Leadership lessons from Confucius: the moment of truth

moment of truth

子曰:「甚矣吾衰也!久矣吾不復夢見周公!」
Confucius said: “I am becoming terribly weak. It has been a long time since I last saw the Duke of Zhou in a dream.”

Sometimes things simply don’t work out. Despite years of hard work, your great dream comes crashing down around you. Your sweat and tears have all been in vain.

At first, you fight hard to deny the reality of what is happening, but eventually the moment of truth arrives. You have to learn to accept it gracefully – to let go of the burning anger and frustration at yourself and the world that has conspired against you.

As you start to sift through the ashes, you see small signs of hope among all the destruction. Perhaps there are some lessons from your experience that you can apply to your next endeavor. Perhaps some of the work you have done will have enduring value and can be put to other productive uses.

The time for mourning the death of your dream is over. Bury the past and look to the future.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 5 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Although he didn’t directly acknowledge it, Confucius long held out the hope that he would be able to emulate the legendary Duke of Zhou and return China to its former glory by restoring the institutions and rituals that were established by his role model in the twelfth century BC during the formation of the Zhou dynasty. When he finally realized that he would never have the chance to achieve his dream, Confucius directed all his efforts towards study and teaching and – thanks to the diligence of his followers who collected his sayings in the Analects – he succeeded in leaving a much greater legacy than would probably have been possible if he had achieved political success during his lifetime.

(2) You can read more about the Duke of Zhou here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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