Nikola Tesla died penniless, and that's alright

Nikola Tesla died penniless, and that's alright

Nikola Tesla has been making the news rounds lately, probably due to his recent birthday. Happy late birthday Mr. Tesla. And after reading a few articles on his achievements, many of which are very well known to me as I am a huge admirer of his and have been for decades now, I noticed a recurring theme. Many articles focused on his money troubles, or supposed troubles, and his difficult times he faced in achieving his many goals. Many articles ended on a sad and somewhat morose tone. They paid extra attention on the last moments of Mr. Tesla's life. The last few years of an inventors elderly life, tired no doubt, but proud of every last creation.

Why we shouldn't focus on failures too much

They claim he died penniless and alone, which may or may not be true, we can't for certain tell. But we seem to put the entire weight of his life in those moments, as if he is the only person who will pass with a low bank account.

So today's post is about that. Not about the tragic last days of Mr. Tesla's life. But on why we seem to always focus on failures of great thinkers and on why we should focus more on the magnificent life that they undoubtedly had. Because I can assure you, he had a phenomenal existence in the 80% of his life in between birth and death. One that I would hope we could all get to experience to some degree some day.

So anyone interested in learning more about Nikola Tesla's life and mind really, I highly recommend his autobiography, Nikola Tesla: My Inventions. It not only goes deep into his experiments and how they came to be, but you can detect the joy that he felt in doing so. His words are alive and popping out of the pages with metaphysical concepts that rival those of ancient texts. One can argue all day about the "factual" nature of such things, but the truth is, Nikola Tesla didn't need to prove anything with his words. His inventions did all the talking for him.

Assuming we all created something that changed the world

We can't forget that inventions take time to manifest. They start with an idea, sure, but then that idea has to come into physical manifestation. Which takes time, money, labor, parts and many a time good friends. And years upon years of work. This is what we call "life". The doing of things, in layman's terms. Not the actual thing itself, because that's just one tiny fragment of the whole. But the growing of it. The nurturing of it and the inevitable rise of it after many repeated failures.

You only fail when you give up. There are many school of thoughts on failure. Some motivational speakers say do it and do it often and to keep doing it until it works. Others teach that you should know when to quit. Who's right? Who's wrong? Neither. Both. There's no actual answer. Because you can't see the outcome until you choose one of those paths. Unless you're into the multiverse theorem, in which case, they are both correct and occurring always.

But imagine having an idea one faithful day about a way to power an entire city because you recognized something about the energy source and the way that it worked. And so you get to work. And you work and you work and one day you see it. An entire city. Lit up. Life is built in those moments. If only one could be a fly on the wall in those days. Nikola Tesla would put many CEO's and startup founders to shame I'm sure. He wasn't counting his pennies to make this happen. That was the last thing on his mind I assure you. And so failure did not exist for him in this sense. He walked forward and into the unknown and at the end magic happened.

The insane adventures that was his life

You can't be a Serbian born immigrant, who migrated to another country to work for the world's greatest inventor at the time, change the way that electricity is manipulated and used, created over 300 patents, hang out with cool dudes like Mark Twain, throw elaborate parties and harness the power of energy in a way that has yet to be uncovered again, and not say you had a fun time doing it. You just can't.

that shit sounds fun...

Nikola did not hold back his life. He didn't save for retirement, like many of us are warned we should do. He didn't buy a house and get into a stable relationship. The man lived to uncover the hidden secrets of life and enjoyed every last breath of it. And that's what we should be focusing on more often, in both his and our own lives. The parts that are full of life and that breed this energy that we all crave, but that we have forgotten how to get to.

Nikola Tesla was not a poor man. He was an inventor with hundreds of patents and worked for very prestigious individuals. He was known around town, and due to his compulsive nature, restaurants were already prepared for his arrival and his favorite tables set up. He hung out with like minded individuals such as Mark Twain, Czech composer Dvorak and Rudyard Kipling, to name a few.

The appreciation of life that many will never know

The state of being that Nikola lived in will only be achieved by a few. Call it a gift perhaps from birth. Call it a freak accident, when you are born during a massive lighting storm. Call it what you will, but if you look around you in your life, at the people that make up your reality, how many of them can you say are appreciating life to the fullest extent that is possible?

If we could see the wind patterns that surround us every moment of every day, we could be said to have a higher fundamental understanding of reality. But we can't, so we call it empty space, and refer to it non-nonchalantly every so often when we notice it. But if we could physically see it, we would have a much higher appreciation for it. The same can be said for most of the energies that help to create our reality, whether solar, electrical, magnetic, etc. If we could understand them on a personal level just a tiny fragment more, we would live with more wonder and curiosity in our lives.

It's safe to say that Nikola Tesla saw this early on in his life, and it only got stronger and more visible to him as his days moved forward. His autobiography paints this picture better than I could. But he saw the world through a different filter than most of us. He drowned out much of the noise, and he focused on what was there. And then he learned how to harness it in what seems to us to be magical ways.

Dying penniless

If the inevitable goal is to work and work until we have are old beings with grand wealth, then I'll say that we missed the entire point. Would you prefer to die with a full bank account? If you think of that question for just a fragment of second, you would naturally answer "of course not, what kind of stupid question is that". But if we were to ask "Would you want to die with an empty bank account?". The answer would be the same no doubt. And so we live in paradoxes like this all day long, unsure of what we want, constantly switching back and forth. And we miss the whole point of living in the process. "Should I live today", we ask? I'll save today and live tomorrow.

We live in this manner. Where we work and gather now, only to enjoy later. A later which never usually arrives because knowing how to "enjoy" life is not a given. It is unique to every single individual the way it comes about. It is a state of being that must be acquired and learned and practiced. And if we continue to postpone it, we will never know what it really is to enjoy our lives.

Mr. Tesla's last days were spent daydreaming of the future and of the present in an apartment, in the city that he undoubtedly loved, paid in full by a friend of his and took care of one of his most beloved species of animal. He died understanding things which many won't ever begin to comprehend, but he did so humbly, feeding pigeons. Most of us will only wish that we could die in that manner one day. So while failure is important for each and every one us to grow into our finer selves, let us never dwell on the failure more than it is required to do the growing. May we revel in the aftermath of the failure instead, and realize that failure can only be truly defined by the individual and not by those around him.

And more importantly, let's celebrate the amazing life that is Nikola Tesla and to the future for which he undoubtedly helped to create. As he so aptly put it:

The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine.

Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.

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