Hard work beats talent

By Ed Latimore Last modified

Having a talent for something is great, but all it really does is move you a little closer to the finish line. You still have to do the hard work of actually winning the race. Becoming world class–the level at which you are in the company of the greatest on the planet in you craft–is the race.

The race is incredibly long and tiresome. Many runners, even with the head start that talent gives them, do not make it to the finish line–the point of world class ability. Others have no such head start but no matter how hard they work, they falter at the end. Only a select few, made up of those with a head start and those without, ever finish.

The race takes years and you can’t see the finish line until you’ve passed it. This is what talent doesn’t account for and why it often dies out undeveloped. Initial talent makes someone look great at first, but eventually they end up competing against those with talent as well.

What separates the talented from those that produce results and gain accolades is putting in the work to improve their weaknesses instead of relying only on talent. The lazy are always the first to go in a group of talented people.

The race never ends. You just get to the point where you and a few select people are the only ones still running. Those not willing to put in the work dropped out of the race many miles ago. Now the only competitors left in the field are those with talent AND work ethic.

Perhaps there is someone still sticking around with exceptional talent but they’ll drop out because of the hard work required to keep up. Those that have made it to this point primarily on hard work will run till the end but never take the lead. The talented who work hard will lead the pack. But to get to this point in the race, where only world class remains, months and years of non-world class performance is necessary.

People have an interesting yet predictable response if you ask them what talent is. Most people think of talent as a display of exceptional ability and skill. People generally agree that a particular talent is innate, as well. While we can agree that you can improve your baseline level of ability, certain levels of performance are reserved only for the talented. When pursuing success, talent is a great asset but it is neither necessary nor sufficient.

If you have nothing particularly special about your mind or body, you always have hard work. The ability to work your ass off is underrated as a talent because we consider talent something special, unique, and largely unteachable. Either you have it or you don’t. Maybe you have a genetic tendency for taking on long, tedious work. Even if you don’t, working your ass off is a talent you can learn.

The reason the ability to work hard is so valuable is because very few people do it. Even in the highest levels of competition, many competitors never learned how to persist when faced with real challenges. It’s similar to what smart kids eventually experience.

They coast through their studies until they come up against something that isn’t as easy to solve. Rather than double down their effort, many conclude they simply are not talented enough to do the work. On the other hand, the hard worker immediately gets to work on the unpleasant parts of the task and is determined to slog through it in hopes of finding a solution.

The ability to do this is valuable because it is rare at all levels. Everyone from your factory worker to your CEO would rather avoid the unpleasantness of a hard problem. If you can attack difficult things with gusto and a high pain tolerance, there will always be a well-compensated place for you in the world. The most under rated talent is the ability to work your ass off. Therefore, it is immensely valuable.

The only talent necessary is the willingness to work harder than anyone. There’s always a high demand for people willing to do what others won’t. Most people are obsessed with the idea of working smart and saving energy.

Become obsessed with working hard. Be grateful when something doesn’t come easy to you. It forces you to learn the value of hard work. When life becomes a battle of attrition, only those that have learned the value of hard work over talent will be left standing.