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Hard work beats talent

Hard work will always beat talent. In this article, learn why and how to work harder than the competition.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

Talent is great, but all it does is give you a head start.

You still have to work hard to win.

Hard work will always beat talent. In this article, learn why and how to work harder than the competition.

Why does hard work beat talent?

Anything worth having is hard to get. Any game worth winning is naturally going to attract several different players.

Some will have a great deal of talent. Some will have developed their skill. Some will be there by the concentrated power of their will.

If you have to bet on who’s going to win, always bet on the competitor who has the greatest will power, work ethic, and desire to be a winner.

The others may have a head start, but they will not last when things get tough. Talent is used to things being easy and skill counts on things going smoothly.

Only the ones who are willing to work hard are prepared for the rough ride that you must go on for anything that you desire. Only a select few with great will, desire, and the ability to suffer will ever succeed.

Success takes years–and it may take even longer than that.

Talent doesn’t prepare you for the grind. Skill doesn’t prepare for the inevitable plateaus you’ll endure. The ability to work hard and grind it out when things don’t look like they’re going to turn out well is why you should always bet on the hard worker.

They’ll give it their all every time, no matter how skilled they are or how talented the competition is.

Initial talent makes you look great, at first. You blow by the rest of the field, but eventually, you’ve gotta face people just like you. These people have talent as well.

What separates the merely talented from those who produce results and gain accolades? Work. Hard, disgusting, back-breaking, you never know when the end is coming, work.

The type of work that improves your weaknesses rather than just skating by on talent. Those with talent but who are lazy and the weak are always the first casualties of competition.

What is talent?

People have an interesting yet predictable response if you ask them to define talent.

Most people think of talent as a display of exceptional ability and skill. People also generally agree that talent is innate.

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.

My life completely turned around when I stopped believing in the myth of talent and instead focused on becoming as skilled and effective as I could.

Working hard is a talent

If you have nothing particularly special about your mind or body, you always have the ability to bust your ass. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with hard work.

The ability to work your ass off is an underrated talent.

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 develop.

Hard work is so valuable because very few people do it.

Even at the highest levels of competition, many competitors never learned how to persist when faced with real challenges. Smart kids experience this all the time.

Boxing Lessons on Grit, Resilience, and Antifragility

In this e-book, I teach you 20 mindset lessons I learned from my 13-1-1 professional heavyweight boxing career.

Use these to conquer any challenges you face, in the ring or in life.

Learn how to develop the mindset of a fighter, from a fighter, so you can win the battles you face.

But now

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Smart kids coast through their studies until they encounter something that isn’t as easy to solve. Rather than double down their effort, many conclude they simply aren’t smart enough to do the work.

They believe their ability is fixed.

Something amazing happens when they believe that their hard work–not their talent–is what’s responsible for their success. When students shift to a growth-based mindset and approach problems from this angle, they immediately see improvement.

This something I’ve always intuitively suspected, but a slew of scientific research confirms what I’ve observed for years.

From a study conducted by Stanford University on the impact of an MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) designed “to change students’ ideas about mathematics and their own potential and improve their mathematics achievement”:

“Many students hold damaging fixed mindsets, believing that their intelligence is unchangeable. When students shift to a growth mindset (believing that their intelligence is malleable), their achievement increases.”

The growth mindset leads to hard work. 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 fixed mindset trains you to believe there is no creative solution. Either you know the answer or you don’t. Either you can or you can’t. But oftentimes, it comes down to whether you’ll try or not and how long you’ll try before you quit.

Students with a growth mindset know they can get better. They believe their ability will grow. This is valuable because it’s rare.

Carol Dweck Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck Growth Mindset

This is powerful. It’s so powerful that another Stanford researcher Carol S. Dweck, P.h.D believes that making even slight shifts in your mindset from fixed to growth can have a profound impact on your entire life.

From her book [Mindset: The New Psychology of Success](0345472322):

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.


Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

Everyone wants to avoid the unpleasantness of a hard problem, but 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 growth mindset is important, but you have to do the work.

Growth is change and change is work. Work is initially unpleasant; especially if it forces you to encounter areas that you consider weak and have avoided developing.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard

There’s a famous inspirational quote about that sums up the idea of “hard work beats talent”:

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

The quote is attributed to Tim Notke, a high school varsity basketball coach. It was made popular by the links of NBA player Kevin Durant and NFL player Tim Tebow. The basic of idea of this motivational quote is that if you don’t use work hard along with your natural talents, you’ll lose to people with less talent but a much better work ethic.

Talent fails when work ethic is non-existent, but you can appear to have talent after you put in a lot of hard work. In fact, there is a Chinese saying that I’m particularly fond of:

“After years of hard work, talent may suddenly appear.”

hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard ed latimore
You have to be bad before you can good

I think the quote is so popular with professional athletes because they live in a world with many high-quality, talented people, but only the ones who never give up are the ones who ever make it.

If you have even the smallest amount of talent and want to make your life better with it, then you have to commit to working at least twice as hard as the amount of talent that you possess.

The only talent required is the ability to work hard

The only talent necessary is the willingness to work harder than anyone else.

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.

Only those who have learned the value of hard work over talent will be left standing when life becomes a battle of attrition.

Boxing Lessons on Grit, Resilience, and Antifragility

In this e-book, I teach you 20 mindset lessons I learned from my 13-1-1 professional heavyweight boxing career.

Use these to conquer any challenges you face, in the ring or in life.

Learn how to develop the mindset of a fighter, from a fighter, so you can win the battles you face.

But now
Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

Follow me on Twitter.