Leadership lessons from Confucius: making the most of your golden years

golden years

Confucius said: “It was only after I returned to Lu from Wei that I rectified the Book of Music and put the Court Songs and Sacrificial Hymns in the proper order.” (1) (2)

Have you finalized your retirements plans? I’m not just talking about making sure you have made sufficient financial provision for it, but also working out how you’ll spend your time. Endless rounds of golf might sound fun in theory, but will they provide the same levels of intellectual and emotional stimulation as well as sense of purpose that you’re used to at work?

These are some of the questions that you need to think about before you leave your office one last time. Given the huge improvements that have been made in healthcare, there’s a good chance that you’ll still be around for two or three decades. Best to start thinking now about how you’re going to make the most of your golden years.


This article features a translation of Chapter 15 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) Confucius returned to Lu in 484 BCE after spending fourteen years in exile tramping round from state to state in a fruitless quest for a senior position in a ruler’s court. He spent his final years editing ancient canonical texts, including the Book of Music and the Five Classics: namely, the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng), Book of Documents (尚書/shàngshū), the Book of Rites (禮記/lǐjì), the Book of Changes (易經/yìjīng), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋/chūnqiū). 

(2) The Book of Music no longer survives. It is unclear whether Confucius “rectified” the text of the odes from the Book of Songs contained in it or the accompanying music  – or indeed both. Some commentators speculate that the music used in the state of Lu had become corrupted over the centuries. They believe that Confucius restored the original version of it that he had heard during a visit to the state of Qi. See 7.13.

(3) The Court Songs (雅/Yǎ) and Sacrificial Hymns (頌/Sòng) were two categories of odes in the Book of Songs. The Court Songs consists of 105 odes written to praise virtuous rulers, while the 40 Sacrificial Hymns were performed in ancestral temples.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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