Leadership Lessons from Confucius: material comforts

Confucius said: “A scholar-official who cherishes their material comforts isn’t worthy of the name.”
子曰:「士而懷居,不足以為士矣!」

There is no denying that money is important, but it should not be your only or primary source of motivation. How is it possible for you to produce truly great work if all you are concerned about is how many dollars the project that you are working on is going to generate for you? How is it possible to feel truly fulfilled if you are always chasing the next big pay day rather than doing meaningful work that helps your customers be more successful and contributes even in some small way to the betterment of society?

By all means enjoy the material comforts you have earned, but do not allow the pursuit of them divert you from more rewarding paths. There is so much more to life than the accumulation of bight shiny objects that will soon go out of style in any case.

Notes
This article features a translation of Chapter 2 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Throughout the Analects, Confucius regularly advocates the need for a leader (君子/jūnzǐ) or scholar-official (士/shì) to focus on the pursuit of the way rather than ephemeral externalities like wealth and fame. Book 4 provides some excellent examples, including 4.9 (“A scholar-official who pursues the way but is ashamed of their threadbare clothes and coarse food isn’t worth talking to.”); 4.11 (“A leader pursues virtue; a petty person pursues land. A leader pursues justice; a petty person pursues favors.”); and 4.14 (“Don’t care about not having an official position; care about making sure you have what it takes to secure one. Don’t care about not being acknowledged; focus on what can make you acknowledged.”).

I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in around 483 BCE, as well as compiling or editing the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Ritual, Book of Music, and Book of Changes.

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

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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.