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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 September 20, 2018

      How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

      How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

      Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

      If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

      1. Breathe

      The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

      • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
      • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
      • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

      Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

      2. Loosen up

      After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

      Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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      3. Chew slowly

      Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

      Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

      Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

      4. Let go

      Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

      The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

      It’s not. Promise.

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      Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

      Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

      21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

      5. Enjoy the journey

      Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

      Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

      6. Look at the big picture

      The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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      Will this matter to me…

      • Next week?
      • Next month?
      • Next year?
      • In 10 years?

      Hint: No, it won’t.

      I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

      Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

      7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

      You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

      Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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      8. Practice patience every day

      Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

      • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
      • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
      • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

      Final thoughts

      Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

      Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

      Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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