Do the work!
Happy New Year! More by accident than design I finished my second round of translating the Analects of Confucius just before the end of last year. Before I give the translation a final polish, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on why I have become such a fan of the Master and the aspects of his teaching that most appeal to me. Despite the archaic language in the text, many of the concepts he promotes are relevant in helping us to navigate the challenges of our own turbulent times.
The most attractive trait I find in Confucius is that unlike so many self-help gurus he does not promise you a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after you have completed his ten-step program. For him, life is all about doing the work required to become a better person because that is the right way to act rather than because it will bring you external rewards.
When he says in 20.3 “if you do not understand fate, you have no way of becoming an exemplary person,” Confucius is making the critical point that you need to focus on what you can control rather than worry about what you cannot. Even if you write a brilliant Medium post, you should not expect it to be deluged with thousands of likes because the outcome is not within your remit. The purpose of your action should be to sharpen your insight and share it with others — not to fish for compliments and an invitation to speak at a TED conference. Indeed, the harder you chase external validation and wealth, the more likely you are to stray from your true purpose.
As Confucius points out in 4.14: “Do not be concerned that you have not secured an official position; be concerned that you have what it takes to secure one. Do not be concerned that you are not recognized for your abilities; be concerned that you deserve to be recognized for them.”
Of course, this zero-rewards approach is of little comfort if you are desperately searching for a job while your peers are strutting around in Patagonia fleeces bragging about the value of their stock options or if you’re struggling to build a new business while your competitors have been transformed into unicorns by VC magic.
But as we are seeing now, fate is a very fickle beast. Doing the work is the best way of keeping yourself grounded when times are good and staying on track on when they inevitably take a downward turn.