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The Incredible Work Ethic of Albert Einstein: Lessons on Creativity and Contribution

The Incredible Work Ethic of Albert Einstein: Lessons on Creativity and Contribution

As soon as he hung up the phone, Ralph Morse knew that he needed to get moving. He was still 90 miles away and there wouldn’t be much time before people began to hear the news. Albert Einstein had just died.

Morse was a photographer for LIFE Magazine. He drove down to Princeton, New Jersey as fast as possible, but other members of the media were already alerted by the time he arrived. Morse would later recall the situation by saying,

“Einstein died at Princeton Hospital, so I headed there first. But it was chaos — journalists, photographers, onlookers. So I headed over to Einstein’s office at the Institute for Advanced Studies. On the way, I stopped and bought a case of scotch. I knew people might be reluctant to talk, but most people are happy to accept a bottle of booze, instead of money, in exchange for their help. So I get to the building, find the superintendent, give him a fifth of scotch and like that, he opens up the office.” [1]

When Morse walked into Einstein’s office, he snapped a photo of the desk where Einstein had been working just hours before. Nobody knew it yet, but Einstein’s body would be cremated before anyone could capture a final photo of him. As a result, Morse’s photo of Einstein’s desk would soon become the final iconic image of the great scientist’s career. [2]

albert-einstein-office-ralph-morse-life-magazine-700x692
    Albert Einstein’s office just hours after his death on April 18, 1955. (Photographer: Ralph Morse. Image Source: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.)

    The Work Ethic of Einstein

    Einstein died of internal bleeding caused by the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a condition he had struggled with for years. In 1948, seven years before his death, Einstein had surgery to prevent the “grapefruit-sized” aneurysm from rupturing. [3]

    One physician familiar with Einstein’s case wrote, “For a number of years he had suffered from attacks of upper abdominal pain, which usually lasted for 2-3 days and were often accompanied by vomiting. These attacks usually occurred about every 3 or 4 months.” [4]

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    Einstein continued to work despite the pain. He published papers well into the 1950s. Even on the day of his death in 1955, he was working on a speech he was scheduled to give on Israeli television. He even brought the draft of it with him to the hospital. The speech draft, shown below, was never finished.

    albert-einstein-last-statement-israel-telecast-draft-716x960
      The final document worked on by Albert Einstein, a draft of his speech for Israel’s 7th Anniversary. (Image Source: Einstein Archives Online)

      Contributing vs. Consuming

      “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
      —Albert Einstein

      Einstein’s most famous contribution to science, the general theory of relativity, was published in 1915. He won the Nobel Prize in 1921. Yet, rather than assume he was a finished product, Einstein continued to work and contribute to the field for 40 more years. Up until the moment of his death, Einstein continued to squeeze every ounce of greatness out of himself. He never rested on his laurels. He continued to work even through severe physical pain and in the face of death.

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      Everyone has a gift to share with the world, something that both lights you on fire internally and serves the world externally. Furthermore, this thing–this calling–should be something you pursue until your final breath. It could be your actual job, as it was for Einstein. It could be a creative hobby, as it was for Vivian Maier. It could be the care you provide to those around you.

      Whatever it is for you, our lives were meant to be spent making our contribution to the world, not merely consuming the world that others create.

      “I have done my share.”

      Hours before his death, Einstein’s doctors proposed trying a new and unproven surgery as a final option for extending his life. Einstein simply replied, “I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.” [5]

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      We cannot predict the value our work will provide to the world. That’s fine. It is not our job to judge our own work. It is our job to create it, to pour ourselves into it, and to master our craft as best we can.

      We all have the opportunity to squeeze every ounce of greatness out of ourselves that we can. We all have the chance to do our share.

      This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

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      Sources

      1. The Day Albert Einstein Died: A Photographer’s Story by Ben Cosgrove
      2. With regards to his cluttered desk Einstein famously said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
      3. Famous Patients, Famous Operations, 2002 – Part 3: The Case of the Scientist with a Pulsating Mass by Albert B. Lowenfels, MD
      4. Famous Patients, Famous Operations, 2002 – Part 3: The Case of the Scientist with a Pulsating Mass by Albert B. Lowenfels, MD
      5. The ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm of Albert Einstein by Cohen and Graver

      Thanks to my grandma for sending me the picture of Einstein’s desk that prompted this story.

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      Last Updated on December 2, 2019

      10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

      10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

      Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

      In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

      These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

      1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

      Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

      But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

      Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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      2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

      You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

      The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

      3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

      If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

      Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

      If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

      4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

      Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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      To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

      In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

      5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

      We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

      If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

      Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

      “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

      6. Give for the Joy of Giving

      When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

      One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

      So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

      7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

      Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

      Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

      8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

      When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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      So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

      9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

      Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

      It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

      It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

      10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

      There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

      But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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      Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

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      Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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