The relationship between talent and hard work: which is more important for success?
“I’m the type of person, where if you ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, I’m going to tell you I don’t know. But I bet you this, I know how to find the answer and I will find the answer.”
The main character of the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner, convinced an interviewer to hire him immediately after saying those words. But what do these really mean? They mean that it’s OK to admit a lack of knowledge, have to have the willpower to work and find the answer.
The Pursuit of Happyness teaches viewers that perseverance and hard work pays off. Gardner goes from sleeping on a subway to becoming a millionaire founder of a brokerage house based only on his determination and drive to do something with his life. The movie shows that even though people may have talent, what counts is if a person has the persistence to help the talent grow.
Talent and hard work are two virtues that can impact a person’s mindset very heavily through every step of their life. According to researchers, hard work is clearly more important to success than talent. Skills cannot grow if you only rely on talent. Hard work is the evident quality that pushes any person, talented or not, forward.
In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford University professor of psychology Carol Dweck explains that people have two basic mindsets regarding talent and effort. Some believe that they were born with a “fixed” mindset where they have a set amount of talent, a certain IQ and a set athletic ability. Others have a “growth” mindset where people believe that talent can grow, an IQ can change and you can improve.
So why does this even matter?
Dweck explains that if a person were to completely rely on talent to get them through life, their whole outlook and process of dealing with adversity would change. It starts with a person avoiding challenges, which leads them to give up easily. This happens because their mindset is to not improve, but to tell themselves that they are satisfied with their skill level now. With little motivation, the person will also ignore criticism and feel threatened by the success of others. With a mindset like that, Dweck explains that a person would plateau early and not reach their full potential.
On the contrary, a “growth” mindset provides the complete opposite as a result. With an open mind, one can develop their intelligence. A person with this mindset would embrace challenges and continue to persevere through obstacles. Motivation comes easier, and criticism is taken as an opportunity to grow. The success of others inspires them and pushes them to work more. Using this mindset, a person may reach a greater level of achievement and have a greater sense of free will.
“In the long run, hard work is key,” said John Tauer, psychology professor and head men’s basketball coach at the University of St. Thomas. “In reality, if you’re talented and don’t work hard it’ll catch up to you. If you’re not talented and work really hard, you’ll ultimately get talented.”
It depends on how people define talent, however. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of talent is “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.” Everyone has something they are good at, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are set for life. The reality is that talent comes from hard work. Being placated by an “I’m smart, so I can get by” mindset will not get a person very far. At some point, they’ll end up in a place with many more people who are as smart, or even smarter than they are. However, this doesn’t mean that talent isn’t important.
“If someone has that spark inside and they work really hard, it’s going to make them look more talented, and the more talented they are they’ll enjoy themselves and working more,” Tauer said.
Another important factor to consider is that hard work can also be considered a skill or talent as itself. Talent is a major factor in success, but talent is something that must be mixed with other important skills such as a good work ethic and an openness to learning.
“Working hard is not something that’s easy to do and a lot of times we take it for granted if you really look at people who work hard versus those who don’t,” said Tauer. “When we look at, is somebody talented, let’s say LeBron James, we neglect just how hard he’s worked to get where he is. Is he physically talented? Absolutely. He’s honed to those talents through lots and lots of work. It’s easy to overlook that.”
The environment and culture that surrounds a person also affects their ability to succeed. “There’s a story in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell about a farmer who had an IQ of 195. But, he was a farmer. No one ever told him, ‘Go to school, you’ve got talent.’ No one ever told him to develop his skills,” said Minnehaha college counselor Lauren Bae. “Not to say that farming isn’t a good job, but just think about what someone could’ve done with an IQ like that.”
“If you really like something,” said freshman Sierra Takushi, “but don’t do anything to improve it, will you actually be good at it?”
With all of this said, is it easy to always be hard-working?
“At least at school, people place others in categories of who’s good in math and science and who’s good at arts and I think that affects me because I have this mentality that I have to be in a certain category,” Takushi said.
The pressure to adhere to a certain “category” can be crippling, but it’s important to maintain a growth mindset and take criticism from people as a learning experience.
“Be willing to take feedback,” senior Olivia Benson said. “You have to continue to work at it and accept that you’re not always there. One phrase I love is ‘in a course of a lifetime, what does it matter?’ I try to remind myself that I might be frustrated with something today, but in five years it won’t be important to me.”
Realizing what matters in life is important, but knowing how to look for help is something to consider as well.
“You have to identify what you don’t know,” sophomore Alex Wilson said. “If you have people around you that are really good at things, they are going to help you identify the things that you don’t know. Once you know, it’s just a process of learning it and doing it.”
The key to success isn’t something that has a simple answer. As Tauer put it, “I don’t think there’s one key, I think it’s a combination of working hard, working smart, and constantly learning and trying to grow.”