Leadership lessons from Confucius: threadbare clothes and coarse food

threadbare clothes

Confucius said: “A scholar-official who pursues the way but is ashamed of their threadbare clothes and coarse food isn’t worth talking to.” (1)

Follow the path that you believe in – not the one that you think will help you make the most money and bring you the greatest fame. That might mean making some minor sacrifices to begin with, but you will be much happier and more fulfilled over the long term because you are following your passion and doing something worthwhile.


This article features a translation of Chapter 9 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

(1) The term 士 (shì) refers to the class of educated youth that emerged during the Spring and Autumn period. They came from relatively humble backgrounds and worked as clerks and officials in state governments, stewards and administrators for the aristocratic families, bookkeepers and managers for merchants, and teachers and specialists in the classics and ritual. Confucius was himself a member of this class, having grown up in a poor family that placed a high value on education and starting out his career as a stockman. The term 士 is also translated as scholar, knight, scholar-knight, and scholar-apprentice.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.

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