Ooookay people… if this rather large light bulb dangling from the ceiling in my newly refurbished office doesn’t qualify me for a ‘moment’ I really don’t know what will. The phrase ‘lightbulb moment’ is designed to convey the arrival of an inspirational thought in all the time it takes to illuminate well… a light bulb. Given that I am running on empty at the moment with lockdown having robbed me of huge chunks of my confidence, motivation and ‘give a shitness’ (yes it has affected my use of language too) I decided to research how I might manipulate the laws of attraction to avail myself of such a moment.
The origins of the lightbulb, now a humble household staple are more ambiguous than you might expect. Most of us are inclined to credit the US inventor Thomas Edison as the person behind the invention of the lightbulb in 1879. In fact, it was the British chemist Warren de La Rue who solved the scientific challenges relating to this concept some 40 years earlier. However, his efforts were not commercially viable and in 1878 another British scientist Joseph Swan was able to rectify this with his version of the lightbulb but, in doing so, his adaptations lead to the technical issue of rapid burnout. Enter Thomas Edison who was the first to solve both the economic and scientific challenges of light bulb production. It is clearly evident, however, that there was a huge body of work involved before he was able to reach this point in a process that is still evolving during present times.
If the lightbulb was created by a series of moments rather than one in particular then I was to discover that the same might also be said of the eureka moment. A word first uttered by the ancient Greek Archimedes after he suddenly developed an understanding of a previously incomprehensible problem whilst taking a bath, eureka has become synonymous with that Aha moment of sudden clarity. Whilst Archimedes wrote a lot about the laws of buoyancy, he never actually penned a word about his Aha moment in the bathtub. However, some 200 years after this event was presumed to have taken place it was a Roman named Vitruvius who included the story in his book on architecture. It is possible that Vitruvius either misinterpreted the origins of the story or, that it was simply one of those tales which was improved by the telling over time.
Again it is likely that Arhcimdedes’ sudden understanding of a complex concept owed much more to a series of moments in the same way as those which lead to the production of the light bulb. The consequences of this realisation seemed to be much more far-reaching than I had at first supposed. What if a rogue Granny Smith falling onto the head of Isaac Newton was not the exact moment at which he discovered the laws of gravity? Using the same logic is it likely that it took a bit more than a few cows appearing in a dream to help Einstein come up with the following?
‘When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute-and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.’
Am I then to conclude that I have wasted an inordinate amount of time waiting for that lightbulb or eureka moment to arrive when in reality no such thing exists? Apparently, the odds of me sleeping with Boris Johnson (lockdown brain again folks, my analogies ain’t what they was) are statistically higher than finding myself a recipient of a bolt from the blue.
As a writer, I scour the internet daily searching for inspiration only to end up afflicted with unbridled procrastination instead. I have contemplated my naval, breathed more deeply and regularly than a deep-sea diver and have asked the universe to manifest my inner desires to the point of rudeness. The truth is, that even if I did happen to stumble upon a worthy contender for a lightbulb or eureka moment, then it would be only the beginning of the story. In a world that seeks instant gratification and where success is defined by the number of Facebook blue thumbs you can attract, it is easy to forget the things that lead up to any sudden onset of clarity. In each of the cases concerning the aforementioned contributions to our world, the people behind them were all components of a much bigger picture.
A primary school teacher gave me the following quote many years ago and I included it in my book: The Funny Thing About Being a Widow? (available on Amazon and Kobo)
‘success comes not to extraordinary people but, to ordinary people who achieve extraordinary things’
It reminds me that I am often guilty of chasing rainbows instead of building the stairways which would allow me to reach them. In a society where we live out our lives in an increasingly virtual sense, we are becoming ever more detached from the core values that seem now, to belong to a much different era. The strong work ethic instilled in me from a very young age competes often with a desire to find a route less arduous even though my heart tells me there is no such path.
To conclude I have discovered two things as I wrote this article. The first is that the lightbulb or eureka moment is not a singular concept and waiting for the arrival of one is counterproductive to achieving anything worthwhile. The second is that when you combine a flash of inspiration with drive, ambition, tenacity and hard work then the very opposite becomes possible. Perhaps this realisation is the closest I am ever going to get to a lightbulb moment…for now at least.