On the Hardness of Important ThingsAugust 15th, 2014 · 25 comments
Earlier today, I was browsing Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings blog and stumbled across a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to his son Hans Albert in the fall of 1915.
This date, of course, is important in the lifetime of Albert Einstein, as this was right after he finished writing one of the masterpieces of modern science: his general theory of relativity.
(To paraphrase my astronomy teacher at Dartmouth: “most scientific breakthroughs are expected, many different people are closing in on the same idea, but general relativity, this came out of nowhere, it was magic.”)
One quote, in particular, caught my attention:
“What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.” [emphasis mine]
Einstein’s reference to “a lot of strenuous work” emphasizes an important reality: accomplishing important things is really, really hard. (He’s guilty of understatement here. The strain of proving the theory turned his hair white and nearly shattered his family and his health.)
It’s easy to play lip service to this idea, and many of us do, but what frustrates me is that there’s so little in the advice literature that directly addresses the nuances of this requirement.
It’s not obvious how to prepare yourself for really hard things. What should you expect? What changes are necessary to the way you approach your life and work? How do you know when to persist? (I mention these questions not because I have great answers, but because I want better ones.)
Seth Godin’s book, The Dip, is an important initial meditation on this subject, and one I found immensely useful, but I’m not aware of many other books that tackle this topic. This is a shame given its importance to the goal of making a mark.