Why Hard Work Beats Talent: Uncover the Real Key to Prosperity

Good outcomes are reached not necessarily because of talent. Because of our innate skills. It’s about consistently improving and adding to our portfolio of skills.

Plenty of people throughout your life – family members, friends, teachers, mentors – will tell you to find your talent and keep pursuing it.

But there is only one true way to keep progressing: the realization that hard work beats talent.

This topic of talent vs hard work is something we don’t discuss enough.

When we view talent as something that is obtained only at birth. We stun our progress. We start to operate in a small-scale circle of opportunities that is keeping us away from advancing in the ever-evolving world.

You think that in order to become a writer, for instance, you have to be born a writer. Otherwise, you will never be able to produce a single paragraph.

And if you are not a born writer, you quickly dismiss the possibility of ever trying to be one.

Is this actually true?

Are people who weren’t writing novels since kindergarten capable of becoming bestselling authors?

Is there a way for non-athletic kids to become world-famous sportspeople when they grow up?

In this post, we’ll find out.

First, let’s begin with deconstructing the phrase hard work beats talent…

What Does It Mean When Hard Work Beats Talent?

The concept of hard work beating talent means that a person’s dedication and effort are more important to their prosperity than their inherent abilities or talents. This doesn’t mean that talent is fully excluded from the equation or that it’s not valuable. Rather, that it is not the only factor that determines fruitful outcomes.

A person who comes equipped with a natural gift of some sort. If he solely relies on his default set of skills – without ever spending time improving them – will find it hard to achieve extraordinary success. This person can be good, but not great.

In other words…

Having talent is one thing. Nurturing it is quite another.

The first part is something you have. The second one is something you continuously work to improve.

If talent is viewed as a closed system that allows you to produce X – say, to write well. You will never try to add to it. Meaning that your progress will resemble mostly a flat line.

Talent, when not improved, will help you quickly advance in a field but only get you to a certain stage.

Conversely, if you see the act of writing as a progression. As something that is open, ever-evolving – even if you are indeed talented. You will look for ways to make it better.

Hard work beats talent because you don’t rely on your innate skills – on your talent. You constantly seek ways to improve.

If this is true, why do people then are so obsessed with the concept of talent? Why do some view it as the holy grail of success?

As I wrote in the piece talent vs skill. Talent, or the lack of it, is the greatest excuse ever.

When people accept the notion that only talent breeds success. They use it as an excuse to not work hard. To rest. To soothe themselves with calming thoughts.

“You see, I’m not talented to become an artist. I wasn’t born a good writer,” some say with inner relief.

When you see yourself as an object with predefined qualities. You cripple yourself. You don’t let outside opportunities find their way through the self-created shield of pessimism so you can do and be more.

In contrast, if you accept the concept that in the battle of talent vs hard work, hard work is what truly matters. You will equip yourself with goggles for distant vision.

See that you are not a passive object that cannot be changed. Rather, as an active subject that is in control of his destiny.

When we stop believing that talent is the greatest gift we can have. When we stop thinking that our inner qualities are all we got. Then we are finally free – truly free – to focus on doing what we can do to move forward.

Can Hard Work Truly Beat Talent?

“Robert, you’re not going to make it as a writer. You don’t have the talent. You’re too undisciplined. Your writing is to all over the place. You don’t know how to communicate well. Go to law school or go to business school. I’m telling this to save you a lot of pain.”1

This is what an editor of Esquire told Robert Greene when he was working for the magazine.

But instead of getting angry, the now world-renowned writer allowed this to sink in. He accepted the harsh criticism and used it to improve the way he transcribes words on paper.

Was this helpful?

You can tell. Robert Greene is now a sensational writer. He has a large collection of books under his belt – all extraordinarily successful and translated into various languages. Some of the best-selling titles are The 48 Laws of Power – first published in 1998 – Mastery, The Daily Laws, The 33 Strategies of War, and The Laws Of Human Nature.

However, was he great when young?

You can’t tell that.

