Leadership Lessons from Confucius: if only, if only

Confucius said: “A leader is distressed by their own lack of ability; they are never distressed by the lack of recognition from others.”

If only your parents had done a better job of raising you and shown more love to you when you were growing up. If only your teachers had paid closer attention to you and recognized your obvious talents. If only you had been accepted by a top university and gone on to graduate school. If only your boss was not so hard on you and did not give you the most mundane assignments.

If only, if only, if only. The list goes on and on and on. It is ridiculously easy to blame others for your failings in life. But wouldn’t it be far more useful and productive if for once in your life you turned the if-only-lens on yourself?

If only you had realized that nothing comes easily in life, you would have studied more conscientiously at school. If only you had understood that nobody else owes you a living or even a minute of their time, you would not have idled around waiting for them to help you. If only you had recognized that your boss was willing to give you more interesting opportunities once you had proved yourself. If only you had grasped the simple truth that any success and happiness you want to achieve in life has to come from yourself.

Now you have got that out of your system, it is time to move on with your life with a new sense of confidence and purpose. Rather than hold yourself back by waiting for others to support you, push yourself forward to create the future you have always dreamed of but never thought possible.

This article features a translation of Chapter 19 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) For passages expressing similar sentiments, see 1.16, 4.14, 14.30, and 15.21.

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.


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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.