It is easy to come up against roadblocks and obstacles in our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves uninspired, maybe in jobs or situations we wouldn’t pick if we had more money or freedom, but Albert Einstein is a great example of why we always need to keep plugging away at the things we love, And why something that feels like failure to us is achievement to others.
Born in 1879 in Ulm, Germany Einstein grew up in a middle class, Jewish family, and it is pretty widely known that despite his amazing mathematical and scientific abilities, he struggled with the other aspects of school, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that he was mildly dyslexic.
From the age of 5 he had begun to notice invisible forces that captured his attention, like the force making a compass work, and this inspires a life interest in figuring out the laws of the universe. Growing up, Einstein did not feel like he belonged within the prussian-style system of education used at his school in Germany at the time. At one point he even reportedly had a teacher tell him he would never amount to anything. This feeling of not belonging and failure lead to Einstein fleeing Germany, illegally dodging the draft and going to live with his parents. This was really not an ideal situation, because it basically meant he would face if he returned to Germany at this time…
Luckily, Einstein applied to a polytechnic school in Switzerland on the proviso that he first finish his formal schooling and could pass their rigorous entrance exams, and despite basically flunking French, Chemistry, and Biology, his scores in Maths and promise in physics won him a position in the school.
Einstein graduated in 1900, and while he was very advanced in many subjects, he had often taken it upon himself to do… self directed learning rather than show up for class, which I suppose rubbed his professors up the wrong way. Unfortunately, Einstein was trying to enter a career in an industry where it’s often who you know as much as what you know, and he was unable to get letters of recommendation from professors, and was turned down for all the positions he applied for. Between 1900 and 1902 Einstein headed for rock bottom, he had no job prospects at a time where starting a family with his wife to-be was the goal, and his father also went bankrupt, drying up any support from his parents. I feel this is pretty relatable, we all have times in our lives where it seems there is no way forward, no way to reach our goal….
How strange to be relating to Albert Einstein!
After taking some pretty underpaid job tutoring children, Einstein gave up on an academic career and took a job at the Patent office in Bern as a clerk. With an income under his belt, he could finally marry his betrothed, Mileva Maric, a fellow scholar. They went on to have 2 children over the next 8 years. Now, many people I know who work full-time and have families don’t have the time or energy for too much else, but somehow Einstein managed to get his work done quickly in the patent office and spend a lot of his time writing academic papers on his musings about the universe. It was during this time that he theorised about the speed of light, wondering what it would mean if we were to travel at the same speed as a beam of light. SO, alongside his full-time job and the birth of his first child, in 1905 he published 4 different papers which we now know are major theoretical discoveries within physics. These papers were published in the Annalen der Physik. “on movement of small particles suspended in stationary liquids required by the molecular-kinetic theory of heat”, “on heuristic viewpoint concerning the production and transformation of light”, “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies” and “Does the inertia of a body depend upon its energy content”, this one is associated with an equation you have probably heard of, E=MC2, all sounds pretty complex to me and it is amazing that he thought to continue this work despite the odds stacked up against him, and the fact that these papers have had such a profound effect on our understanding of physics only makes it a more unlikely and amazing feat! As if this wasn’t enough, to obtain his doctorate he submitted another paper!
As Einstein and his theories gained fame and doors started opening for him for an academic career, his marriage started to erode. Einstein and his wife Mileva did not have a huge amount of money, and while he was starting to have success with his academic work, academic success does not often equate to being well paid. This meant that while Einstein was getting a lot of attention and being asked to speak at conferences therefore spending a lot of time away from home, their financial situation was not good at all, he didn’t have much time with his wife and children, and so he and Mileva fought constantly. During this time he was distracted by troubling thoughts that his previous theories did not take into consideration gravitation or acceleration, and this was incredibly distracting for him, which probably didn’t help his marriage, however it DID help him complete his general theory of relativity in 1915.
Einstein continued working on his academic endeavors, and then in the lead up to World War 1 in 1918, he was catapulted into mainstream knowledge as the next Isaac Newton after he signed a manifesto alongside 3 other intellectuals, against Germany entering the World War, and this was picked up by the Times of London, giving a pedestal to Einstein as a Physicist.
Einstein then started the idea that the Universe is in a constant state of flux, and created a new area of science now known as Cosmology.
Fast forward now to the lead up to the Second World War, by now Einstein and his first wife have divorced and he had immediately remarried Elsa Lowenthal, and as the Nazi movement rises, they conveniently attack the relativity theory as “Jewish Physics”, and Einstein becomes unsafe in Germany where he is living at the time. In 1932, Einstein leaves Germany, never to return again, and escapes to New Jersey, in the United States of America, settling at Princeton University. During this time, Einstein is active in anti-war activities as well as the early Civil rights movement.
Einstein continued developing on his already established theories, leading breakthroughs in ideas around wormholes, higher dimensions, black holes, universe creation theory, and the possibility of time travel.
While Einstein only directly was awarded 1 Nobel prize (a pretty amazing feat for someone who couldn’t get a job straight out of university I might add), there are a further 6 Nobel prizes awarded to others whose work was drawn directly from Einstein’s theories. We also now know that Black holes, while only ever mathematically theorised by Einstein, we now have found thousands of them in the universe, and Einstein’s “theory of everything” is being built on every day by modern physicists.
As Einstein aged, he spent a lot of time trying to disprove, or strengthen his theories, always striving for more, never believing what he had done was quite good enough to explain all that he wanted to. We have him to thank for so much, but particularly laser pointers, paper towels, and Solar power…. None of which would be possible without Einstein’s many theoretical works.
Charlie Chaplin once said to Einstein “The people applaud me because everybody understands me, and they applaud you because no one understands you.”. I think we have a lot to learn from the life of Einstein, not just physics and theory on how everything works, but also a lesson in never giving up on your passions, and that no matter how dark things look to us, how incomplete our lives may feel, from the outside, we are making a difference if we just do our best and follow our passions to whatever our full potential is. After all, a teenage boy was once ridiculed by teachers and flunked out of school, and he ended up changing our whole world.
Thanks so much for being here with me for this episode of good news, good night.