Choose a Job You Love, and You Will Never Have To Work a Day in Your Life

Confucius? Arthur Szathmary? An Old-Timer? Janet Lambert-Moore? Harvey Mackay? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I assist students in the selection of accurate and properly credited quotations for the school yearbook. One student would like to use a popular adage about career choice:

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

This statement is often attributed to the ancient Chinese sage Confucius, but the student considers this assertion anachronistic because job choice flexibility was sharply limited in the era of Confucius. Would you please explore this issue?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have found no substantive support for the claim that Confucius made this statement.

The earliest strong match located by QI was published in the “Princeton Alumni Weekly” in 1982 which quoted a Professor of Philosophy named Arthur Szathmary who employed the saying; however, Szathmary attributed the words to “an old-timer” who was not identified. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

An old-timer I knew used to tell his students: ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’

The expression has sometimes been attributed to the entrepreneur and top-selling author Harvey Mackay who did use the adage in 1989 as shown in the citation given further below, but QI believes that he did not craft it.

This article presents a snapshot of current knowledge on this topic; and future research may uncover citations which antedate the 1982 passage above. QI suspects that earlier instances exist that use a different phrasing.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Choose a Job You Love, and You Will Never Have To Work a Day in Your Life


  1. 1982 October 6, Princeton Alumni Weekly, Article Title: Toshiko Takaezu, Article Author: Ann Woolfolk, Start Page 31, Quote Page 32, Column 1, Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Google Books Preview)