Odd quote attributed to Confucius, did he really say it?

This has been asked before, years ago, but no satisfactory answer. I was wondering if anyone’s discovered an answer in the interim?

‘Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.’

The quote “Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life” just appeared in someone’s tagline on another board, attributed to Confucius.

It struck me that this really wasn’t very believable. If Confucius said something translated that way, it might not be the most accurate translation either.

Anyone know for sure?


As noted in the thread you link to, “choosing” a job would have been a foreign concept in 5th century BC China and the message of the quote isn’t exactly in line with Confucianism, which was not big on emphasizing personal enjoyment. It’s also dependent on the English word “work” meaning both “to do a job” and “to labor”.

There’s a searchable copy of The Analects here. The word “choose” is only found twice and neither result comes even close to fitting.

Thanks for the search.

Maybe it was this phrase that someone translated into that saying?

擇可勞而勞之,又誰怨? The page you sent me to translates it as…

" When he chooses the labors which are proper, and makes them labor on them, who will repine?"

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.”

Seems unlikely, IMHO. At the very least, the subjects of the two sentences are very different, since Confucius is talking about public officials choosing tasks to be performed by others, not about choosing for yourself.

I know it’s at least a really out of context translation, but maybe someone took it out of context and translated it “figuratively” or something. Because, I can’t find any attribution other than Confucius for this quote, and in Google Book search there are no hits without Confucius for the phrase, and several hits with it, so it’s appeared in print attributed to him repeatedly (which means it isn’t just an internet meme)…

Just hoping for some other attribution, or some evidence of who started it, or etc. other than the circumstantial? But maybe that’s too much to expect. Still, isn’t it at least odd that the internet hasn’t claimed anyone else said this, but only specifically “Confucius” (or a few times “a philosopher” or “a Chinese proverb” ?

Not necessarily. It would just mean that the first person to coin it attributed it to Confucius (although I did find one site that listed the author as “unknown”).

None of the Google Book hits are from anything serious and all are from the last few years; I would not be at all surprised if all those authors are merely spreading a misattributed quote from an internet site. Surely, if it was a real Confucius saying, it would have been mentioned in print earlier than 2003? Compare it to the Google Book search for “When he chooses the labors which are proper, and makes them labor on them, who will repine?” which gets 85 hits, not a mere 8?

Evidence against Confucius saying it:

  1. It’s not in the Analects.
  2. It doesn’t fit Confucian thought.
  3. It doesn’t fit the world as it existed when Confucius lived.
  4. It relies upon English word play.

The problem with it being a poor translation is that there aren’t many people out there translating ancient Chinese.

I found a very similar quote from a Harvey MacKay, who appears to be some kind of motivational writer.

These days, you can’t anything Confucious says seriously…

I styrongly distrust quotes from the internet. I wrote several entries on a thread about a supposed quote by Plato that sounded nothing like him, and turned out to the the work of a circa 1900 moralist that you almost certainly never heard of. Attributing it to Plato gave it more oomph, just as attributing this one tpo Confucius does.
Read the Analects sometime, or the other books of the Confucian Canon. I have, and I find them endlessly obscure and profoundly unquotable.

“Don’t keep everything in your heart, one day they might trap there forever.”

Ancient Chinese secret, huh?

Moderator Note

Please restrict your love quotes to the other thread that you started, located here:

No, that was Ben Franklin.

I’m pretty sure that “quote” and “quote attributed to Confucius” are exactly synonymous. Hasn’t everything been attributed to him at one point or another?

No. Confucious says: “Sometimes they’re attributed to Mark Twain, Ogden Nash, or Dorothy Parker.”

Did Confucious have any quotes about zombies?

Or Winston Churchill. Or Yogi Berra.

Well, them too, but it’s not like a quote can only ever be attributed to one person.