Confucius said: “Learn as if you’ll never be able to catch up with everything you need to know and as if you’re afraid you’ll lose everything that you’ve already gained.”
There’s no substitute for hard work in the pursuit of excellence. It isn’t important how brilliant you think your ideas are. The only way you’ll succeed in implementing them is by putting your nose to the grindstone. Inspiration is useless without perspiration.
No matter how much experience and knowledge he accumulated, Confucius always felt the need to learn more and do better. Even when he came to the realization that he would never attain high office following his return from exile to his home state of Lu at the age of sixty-eight, he continued beavering away with his studies until his death three years later.
Although he failed to achieve his dream of emulating his hero, the legendary Duke of Zhou, Confucius never gave up despite many serious setbacks. He simply kept on plugging away until he knew it was time for him to shuffle of this mortal coil, leaving a much richer and more enduring legacy than even he could possibly have imagined.
In some ways it could be argued that it is the example Confucius set through his indomitable spirit that we should admire even more so than his teachings. Certainly, very few people can be said to have matched his sheer zest for life and his voracious love of learning.
This article features a translation of Chapter 17 of Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 8 here.
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.