Success is not a zero-sum game: talent and hard work both contribute

Jasmine Sun, Staff Writer

According to the American Dream, all anyone needs to succeed (at a job, at school, in life) is to work hard enough. Regardless of your starting point, you can reach your goal as long as you are ready to put in the blood, sweat and tears necessary.


The reality, of course, is not quite as rosy. Sometimes, no matter the amount of effort you put in, you simply cannot catch up to those that are naturally talented. Even if you practice painting for six hours every day, you may still never compare to Edmund Thomas Clint, a child prodigy that created over 30,000 paintings by the age of seven.


This is further exacerbated in disciplines that can only have one ‘victor’ (such as the Olympics). Even if you try as hard as you can, you are at a major disadvantage if you are inherently unathletic, because the Olympics is a competition against other highly talented people (rather than a profession that counts personal achievement as success).


“Talent in the end is a multiplier that hard work can’t overcome,” Coppell High School sophomore Frank Zhang said. “As long as a talented person works at least a little bit, they can overcome anyone that works hard [and is not talented]. There are also some things you can’t just get with hard work.”


But, talent can only bring you so far. Talent by itself is comparable to a diamond that has just been dug up from the earth – valuable, but crude and unrefined. It requires constant practice (and the experience gained from that practice) to truly hone that talent enough for you to gain mastery of something.


Without hard work, Edmund Thomas Clint could never have painted that much. A talented person can paint one beautiful painting, but only a hardworking talented person can paint thousands of beautiful paintings.


“If you’re willing to work hard, and you’re willing to recognize your weaknesses, and try to find ways to overcome them, you can overcome areas where people have advantages,” CHS Anatomy and Physiology teacher Stefanie Clarke said. “When people have the advantages, they don’t learn how to work hard. A disadvantage can turn into advantage because you learn from a young age what hard work is actually like.”


In addition, hard work can give you a perspective on success that natural talent simply cannot. Hard work gives you reason to appreciate the journey, rather than just the end result. Through your efforts, you come to reevaluate the ultimate significance and purpose of your goals. Your success is given more meaning through your hard work, and it feels more fulfilling to you as a person.


“Hard work makes you develop a different definition of success. Success is not just having a big house or a nice car,” CHS senior Janice Kao said. “If you work hard, once you know you’ve done your best, that feels like success in of itself.”


So, is it talent or hard work that contributes more to success? The answer is not so simple; it depends on your definition of success.


If success is defined in relation to other people, then talent does matter. If success is defined as individual achievements, then hard work can overcome inherent deficiencies in talent. If hard work and talent are paired, you can surpass almost any obstacles.


For example, in soccer, you might define success as getting named Most Valuable Player at a competition. In that case, you are pitted against several other players, each one incredibly good at soccer and vying for one spot. If they are talented and lazy, it becomes a closer competition, but you still have to exert much more effort to even match them, let alone surpass them.


By contrast, if you define success as overcoming a poverty-stricken childhood to play on a team, then even if you trip over your feet every time you play, you can still practice long hours and do several jobs in order to compensate for the disadvantages. Talent matters less in this situation, even though it does give you a boost.


So the moral of this is: it is not a simple matter of ‘hard work beats talent every time’ or ‘hard work hardly works’. Both talent and hard work contribute to the success of an individual. Even if you work hard, you may never reach the level of a talented person, as harsh as it may sound. But on the flip side, even if you are talented, you cannot be lazy or else you can easily get surpassed by an untalented but hardworking individual.