Successful Failures – Albert Einstein


This is part five of a series by *AT* contributor Emily Thomas. When we think about people whose lives we would like to closely emulate, more often than not we think of people who have accomplished great things and led successful lives. However, not everyone who is on top has experienced success after success, and some of the most memorable people in history have faced great obstacles to reach their full potential. Not only is this list informative, but it serves as a great self-esteem booster for any time you are feeling as though you can’t strive to become the next Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, or Steve Jobs.

I’ll admit it: I was surprised when I learned about this man’s path to becoming arguably the most intelligent person to ever live was paved with bumps and obstacles. If we look up the definition of the word “genius” in the dictionary, would it be surprising if you saw his photo printed next to it? Probably not, but this physics genius did not always show such promise.

While most children begin to say their first words around the age of 1 or 1 1/2, our friend Albert did not learn to speak until he was four years old. When he was 7, he could not read and keep up with the rest of the students in his class, causing his teachers to believe that he might be mentally handicapped. That’s right, the “smartest man in the world” was once considered mentally handicapped. Eventually Einstein was expelled from school, and exhibited anti-social behavior.

When he was 16, Einstein applied to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich (later the Eidgenössische Polytechnische Schule). He failed to maintain the overall grade requirement, but did exceptionally well in math and physics. After graduation, he could not find a teaching post and began working at a patent office instead. His primary duties were examining patents related to electricity and electromagnetism; the only problem is, he was passed over for promotion until he “fully mastered machine technology”. However, it wouldn’t be long until he completed the foundation of his life’s work.

By 1911, Einstein had completed his theory of relativity, and had postulated that light from another star would be bent by the sun’s gravity.This was famously confirmed in 1919 when British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington measured star positions that were close to the sun during a solar eclipse and found that they were out of place. Even then, Einstein had his doubters! Despite this controversy and the divorce of his wife happening in the same year, Einstein would be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921. His letter to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II was even instrumental in convincing America to build an atomic bomb before the Germans did.

Although it may have taken him longer than others, Einstein achieved lasting success that few others have achieved since. His name is known to all as being synonymous with the highest level of intelligence, and his famous equation is known even to young children. We may never see a man of his intellect and influence again for many, many years.

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