In 1895, a doubtless smug Munich schoolmaster gleefully wrote in a struggling student’s report card: “He will never amount to anything.”
How many of us have struggled in like manner, whether in school or career, to have the world jeer and laugh? But this story ends in a remarkable manner, if only because of what that student can teach you about creativity and imagination, and not taking the beaten path through life.
The name of that failed student in 1895? Albert Einstein, the many-times written off quiet rebel who would go on to change the world of physics for all time.
The Dopey One
Einstein’s schoolmaster was by no means the first person to mark down his potential.
Because he was slow to learn to speak and would mumble responses out to himself before repeating them out loud to the family, he was nicknamed “der Depperte”. It goes without saying that the German culture of the time was not very politically correct.
For you German-speaking geniuses, the moniker means “the dopey one” or “the dork.” Inspiring words for a guy who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in physics, unleash the theories of special relativity and general relativity on the world, along with making ground breaking contributions to other areas of physics.
Einstein did not take the beaten path to the pinnacle of the scientific world. Along the way, he was often ridiculed and shunned, and his ideas dismissed by those in positions of authority.
That such a man could accomplish what he did is testament to his incredible creativity and unyielding ability to overcome obstacles.
Imagination Goes Where Logic Can’t
His formula for creative thought, if you want clues to it, may be found in his own words about creativity and imagination. Einstein had this to say on the topic:
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
He also said, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
If that makes your head spin with imagination, read on because you might have a bit in common with the extraordinary Albert Einstein.
Einstein suffered a terrible reputation while in college. At the Swiss Polytechnic Institute, his professors had a low estimation of him.
Skipping class regularly did not help matters on this front. Whatever the case, Einstein had an independence of mind that never really went away. His ability to forge his own path and let his boundless imagination carry him wherever it would led to much trouble, but also, a freedom that more timid souls could only imagine about.
Everybody’s A Genius But Don’t Expect Fish To Climb Trees
If there’s a theme that runs through his life during those wandering early years, it’s that you’ve got to find where your special gift lies and tune out all the other stuff that can interfere. Now, that is true creativity, letting your genius go free.
Einstein explained it this way, “Everybody 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.”
Everybody really is a genius, and we all must just find our own special area of genius. Then we can start creating and making our own contribution to the world.
Unlike Einstein, for example, I’m not specially adept at theoretical physics or the fine details of his “space-time” theory, whatever that is.
But as Einstein himself would be quick to point out, maybe we can’t all be Einsteins in physics, but we can be Einsteins of our own sphere of influence by being creative in our field.
Forge Your Own Path: Let Curiosity Be Your Guide
Still, not everyone was as open as Einstein himself to the idea of everyone being a genius. In fact, when he graduated, near the bottom of his class, employers did not see the particular genius of a young Einstein.
Unable to land a teaching job, he had to work odd jobs in order to get by, finally landing a position as a clerk at the patent office. Unfortunately, Einstein’s father died thinking his son was doomed to be a failure in life.
When those close to you question your very worth and capabilities, it is tough staying true to ideas like curiosity and imagination.
But Einstein is Einstein after all, and stay true to them he did.
Smarts Optional, Commitment to Your Craft Key
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein
Einstein, though locked out of the academic world, spent his time keeping up to date with the ideas he saw at the patent office. Along with working towards a PhD, he devoted himself to his immensely curious explorations of theoretical physics and ideas like relativity, which were derided by some in the scientific establishment at the time. He postulated some ideas that would shortly lead to an absolute stir in the scientific world.
Characteristically, Einstein followed his earlier dictum that you need to forge your own path and let curiosity be your guide. It will lead you places, as Einstein would say, “where logic could never take you.”
Beginning in 1905, Einstein published a series of ground-breaking ideas detailing the particle-wave theory of photons, as well as his theory of special relativity. One of these papers would contain his famous equation showing the equivalence of energy and mass:
E = mc²
In 1909, Einstein accepted his first post as a full professor at the University of Zurich, with the academic world slowly coming around to ideas like relativity and the photoelectric effect.
“Pause to Wonder and Stand Rapt in Awe…”
By sticking with his craft long after those in positions of power and even those in his life had given up, Einstein proved that the imagination really can take you places logic alone can’t.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” – Albert Einstein
The guy who was once described as a “lazy dog” by his college professor became the grand Dean of Modern Physics and changed the world in the process.