Imagine for a moment that one of the most well-known and revered minds of the 20th century couldn’t find a job in his desired profession. Between 1902 and 1909, Albert Einstein was not a physics professor or university department head. He didn’t work in a think-tank or on a special government project. He made a living by evaluating patents in Switzerland’s Federal Office for Intellectual Property.
During his school years, Einstein alienated some professors by studying independently rather than attending classes. These actions later haunted him when he needed the same professors’ recommendations to acquire a job in academia. Lacking their support, he accepted a role that didn’t inspire him. It wasn’t a job in Physics, research, or teaching. It only paid the bills. If that can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.
Unlike many of us, Einstein used his job strategically. It paid well, did not demand much time or energy, and allowed him the time to focus on his real interest, theoretical physics. In 1905 while still working for the patent office, Einstein published 4 papers that changed the scientific community’s understanding of space, time, mass, and energy. Two of which are commonly known today as the Theory of Relativity and E=mc2. This period was so remarkable it is referred to as his “Annus Mirabilis” or miracle year. Later, in the fall of 1909, Einstein left the patent office to pursue his desired profession as the chair of theoretical physics at the University of Zurich. He later won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 and never returned to a career evaluating patents.
Even the most brilliant among us can be derailed but those setbacks can be transformed into advantages.
Instead of accepting your fate or allowing circumstances to diminish your self-esteem, keep your focus on the ultimate goal. Einstein stated that 8 hours of each day were dedicated to the patent office, 8 to sleep, and 8 to his passion. It’s a fair assumption that he didn’t work evenings or try to beat the boss to the office in the morning. He didn’t dedicate weekends to patent research or spend holidays trying to advance his career in intellectual property. That time was spent writing papers that changed the world. Do your job but devote your extra resources to impassioned pursuits.
When obstacles block your path follow Einstein’s example. Meet expectations from 9-to-5 then shift your focus to the things that provide meaning. Performing adequately in the office allows you to be extraordinary doing what you love. Following this strategy just might produce your miracle year.