To The Class of 2017: Life Lessons From Albert Einstein

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

I’ve always been fascinated by Albert Einstein, so when the National Geographic channel announced they were producing a mini-series about him (Genius), it immediately became must-see TV in the Sapp household.

Einstein is fascinating for his once-in-a-generation kind of intellect. But my interest in the man extends far beyond his facility with physics equations. Einstein holds a unique place among scientists and continues to inspire people from all walks of life because of the playfulness with which he viewed the world and the joy he ascribed to the human experience.

He understood science as an art form and approached his life with a contagious sense of child-like wonder that continues to inspire his students and admirers today.

So, to the class of 2017, be more like Albert Einstein.

Embrace the Beauty of Simplicity

When ideas are complex, it means we don’t understand them well enough yet. In a profession that fills chalkboards with complex calculations, Einstein described the previously unrecognized relationship between matter and energy using the simplest of equations—e=mc2. And he described complex ideas about relativity and the properties of time using everyday language that even the average person could begin to grasp.

When our lives are complex, it means we don’t understand our purpose well enough yet. Discover who you are, embrace who God created you to be, and live into that singular truth.

Trust your unique relationship with God. Then trust yourself. And your life will become powerfully simple—so simple, in fact, that even the average person will be able to grasp the beauty of who you are.

Genius airs on the National Geographic channel on Tuesdays at 9 PM.

Genius airs on the National Geographic channel on Tuesdays at 9 PM.

Harness the Power of Your Individuality
Your education has sought to form you as an individual, but it has also worked to fit you into a reproducible mold. Your employers will seek to do the same. Your ability to fit into and work within a system will be invaluable to you as you make important contributions within the organizational structures that compose our modern-day society.

But never forget that you are more than a cog in a machine. Conformity will help you get along; your individuality will help you get ahead.

Einstein struggled with authority and institutional hierarchy. He refused to conform in ways that would have doomed the prospects of people less gifted than he was.  

But his giftedness was more than intellectual. His giftedness included an innate and enduring sense of self-confidence that allowed him to more fully harness the power of his individuality.

We can learn the value of conformity from Einstein’s struggles—and the value of individuality from his successes.

Cultivate a Continuing Sense of Curiosity
Engage the world as a child would—with an active sense of imagination. Never become so grown-up that the myriad mysteries of life become less than wonderful to you. Einstein maintained a curious interest in all kinds of things as an adult--playing the violin, sailing, and hiking among them--and he always enjoyed playing with children.

So embrace a broad range of interests. You need not master them all. You need only let them master you—music, art, literature, baseball, history, fashion, architecture, technology, design. Develop the interests that spark your imagination and pursue them with determined curiosity. 

Be Persistently Resilient
Einstein demonstrated the courage to confidently pursue a dream or an idea even if no one else gave him much of a chance at success. And he didn’t give up even when the importance of his work went unnoticed. 

Although his colleagues were always aware of his potential, the genius of Einstein's initial work went largely unrecognized, in part because he didn’t have the right credentials or academic standing to be taken seriously.

But his persistence as he worked outside the normal structures of his profession—without a professorship or university position—paid off. Don’t be afraid to keep trying. And don’t be afraid to hold onto the big idea of your life, even if no one else gives you much of a chance.

Persistence and resilience may be the two most important predictors of life satisfaction and accomplishment.

And, finally, if all of this seems like too much to remember, remember this:  the world you’re entering is serious enough already. So don’t take yourself too seriously. Smile. Laugh. Goof off. Sleep in. Binge watch. Play.

And, remember that life is a gift, that God is love, and that you were created to be a uniquely powerful force for good in the world.

See you Sunday.