwing it out there, do you have any kind of story, which was a difficult situation where some of this helped you. Just, sorry, just putting you in the spot, if something comes to mind.

Dean Tong: Once in a career I was not really wanted by the department or the incumbent. It was not particularly easy when you are not wanted.

 So there will be a lot of obstacles that's been put up along the way to make it frustrating for you. I'm actually glad I have my practices, right? So on a daily basis, I have to cleanse myself to say, okay don't take it personally. Practicing compassion, it is a difficult time for anyone to actually go through a life-changing event.

 It was a challenging period, but for me, because of the practice I have I could actually manage through it. even after the event has happened, 

 I still kept in touch with the person who has actually put up all the difficulties. In fact we became closer as friends. I think the real test is, what you do in those. Times if you can actually lift yourself up from getting into those small scores you might end up seeing something that's actually very different.

 Having that practitioner, because I actually needed to have an extra session for my meditation to help me through some of those situations.

Yes. But it was helpful. 

Sharad Lal: Thank you for that, Dean. We've talked a lot about purpose at work, personal purpose, spirituality. Is there anything else that we should talk about before we wrap up?

Dean Tong: Maybe one last thing that I probably want to talk about.

How one should look after one's self, in terms of a body as well. Don't take our health for granted. The body that we have will at some stage go away, Our ability to walk, run even talking and eating. Should not be taken for granted, So while you can really appreciate your body. Enjoy the moment while you are able to walk in the park. We can hike at Mc Ritchie and while you can eat, no, enjoy the food that you are having because there will be times and when this is taken away so that's one of my last message, just like our mind we could care for my true no meditation through reading. Similarly, for your body as well, you need to find ways to keep it healthy and to enjoy it while you still have it.

Sharad Lal: Very good reminder for so many things that we take for granted, so very good reminder, Dean, I have this last question before I end 

At the end of your life, how would you know you've lived a good life?

Dean Tong: I did ask myself that question. It is really looking back and. knowing the lives that you have touched along the way. And hopefully then, the people that have positively influenced mourned, outweighed the people that I may have negatively touched upon. Or sometimes you do not know, you may have actually created some bad camera And to have also. Appreciated. your mind, your body during this brief period that you have on earth and you have not actually wasted them. I think that will be a life lived without regrets.

Sharad Lal: Thank you, Dean. You're living your life, you're living your dream, you're living your purpose, and you're an inspiration to all of us. You're making a positive impact to so many people across work, across personal life, thank you very much for making time to do this conversation with us.

 It is gonna be extremely useful to everyone. Thank you very much, Dean.

Dean Tong: You are most welcome. I was privileged to have been invited to your podcast. 

Sharad Lal: Our privilege. 

 Thank you, Dean, for such a calm, wise conversation. The way you think about and design your life is very inspirational. Here's an action step. All of us listening can think about it. How can we find purpose at work? How can we make Monday to Friday more me? Here are a few suggestions being present in what we do so that we find flow at work.

 Finding and acknowledging areas of intellectual stimulation or connection with others that we get, maybe its impact, making a positive impact on people we work with or the world at large. We could also design work in such a way That some non-negotiables, things like dinner with family or morning run or whatever it is.