Jan 252012

The story we heard:

Motivational speakers love to tell this tale, inspiring underachievers with the story of this German kid who was just like you! Despite his sincerest efforts he could never manage to do well in his math exams, and struggled desperately with physics while working as a lowly patent clerk.

The truth:

Well, no you can’t. As it turns out, Einstein was a mathematical prodigy, and before he was 12, he was already better at arithmetic and calculus than you are now. Einstein was in fact so smart that he believed school was holding him back, and his parents purchased advanced textbooks for him to study from. Not only did he pass math with flying colors, it’s entirely possible that he was actually teaching the class by the end of semester.

The idea that Einstein did badly at school is thought to have originated with a a 1935 Ripley’s Believe it or Not! trivia column.


There’s actually a good reason why it’s a bad idea to include Robert Ripley among the references in your advanced university thesis. The famous bizarre trivia “expert” never cited his sources, and the various “facts” he presented throughout his career were an amalgamation of things he thought he read somewhere or heard from somebody. The feature’s title probably should have been: Believe it or Not! I Get Paid Either Way.

When he was first shown this supposed expose of his early life, Einstein allegedly just laughed, and probably went on to solve another 12 mysteries of quantum physics before dinner. By the time he finally kicked the bucket in 1955, it’s entirely possible that “failure” was the one concept that Albert Einstein had never managed to master.

Of course, this just reaffirms what we have always suspected, deep down: success really is decided at birth, and your life will never be better than it is right now. Sorry about that.


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