How to Live Your Best Life, in Four Chinese Idioms


Dylan Gillis

The Chinese idiom 同心協力 describes successful group work as collaboration, or completing a task with one heart.

Angie Leung, Copy Editor

Midway through January, your once-determined New Year’s resolutions to live like a wise, inspirational vlogger are slipping away like Olaf melting before Elsa gifts him his own “snow flurry.” To consolidate your fleeing willpower to improve your personal satisfaction, humility and conscientiousness, here is your daily dose of Pinterest-esque personal growth tips with a twist — through the lens of Chinese idioms. 



To pull or work together with a common goal 

A team collaborates.
Working as a group means working with one heart.

Literally, this Chinese idiom translates to completing something with one heart, or one intent in mind, whether in your sports team or extracurricular club — a very poetic description of successful teamwork. In other words, it’s the antithesis of social loafing, group think or divide and conquer tactics in which only one individual is responsible for a part of the project and receives low-key shade as a result of subpar work. (Let’s be honest; it’s happened before in a group project.) 

“同心協力” means performing as one group. It implies that success or failure isn’t attributed to select individuals within the group, but rather the entire group, which necessitates collaboration and conscientiousness. 

A metaphor characteristic of China’s collectivist culture illustrates this: Each member of your group provides one leg that supports the table. When you withdraw effort and remove a leg, the table tips. Be thoughtful of your impact on others and pull through with your commitment.



To teach students in accordance with their aptitude 

A professor teaches a class.
Living out this Chinese idiom requires teachers to be flexible with their students’ different aptitudes.

“因材施教” is similar to Albert Einstein’s quote, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Two thousand years predating Einstein, however, was Confucius who introduced the idea of mentoring students by their natural aptitudes.

Understanding of Confucius’ philosophy is the realization that not all students perform well by studying hundreds of PowerPoint slides and assimilating information from 80-minute lectures. While the idea of standing in front of the entire class and babbling extemporaneously for minutes might excite some students, others might be terrified. 

Pullquote Photo

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

— Albert Einstein

This Chinese idiom challenges teachers’ flexibility to vary their teaching methodologies in order to expand their zone of proximal development. 

To boil this down to a comparison, there are only two types of people in this world: those who have found what they are good at, and those who are yet to discover theirs. A good mentor is necessary to see their greatest potential and help them attain it. 



To find time for pleasure between work 

People laugh and talk outside during the daytime.
Priscilla Du Preez
Build motivation by treating yourself to small rewards.

While this advice might not come as a surprise, given our daily grind at Presentation, it’s largely overlooked. In order to develop your intrinsic motivation, don’t be afraid of indulging in small doses of happiness to remind yourself what your goal is, as long as you remain on track in the long run. 

Realistically, it’s difficult to “be in the zone” of intense concentration for extensive time periods, so by creating self-rewards that incentivize you to reach your goals, you build your motivation and are less susceptible to burnout. To be clear, though, the idiom places emphasis on “between,” not “before” or “after,” both of which are characterized by procrastination. 

The idiom exemplifies a rewarding lifestyle in which you can contribute more to others than you do for yourself through work but simultaneously enjoy a sense of personal satisfaction.  


To feel adequate wherever you are 

A man and woman look down at the city landscape.
Denys Nevozhai
Personal success is a matter of balance for which you strive.

In other words, “Go with the flow.” For seniors preparing to attend college or directly enter the workforce, remember there is no fixed path or place for success, so be confident in your decision and carry forward. 

After browsing through several perky YouTube tutorials about how to build motivation, what resonated with me the most was the realization that the successful people whose lives we covet might’ve sacrificed an aspect of their life, such as relationships, time or energy, that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do because of our different priorities; as a result, there is no objectifiable standard of success. 

For example, Michelle Obama exemplified the struggle for this balance in her autobiography “Becoming.” For Obama, pursuing demanding jobs or becoming the first lady induced a trade-off with time spent with her children, and becoming a feminist advocate and champion of education for disadvantaged students put her at the center of conservative backlash. In the end, personal success is a matter of balance for which you strive. 

On a related note, don’t be dissatisfied with your rank. At some point, you will experience being at either the top or bottom of any social hierarchy, so it’s better to view yourself by how you share yourself with others, as a friend, significant other or mentor. Drifting away from ranks allows for relationships to be more fruitful and prosperous.