Leadership lessons from Confucius: it’s your life

it's your life

Confucius said: “Someone willing to study for three years without taking up an official position is hard to find.”

Not everyone has the privilege of being able to spend three or four years at college. If you’re lucky enough to attend one, make the most of your time there. It’s one of the rare occasions in your life that you’ll have the opportunity to explore your true interests before you have to enter the world of work.

Don’t allow yourself to be persuaded to take a subject for the sole reason that you think that it will help you get a job. You don’t have to study marketing just because you plan on pursuing a career in that field after you graduate. Better to hone your creative and critical thinking skills by learning about a topic that you’re truly passionate about. The core principles and practices you acquire in the process will be easy to apply to whatever profession you choose to follow later.

Above all, don’t be afraid to be different. By all means seek out advice from other people about what to do, but remember that ultimately it’s up to you to decide your future path. It’s your life – nobody else’s. Only you know what truly inspires you.


This article features a translation of Chapter 12 of Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 8 here.

(1) It’s worth remembering that Confucius was no ivory tower academic. Even though he complains here about the eagerness of young people to forsake their studies for an official career, he actively encouraged his followers and students to go out engage in the world. His main gripe is that they were taking this step before they were ready.

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

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