Albert Einstein: “The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity .. out of discord, harmony … and out of difficulty, opportunity”


Let me acknowledge, 14 years after writing this article, that this quote is almost certainly not by Einstein, but is more likely to be John Archibald Wheeler’s assessment of how Einstein worked. Back in those days I hadn’t realized that many of the quotes we encounter on the web, including on quotation sites, are misattributed or fabricated. Having offered that mea culpa, here’s the original article.

Out of Clutter Find Simplicity

Work life is messy – not just the untidiness of papers stacked in an in-tray or equipment that hasn’t been put back in its place – the whole thing is incredibly messy because life itself is complex. There’s so much choice, so many decisions to make. There are so many things you could be doing, so much information you could be paying attention to, so many people who you could be networking with.

In our working lives we have to make a conscious effort to stay on track. This job is fun but neither urgent nor important. That job is a chore but it’s crucial. And this other thing isn’t even work!

And this sifting through the myriad possibilities and choosing which to engage with is – potentially – a spiritual practice. When we have a sense of who we want to become, what we want to achieve, what legacy we want to leave behind, and when we consider what we need to be doing right now to make our goals a reality, making decisions becomes much easier. This kind of mental clarity, this constant bearing in mind of our goals, is a vital aspect of spiritual practice. Mindfulness practice can give us the mental space to create order out of the clutter or our lives.

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From Discord Find Harmony

More than anything else the emotional tone of our relations with others is what determines whether we are thrilled to be at work or whether we drag ourselves to the workplace each day with a sinking heart.

It takes a lot to get on with other people. It’s not easy. More than anything we have to actually want harmony, and that in itself is tough. It’s so easy to blame others when relationships go sour. So developing harmony involves first of all recognizing that we have to take responsibility for the quality of our relationships. Sure, there are at least two parties involved but you can never demand that someone else change. You’re the only person that you have control over.

It takes integrity – deciding not to engage in backbiting, deciding to refrain from exaggerating, deciding to focus on what’s most admirable in others.

It takes wisdom – learning to recognize which battles you can win and what you should let slide.

It takes empathy and compassion – realizing that the behavior we find difficult in others is their own response to suffering, their own reaching out for happiness.

Lovingkindness and compassion meditation can help us to find the empathy and generosity of spirit to create harmony in our relationships.

In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity

It’s a cliché to say that difficulties are opportunities in disguise. But one reason that sayings become clichés is simply because they’re so true that people keep repeating them. Another one reason we call saying “clichés” is that we often don’t quite want to believe them. It’s easier to roll our eyes: “Yeah, yeah, that old cliché.”

So let’s just set aside our protective cynicism for a moment. Think of the one thing that you know would make most difference in your life or work – the thing that you never quite get around to doing. Maybe it’s finding more time to reflect, maybe it’s delegating a responsibility, maybe it’s fixing your filing system and getting your desk cleared; you know it would help but you never quite get around to doing it.

Let’s avoid the avoidance game of analyzing in exhausting detail exactly why we never get around to doing this discomfort-generating task. Let’s just say that we’re going to accept that discomfort is okay – that we’re going to be prepared to learn the art of being comfortable with discomfort. Think about that task, and feel the discomfort, acknowledging that it’s there and that it’s okay for it to be there. And then start doing that task.

This is what we call mindfulness – the ability to non-judgmentally notice what’s going on in our experience: the ability to stand back from our experience so that we have freedom of choice, feeling the discomfort but not being controlled by it.

OK, it’s time for me to go clear that desk!

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