Leadership lessons from Confucius: don’t sell your soul

sell your soul

季氏使閔子騫為費宰。閔子騫曰:「善為我辭焉!如有復我者,則吾必在汶上矣。」
When the head of the Ji Family sent an invitation to Min Ziqian to become governor of the town of Bi, he replied to the messenger: “Please convey my regrets. If anyone comes with a second invitation, I will be obliged to go and live on the other side of the River Wen.” (1)

Money and status aren’t everything. Even if a company makes you an offer that you can’t refuse, don’t feel that you have to sell your soul if its activities or ethics don’t accord with your personal values. Other opportunities will come along. No need to plunge into something you’ll come to regret later.

No need to work for a toxic boss either no matter how attractive the offer her or she makes you. Find one who is committed to giving you the room and experience you need to learn and grow even if the salary is lower. Once someone destroys your confidence, it is very difficult to recover it.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 9 of Book 6 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 6 here.

(1) Min Ziqian (閔子騫) was another of Confucius’s compatriots from the state of Lu and one of his favorite followers. Min was renowned for the deep filial devotion he showed as a child despite the harsh treatment he received at the hands of his step-mother. As this passage demonstrates, he was even more principled than Confucius with his refusal to even contemplate working for the notoriously corrupt Ji Family. You can read more about Min Ziqian here.

I took this image at the Temple of Mencius in Zoucheng, a small town near to Qufu. You can read more about it here.

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