Albert Einstein? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: A blinkered pursuit of success can lead an individual to ignore other aspects of life such as adventure, humor, spirituality, exploration, altruism, and curiosity. Albert Einstein apparently offered pertinent advice. Here are four versions:
- Try not to become a person of success but rather a person of value.
- Do not try to become a person of success but try to become a person of value.
- Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.
- Try to become not a man of success but try rather to become a man of value.
Would you please examine the provenance of this expression?
Quote Investigator: Some months before Albert Einstein’s death in April 1955 an editor of “LIFE” magazine named William Miller visited the famous scientist at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. The journalist was accompanied by his son Pat Miller and by Professor William Hermanns of San Jose State in California. Einstein responded to the son’s desire for guidance in life. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.
Never lose a holy curiosity. Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.
The text above appeared in the May 2, 1955 issue of “LIFE”. The initial statement used the word “man” to designate an individual of unspecified sex instead of “person” which often occurs in modern instances. Also, over time variant phrases have proliferated based on compression and word re-ordering.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In June 1955 a high school graduation speaker in Statesville, North Carolina paraphrased the illustrious physicist’s remarks: 2
Einstein’s advice to a young man was to try to become a man of value instead of a man of success. A man of success takes more from life than he gives it and the man of value gives more than he takes. One of the greatest scientists of all ages put service to humanity above so-called success in life.
Also in June 1955 the salutatorian of a high school in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania presented a streamlined instance of Einstein’s statement during a graduation speech: 3
Einstein did not want to be successful—he wanted to be a man of value. He presented this idea in his own words when he said: “Try not to become a man of success—but rather a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.”
In 1992 a newspaper columnist in Fort St. James, British Columbia, Canada employed a version with “person” instead of “man”: 4
Success is not found in the value of things possessed, rather in the value of the things which possess us. As Albert Einstein once expressed it: “Do not try to become a person of success but try to become a person of value.”
In 1997 the syndicated Cryptoquote puzzle used a version of the saying as a solution: 5
Saturday’s Cryptoquote: TRY NOT TO BECOME A PERSON OF SUCCESS BUT RATHER A PERSON OF VALUE.—ALBERT EINSTEIN
In conclusion, there is substantive evidence that Albert Einstein did make this remark. QI suggests using the version printed in 1955 in “LIFE” magazine which was recorded by journalist William Miller. The other instances were probably derived directly or indirectly from the words in “LIFE”.
Image Notes: Orange figure helping a white figure on a staircase from Peggy_Marco at Pixabay. Portrait of Albert Einstein taken in 1935 at Princeton accessed via Wikimedia Commons. First-place winner on platform from 3dman_eu at Pixabay.
(Great thanks to szescstopni and Michael Wood whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Szescstopni pointed to the citation in “LIFE”.)
- 1955 May 2, LIFE, Death of a Genius: His fourth dimension, time, overtakes Einstein, Subsection: Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity’ by William Miller (Editor at LIFE magazine), Start Page 62, Quote Page 64, Time Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1955 June 2, Statesville Record & Landmark, (Statesville Daily Record), Man of Value, (Excerpt from address by J. R. Brokhoff, Lutheran minister), Quote Page 4, Column 2, Statesville, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1955 June 10, The Daily Record (The Pocono Record), Estonia Native Delivers Graduation Valedictory, Quote Page 5, Column 1 and 2, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1992 October 21, The Caledonia Courier, Light of Living by David Wilkinson, Quote Page 16, Column 1, Fort St. James, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1997 July 21, The Daily News (The Galveston Daily News), Cryptoquote (A King Features Service), Quote Page A8, Column 2, Galveston, Texas. (Newspapers_com) ↩