Leadership Lessons from Confucius: material comforts

material comforts

Confucius said: “A scholar-official who cherishes their material comforts isn’t worthy of the name.”

There’s no denying that money’s important, but it shouldn’t be your only or primary source of motivation. How is it possible for you to produce truly great work if all you’re concerned about is how many dollars the project that you’re working on is going to generate for you? How is it possible to feel truly fulfilled if you’re always chasing the next big pay day rather than doing meaningful work that helps your customers be more successful and contributes even in some small way to the betterment of society?

By all means enjoy the material comforts you’ve earned, but don’t allow the pursuit of them divert you from more rewarding paths. There’s so much more to life than the accumulation of bight shiny objects that will soon go out of style in any case.


This article features a translation of Chapter 2 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Throughout the Analects, Confucius regularly advocates the need for a leader (君子/jūnzǐ) or scholar-official (士/shì) to focus on the pursuit of the way rather than ephemeral externalities like wealth and fame. Book 4 provides some excellent examples, including 4.9 (“A scholar-official who pursues the way but is ashamed of their threadbare clothes and coarse food isn’t worth talking to.”); 4.11 (“A leader pursues virtue; a petty person pursues land. A leader pursues justice; a petty person pursues favors.”); and 4.14 (“Don’t care about not having an official position; care about making sure you have what it takes to secure one. Don’t care about not being acknowledged; focus on what can make you acknowledged.”).

I took the top image at the Zhusi Academy in Qufu. Confucius is said to have taught his students here after returning to Lu from exile in in 848 BCE, as well as compiling the Book of Songs, Book of History, Book of Rites, Book of Music, and Book of Changes. You can read more about the Zhusi Academy here.

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