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It’s Not About How Smart You Are – Advice From Albert Einstein

It’s Not About How Smart You Are – Advice From Albert Einstein

He had a terrible memory, used music to stimulate his thinking, and told his university teachers that their classes were boring.

Albert Einstein – thought to have mental disabilities as a child, became known as a genius – yet attributed his success, not to his intelligence, but to his character.

Love, curiosity, imagination, balance and determination were the values he embraced.

He did not see himself as smart. Just more curious and persistent than the average person.

Einstein’s view of his own success carries powerful lessons for us today in enriching our careers, relationships, and well-being.

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather, try to become a person of value.”

We all want success. But Einstein knew the emphasis has to be on creating value first. What can we bring to the table? What unique qualities do we possess that can be leveraged to help others? Selling our value does more than fuel our career. It attracts key relationships and gives us purpose. A life which is directed toward the fulfilment of personal desires only, said Einstein – will always lead to bitter disappointment.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

To Einstein, imagination is paramount. His experiments all took place in his mind. Today – imagination is in short supply. Often, it is discouraged. Yet it is only when we see beyond the confines of conventional thinking can breakthroughs occur. Our careers and relationships need not be limited, stagnate or die. We can imagine better things for ourselves and do as Einstein had done – bravely following the trail of our unhindered thoughts.

“I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”

Most of us give up too soon. A friend of mine abandons his plans at the first sign of difficulty. Einstein didn’t see obstacles as reasons to quit, but rather, reasons to work harder. His theory of relativity did not come, he said, from his intellect – but rather, his dogged persistence. He was more stubborn than any problem. We can be too.

Albert Einstein had a secret weapon to stimulate his thinking: music.

He played Mozart on the violin to put him in the correct “zone.” A few notes on the piano would ignite his creative juices. Music, in fact, is what made Einstein tick. And there are some historians who speculate that Einstein, had he not been a physicist, might have become a professional musician.

In his later years, he would say that music, above all else, is what made him happy. His doctor once remarked that while other violinists likely played better than Einstein, nobody played with more emotion.

Albert Einstein was multi-faceted. He loved music, both for the sheer joy of it, but also as an aid to relax his mind. He considered himself good enough to perform in public, which he did on many occasions, but oddly, no known audio recordings of Einstein playing the violin exist.

According to family legend, Einstein’s imagination first emerged at a young age when he was introduced to his baby sister. The little Einstein looked at the girl and asked “where are the wheels?” believing her to be a toy.

But his parents developed doubts about his overall mental capacity when, as late as age seven, he kept slowly repeating the same sentences over and over, struggling to learn language. In school, his teachers were also concerned, but for a different reason. Einstein was rebellious and didn’t appreciate the demand for discipline.

When he first tried to enter university, Einstein flunked the entrance exam.

He had a poor memory, unable to remember names. It’s said that he couldn’t remember his own phone number.

Despite these apparent deficiencies, the mind of Einstein was in full swing.

As early as 16, he practiced what he called “thought experiments” always asking “What if?” In one such experiment, he wondered what would happen if he chased a beam of light. Could he ever catch it? He concluded that you can’t slow down light, but you could catch it if time itself had stopped. (An idea which later transformed into his special and general theories of relativity).

What would happen if today, we could push aside modern life’s distractions and engage in thought experiments?

When Einstein finally entered university, he told his professors that their classes were dull. As a result, none would give him a letter of recommendation.

He couldn’t get a job in academia, ending up as a patent clerk. In his free time, the 26-year-old clerk worked feverishly on his theories, producing the now famous theory of relativity which changed the world of science forever.

Up until Einstein, the universe was viewed as three dimensional. Things could go up and down, left and right, or forward and backward – no matter where you would happen to be looking. But Einstein said the universe is actually four dimensional, because things are “relative” depending on your perspective, and also depending upon gravitational pull. For example, a ball rolling down the floor of a moving train may seem slow if viewed from inside the train, but very fast, if seen from outside.

Essentially, Einstein determined that depending upon where you are in space and time, natural occurrences will behave differently.

Major inventions, including the smart phone, television and remote control technology – all became possible because of Einstein’s theory – each taking into consideration the differences between how things work at a certain point in location and timing.

Einstein’s well-known formula E=mc2 in which the mass of any object is a measure of how much energy is contained within it, led to a more sinister invention – the atomic bomb. (Einstein was in favor of the bomb as a way to put a quick end to World War Two, but he would later fight against the proliferation of weapons).

Einstein’s general theory of relativity would indicate that light could bend. Astronomers put this idea to the test during a solar eclipse in 1919 in which the moon covered up the sun. Even though the sky was darkened, stars around the Sun could still be seen – proof of the fourth dimension. Einstein was shown to be correct, and the news made him famous.

Einstein’s Personal Life

Albert Einstein married twice. First to Mileva Maric, another physicist-in-training he met in university. Before marrying, the couple had an illegitimate daughter who was never spoken about by Einstein. Her existence was discovered in the late 1980s through Einstein’s private papers. What happened to the girl is unknown. Mileva was considered almost as brilliant as Einstein and some historians believe she helped him create his theories of relativity. She grew lonely in the marriage as Einstein spent time on his work. Mileva died in 1948, largely forgotten.

The second wife was Elsa, Einstein’s cousin. Einstein had numerous affairs during the marriage, which Elsa knew about. She accepted the affairs, but demanded Einstein put her first, which he did. In return, Elsa spent much of her time protecting the great scientist from unwelcome visitors and an army of people who wanted to meet him.

Fame was not something Einstein enjoyed. He was often stopped on the street, but when asked if he was the real Albert Einstein, he replied that he just looked like him.

Einstein is pictured with his second wife Elsa who was diagnosed with heart and kidney problems. Upon hearing the news, Einstein became depressed and, in the words of his wife, “wandered around like a lost soul.” When Elsa died in 1936, a friend remarked that Einstein cried profusely, something the friend said Einstein had never done before. (He would not remarry after the death of Elsa).

Einstein’s major work was accomplished in his younger years. He spent the rest of his life teaching, working with other scientists, and supporting various causes, including civil rights. When he ran out of problems to solve, he continued to study, for what he called “the pleasant occupation of thinking.”

It was 62 years ago this month, in 1955, that he suffered from a ruptured aneurysm at age 76. Even on his deathbed, he was working – writing a speech for television. Einstein refused surgery, saying he did not want to prolong life artificially. He had done his share, explaining: “It is time to go.”

The scientist with the crazy hair once said he feared technology would eventually surpass human interaction and create a generation of idiots – a prediction some believe is now coming true.

Albert Einstein, remembered today for his genius, will go down in history as someone who believed that character is as important as intelligence, and that every life has a purpose.

Einstein won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921. Later, in 1933, he visited the United States but, being Jewish, chose not to return to his home country of Germany due to the rise of Adolf Hitler. (He became an American citizen in 1940). Einstein had 3 children by his first marriage, one of whom was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

The mind of the genius was so special that when he died, the pathologist on call, Thomas Harvey, decided to steal it. The brain travelled with Harvey, and at one point, his wife threatened to throw it in the garbage. It would not be until 2010 that Harvey’s heirs turned over the brain to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland.

Today, there is a resurgence of interest in Albert Einstein. A ten-part drama entitled “Genius” starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson is appearing on the National Geographic channel.

[This post by Cory Galbraith first appeared on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.]

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.


Cory Galbraith is the President of Galbraith Communications, an international IT company specializing in online streaming.

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