Leadership Lessons from Confucius: life is short

Richard Brown
2 min readMar 22, 2019

Confucius said: “Always keep the age of your parents in mind. Let this knowledge be a source of both joy and dread.”

Life is short. Make the most of it. Spend as much time as possible with the people you care the most about. They won’t be around forever. Neither will you for that matter.

This is easy enough to say of course, but a lot more difficult to put into practice. Given how many different directions we are being pulled in, it can be tough to see the wood for the trees and set the right priorities. Particularly at a time when our smart phones are pounding us with so many alerts and reminders that tell us it is time to rush to our next meeting, wish somebody we barely know a happy birthday, or even change the screensaver because, well, we’ve been using the current one far too long and we’re becoming old and stale and boring.

The answer to this problem is not to completely cut yourself off from technology. It’s to build a stronger internal filtering mechanism that allows you to ignore the distractions and background noise. That is not quite as difficult as it may sound. It simply means having the courage to say no to something that doesn’t match your priorities rather than a reluctant yes or maybe.

Confucius provides an ethical values system that can help you to decide what is important in your life with his teachings. For him it was all about building meaningful relationships with others, starting with your closest family members, in order to achieve personal balance and social harmony.

If his ideas don’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other alternatives to consider. But in the end, it’s down to you to decide not only how spend your precious time but also who you want to spend it with.


This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.



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.