What Albert Einstein Taught Me About Wealth Building

Silhouette of businessman with briefcase standing in doorway

Did you know that Albert Einstein once tried to take up golf but quit because he found it too complicated? Seems a little odd doesn’t it, given that he’s the father of modern physics! Here’s the story:

In the late 1930’s, Einstein was urged to take up golf by Dr. Abraham Flexner, the founder and leader of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton University, and an avid golfer himself.

Although Dr. Flexner made many attempts to get Einstein interested in golf, Einstein initially would have none of it. However, after a lot of pleading Einstein finally gave in and decided to give it a try.

Einstein was assigned a young, energetic instructor named Gigi Carnevale to teach him the game. In his first lesson, Carnevale provided Einstein with all the basics of hitting the ball and then let Einstein give it a try. But no matter what Einstein did, he struggled to make contact with the ball. After each of Einstein’s failed attempts, Gigi shouted instructions:

“Keep your head down!”

“Keep your back straight!”

“Bend your knees!”

And on and on and on.

However, Einstein still couldn’t make contact… and Carnevale kept shouting instructions.

As the lesson progressed, Einstein became very frustrated. Finally the scientist had enough. He picked up several golf balls, threw them at his instructor and shouted “CATCH!”. Carnevale swatted at the balls, ducking and dodging to avoid being pummeled, but failed to catch a single golf ball.

“What did you do that for?” cried Carnevale?

“Young man,” Einstein said sternly, “when I throw you one ball, you catch it. However, when I throw you four balls, you catch nothing! So when you teach, make only one point at a time!”

The moral of this story is that if you want to accomplish something worthwhile, you need to focus on just that one thing. Being able to accomplish many large goals at once sounds great, but in practice the person who attempts to do it rarely accomplishes anything. As the Chinese proverb states, “the man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”

In my experience, single-minded focus is the most important determination of whether you’ll achieve a goal. Not self-discipline, not rewards, not willpower, not even motivation. If you can maintain your focus on one goal, you will more often than not achieve that goal.

You would think that focusing on one thing is easy to do, but it’s actually pretty hard.

To illustrate my point of how hard it is for people to focus, let’s look at one of the goals that a majority of people would like to accomplish:

Increase wealth.

The ways to build wealth are endless. Here are just a few examples.

Open your own business.

Invest in real estate.

Invest in the stock market.

Invest in commodities.

Invest in bonds.

Write a bestselling book.

It’s possible that you could become an expert and excel in each of the areas above, but it’s not probable. Why? Because having multiple goals spreads out your focus. With all the many things to learn about each area, it would be impossible to go deep in any one. This means that you’ll waste your time going down rabbit holes that steal the power of focus.

Here’s an example: After hearing about people making money in real estate, Joe decides that he’ll build his fortune there. He buys one book, goes to one seminar and then decides he’s ready to invest in the real estate market. Unfortunately he doesn’t do too well, so he tosses his hands up in the air and decides real estate is not for him and he quits.

Now he hears about people making money in the stock market, so he reads one book on investing, gets a few stock tips out of magazines and then starts buying and selling stocks. After several failed stock investments, he gives up and starts to look for the next thing.

This is a recipe for failure.

The better way is to choose one area and to go deep in that area. And by deep I mean becoming a multi-decade (yes decade) student of that investment area. By focusing on one area, you start to capitalize on all the experience and knowledge you gain from it.  Think of focus like building a skyscraper, with each floor becoming the foundation for the next, as the building gets taller and taller.

Let’s say you keep focusing on one investment area by reading about it, going to seminars, practicing it, and by studying the people who’ve been successful at it. You will soon have focused enough learning on that one subject that you effectively build your skyscraper’s first level.

And once you master each subject in that area, you add another level to your success skyscraper. The longer you keep focusing on that subject, the more levels you will build. Higher and higher you’ll go.

Until one day, you get to stand on top of the skyscraper and look around. You’ll see things you’ve never seen before when you were at ground level. You will be at the top and will have accomplished your goal.

Don’t scatter your power. Keep your thoughts simple, and work on one area at a time. Even the most complicated of subjects can be mastered by slow, progressive, focused learning. After all, if the brilliant Einstein could not focus on more than one thing at a time, what are the chances that anyone could? Maintain your focus on your goal, and build your skyscraper to success.

Be free. Nothing else is worth it.

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  • robbybonfire23

    When I was a young man one of my parents said to me: “You should be well-rounded, know a little bit about a lot of things.” This has to be the WORST advice I have ever been given in my lifetime. In fact, success is directly related to EXPERTISE. Expertise like Tiger Woods’ golf game, like Horowitz or Van Cliburn playing the piano, like Buffet investing, like Donald Trump developing properties, etc. These people focused upon becoming the best in the world in their respective field, and did so.

    The rest of us may never reach that level, but becoming SKILLED in a potentially lucrative arena should be the goal, not being a jack of all trades and a master at none – the sure road to mediocrity and struggle over an entire lifetime.

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  • Viven

    Having a good focus is vital, keeping your eye on one spot, if you try to view too wide an area, it makes sense that things will be missed.

  • KP

    I just subscribed to your blog!

    I found your article very interesting and relevant.

    I agree with you that the elements needed to achieve your goals are:
    Focus on the result
    Modelling what other successful people have done
    Having a plan that you follow no matter what.

  • Chris

    Excellent! You have inspired me to look more closely at my own activities. I am always preaching focused effort, but perhaps not always following through.

  • Jada

    Thank you so much for sharing that Monty. What we focus on, is what will determine our destiny and how we shape it. Well put!

  • Lily

    Absolute fabulous post, Monty. Timely too! :) I was just sharing that same perspective with my sister yesterday, but wasn’t nearly as eloquent. I’ll pass this on to her in the hopes it will resonate with her too.

  • ejur

    Focus on your goal, and the hurdles will automatically move out of sight. Thanks for the lesson :)

    • robbybonfire23

      Quite helpful, thanks.

  • Walter P.

    I agree. Trying to multitask and do everything usually results from not making priorities. It’s non-commitment on a micro scale.