Einstein at the Patent Office

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
To what end?

“Albert Einstein, 1924 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and Time Magazine’s Person of the Century.” This sounds a lot better than “Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, Patent Clerk.” Yet, that’s almost how things went.

Einstein had always wanted to be a mathematics and physics professor. However, his teachers did not think highly of him, so did not recommend him for a university teaching post when he graduated. 

Einstein was profoundly unhappy and felt he had gone off track with his career. After two years of almost no work, a former classmate’s father helped get him a job as a patent clerk at the Federal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern, Switzerland.

The End.

Had that really been the end, we would perhaps to this day not know what we do about the nature of mass and energy, and connection between space and time. We would not have the advances we do in theoretical physics or be able to reap the benefits of its application.

Einstein did not let the fact that he could not attain (at that time) his larger goal of teaching at a university stifle his creativity. In fact, he used his circumstances for the exact opposite- to fuel his creativity.

In his time away from work, he continued to pour his creative energy into reasoning through complex problems in physics and writing papers. He also formed a small club that met weekly to discuss science and philosophy. As he became more efficient at his work, he had time left over to work on his own calculations and writing. He incorporated the knowledge he was gaining from patents for electromagnetic devises into his own work.  

In later years, Einstein spoke of his time at the patent office as “that temporal monastery where I hatched my most beautiful ideas”.  

He submitted his papers for publication, received his PhD, and after seven years as a patent clerk, accepted a position as a professor at the University of Zürich. And the rest is history.

While we will most likely never make the discoveries Einstein did, we can learn to apply his approach when our efforts at large-scale creative endeavours are frustrated:
– don’t put your creative energy on the back burner
– absorb creative ideas around you
– use your spare time to pour out your creativity
– find people to discuss your ideas with (this could be through blogging!)
– keep doing what you love even if it’s not in the way you thought you would

Besides, what better way to spend your time than to keep being creative!

Image source


Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Train

She stands at the platform, shoulders slumped, bags dropped at her sides. The metallic mass fades farther and farther into the distance until nothing but track remains.

There is no one to argue with, no one from whom to demand a refund.

There won’t  be a second chance to audition, no second chance to play the lead.

Image source

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Filed under Creativity, Writing

4 responses to “Einstein at the Patent Office

  1. Am I to understand this poor soul in “The Train” missed it? I’m standing there with her in tears! Yet, I must think that, as with Einstein, her, and me, God has another plan, a better plan. She and I are still standing with our bags seeming heavier by the minute. We’ll move on after the disappointment wears off and the creative energy flows again.

    Zoe, your imagination is marvelous! I enjoy your blog immensely. Blessings to you…

    • Yes, I left the poor girl alone at the train station with no chance to catch another. Thanks for keeping her company. Glad you’ll be moving on from the station and encouraging her to come along.
      True, often we think we know the destination we need to get to but we only see through a glass darkly. There may be a different, better destination for us and we just have to put one foot in front of the other to get there.

  2. This is fabulous, Zoe: you have taught me something so new today. What a wonderful attitude to a job Einstein had! It shows me we are never anywhere by accident, that each day, lived to the full, fulfils its own purpose. Miraculous stuff.
    I wonder what happens on the station platform in the next few minutes….

    • “each day, lived to the full, fulfils its own purpose”- well said. Something I know in my head, but not fully in the rest of me. Taking the time to really dive into the concept and interact with others on it solidifies it in me. Thanks for teaching me in this way!
      As for the girl, the world is wide open. Perhaps a little chocolate will help the “disappointment to wear off and the creative energy to flow again.” Sometimes the small things can help a great deal 🙂

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