Leadership Lessons from Confucius: no one understands me!

no one understands me

Confucius said: “No one understands me!” Zigong said: “How is it that no one understands you?” Confucius said: “I neither complain about heaven nor do I blame other people. I study what’s below in order to understand what’s above. If there’s anyone who understands me, it can only be heaven.”
子曰:「莫我知也夫!」子貢曰:「何為其莫知子也?」子曰:「不怨天,不尤人,下學而上達。知我者,其天乎!」

Do you really have what it takes to think different? Or, come to think of it, to just do it? Do you have the courage to follow your dreams despite the doubts and worries of your family and friends who are terrified that you will fail? Do you have the determination to keep on going despite the constant stream of rejections from potential investors and customers who shake their heads and roll their eyes at the sheer insanity of your idea?

Can you handle the pressure and loneliness of forging a path so far from the highway that no one understands where you are going with it or why you are pursuing it? Including, at those times when you reach the point of despair, yourself?

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 35 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) An emotional lament from Confucius for his failure to achieve his dream of emulating his hero the Duke of Zhou by securing an official position that would enable him to restore to shattered Zhou dynasty to its former glories. Compare his complaint that “No one understands me!” with his injunction on 14.30: “Don’t be concerned if people fail to recognize what you’ve accomplished; be concerned about what you haven’t been able to accomplish yet.” Even he wasn’t entirely devoid of the desire for recognition from his peers.

I took this image at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu. The duke was Confucius’s great hero and role model as a result of his tireless efforts to the establish the foundation of the fledgling kingdom of Zhou while acting a regent to the young King Cheng. You can read more about the temple here.

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