Before becoming a full-time author, Greene estimates that he worked about 60 to 65 jobs, including stuff like a construction worker, translator, teaching English, hotel receptionist, etc. While several of these short careers involved writing – a magazine editor and a Hollywood movie writer. His writing journey was long and exhausting. He published The 48 Laws of Power – the book that changed things – at the age of 39. Before that, most of what he wrote was far from exceptional.

Talent can be viewed as an unpolished gem. A raw piece with rough edges and an uneven surface. Typically, it’s not something you want to keep. It might be worth something, but not a lot.

Picture showing how an unpolished gem starts to take shape
The progress of unpolished gem to a marvelous topaz.

The true value, the actual potential of the gem, only shows when you take the time to smoothen the edges and polish the surface.

Which Is Better, Talent Or Hard Work?

Besides the false belief that talent is the only thing you need to achieve heroism. The other misconception is that talent is always something within. That if you don’t have even the slightest sip of a certain trait, you can never reach exceptional results in this area.

This is also untrue.

You can take a skill, something you are not at all familiar with. Something outside yourself, and turn it into part of your system by – you’ve guessed it – working hard.

In sports, there are plenty of athletes who – contrary to common beliefs – started practicing in their fields of interest too late for what is considered the barrier that can lead to exceptional results.

For example, Hakeem Olajuwon – nickname “The Dream”. Is a former professional basketball player. He is considered the all-time great center. However, he did not pick up a ball until he was 15 years old.

Another example is Bernard Hopkins. Considered one of the greatest middleweight professional boxers. He started fighting when he was 23. The reason he started “late” was due to him not finding what he was passionate about.

Hard work is a more reliable predictor of success than talent. The simple reason is that it gives you a growth mindset. The realization that your abilities and intelligence are both things that can be developed and improved. Not things that are set in stone.

A growth mindset means that what you get when born is not fixed. It’s not unchangeable.

If you think that talent is the only way to become great. Then you also think that the lack of it keeps you away from improvement. Therefore, if you are born mediocre in a certain area, you can’t advance.

A growth mindset helps you realize that you are in control of your destiny. You are in control of what is going on in your head.

Having this realization allows you to identify these three things:

  • Who you are?
  • Who you are not?
  • Who you want to be?

The answers to the first two questions will be based on our innate abilities. We are good at singing, or we are not good at singing based on our natural abilities.

But the importance lies in answering the third question:

Who you want to be?

When observing this prompt, you stop looking within. What you can be based on what you already have – which is basically limiting you. And you open your eyes – and mind – for what you can be.

Once you decide the type of person you want to be. And more importantly, once you no longer need to convince yourself that your inherent abilities are stopping you – understand that you can add to them. You’re free to focus on doing the things that cast votes for becoming that type of person.

Some Closing Thoughts

Hard work beats talent, but it is hard.

Having talent eases things. Instead of starting the journey with bare hands, you start with a knife and a stash full of inventory. But precisely the lack of talent can be the best thing that can happen to your life.

When you know that you are not naturally good. When you know that a divined entity missed your pot when skills were distributed in the breeding chamber. You try harder.

There’s an old advertisement that nicely captures this belief. It’s by Avis – a car rental company.

“Avis is only No. 2 in rent a cars. So why go with us? We try harder.”2

“Avis can’t afford not to be nice. When you are not the biggest in rent a cars business, you have to try hard.”3

The attitude of people with talent is: “I’ve got this. I am a natural. I’ll be OK.”

Conversely, the attitude of people without talent is: “I wasn’t born gifted. I have to look for new ways to improve. I have to try harder.”

So, don’t feel bad about the lack of talent. Embrace it and beat talented people through sheer hard work.

Wondering how to make up for the lack of talent? Try these:

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  1. Behind the Brand. Robert Greene – The Reason You’re a Mess is Lack of Control. An interview with Robert Greene on YouTube. On the web: https://youtu.be/-wWhgP2W0gY
  2. You can see the ad on Pinterest, here.
  3. You can see this ad also on Pinterest, here.
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