Is it OK to celebrate the motto "hard work beats talent"?

Posted by: pat 10 years, 10 months ago


I saw something in some communications from Seattle Prep that has been stuck in my head for a few days, so I am going to try to work it out of my head through this post.

Apparently the football team has some tshirts that say something like "Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Fails to Work Hard."  Elizabeth confirmed this is indeed a thing.

We talked about this at dinner because it is consistent with a message we try to convey as parents.  Persevere.  Keep at it.  Work hard and you will be rewarded.  It reminds me of tales like how many great (or just popular) authors only broke through after submitting the same novel 15 or 20 times.  It also reminds me of some tips I read on coaching and parenting:  don't say "oh you are so smart!", say "you are such a hard worker!" because "smart" is a roll of the dice -- some people are born with it, some aren't.  Hard work is a habit that can be cultivated and learned, and will pay dividends for anyone.

This talk often sets one member of our family off on her trademarked diatribe #37 on how common sense and street smarts trumps book learning and how many truly smart people fail to succeed because they don't persevere, lack a work ethic, or otherwise fail to realize their full potential.  I've also been chided by an inebriated friend who once told me that "We had such high hopes for you!", which resulted in another Pat bestowing upon me the ignominious label of "the most disappointing Pat."  I don't take it too seriously, especially given the fact that he woke up the next day with gravel in his hair, missing several possessions, and very limited memory of the preceding evening.  I tell you what, if that guy's name was Pat, that morning his wife would have disputed who exactly is the most disappointing Pat.  This incident provided ample grist for years of ribbing!

Back to hard work vs. talent.  Isn't both always better?  I am positive that hard work and talent beats untalented hard work every time.  Why do these guys get a tshirt with this slogan?  It seems that they are saying "hey you talented teams, just soon as you get complacent and back off from working hard we are going to eat your lunch!"  I guess.  If the talented teams keep up the hard work, Prep doesn't have a prayer.  Which is pretty much how the football season played out.  Or so I gather.  As most of you know I really pay pretty much zero attention to spectator sports of any kind.  I've never set foot inside Husky Stadium and my last Mariners game was in the Kingdome.

And the other thing this "does hard work trump talent" thing makes me think of is the book "Now, Discover Your Strengths."  I used this book and its Strengths Finder tool when I was at Microsoft to help team members understand each other better so they could work more effectively with one another.  Here is the idea in a nutshell:

  • Everybody has different strengths (talents)
  • You will do better in life by playing to your strengths
  • You may enjoy and need to do the things that are not strengths (let's be honest and call them weaknesses).  Hard work at your weaknesses can bring them up to reasonable levels of competence, but they will never be easy, they will never be strengths.

That last bit is always the hard one to swallow.  Everyone loves to hear about their strengths.  It is like doing a Myers-Briggs test and reading all of the wonderful things about your personality type.  They never tell you what a fricking nightmare it is to have to be the extreme INTJ working for the extreme ENFP (been there).  But what this Strengths Finder thing is saying is: you have weaknesses, and they will always be hard for you.  Find ways to spend more time and focus on your strengths (talents) and the world will be your oyster.  People like to think "I can just go to school and I will become an artist, or an actor, or a surgeon."  Well, maybe.  But you may have to work 10 times as hard to get to a median level of success at it, whereas you could turn your strength at shooting 3 pointers into a career in the NBA while sleepwalking.

Back to me (because this is my blog and hey it is really all about me here, amiright?): I love to play poker, but I would never say I have a particular talent for it.  I tend to play my cards and not play the other players as much.  As Doyle says "poker is not a game about cards, it is a game about people."  The exception is when I have spotted a weak player, I think I know how to incorporate that into some positive expected value.  I'm not much of a bluffer.  When I do bluff though, I make sure to show my cards to try to compensate for other players thinking they have me figured out.  It can put them on tilt too.  I do work reasonably hard at getting better at poker.  I own probably half a dozen tomes on the subject, and I've read them too!  But I know I will never be a great player.  I enjoy the social aspect and the occasional thrill of victory, but know I should never dive into online or regular cardroom play.

And that is how I've come to make my peace with the football team's tshirts:

  • They love the game.
  • They work hard at it.
  • They are developing a work ethic and good habits such as perserverance 
  • They rarely win.  Just like me and poker.  
  • It is all good.
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