Hard Work Or Natural Talent?

Asking whether hard work or raw talent is the better thing for success is a bit like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. There is real merit in the question but it’s the answer that gets us a bit confused. For example, would Lionel Messi be as successful if he trained only one day a week and played pool for the rest of the time? Would Oprah Winfrey feel so close to us all if she said ‘yaddy-ya’ in response to every guest who poured their hearts out to her on her show? Probably not! These two shining examples demonstrate how raw talent and supreme dedication combine to create success and prove what Frank Sinatra croons in Love and Marriage: that “you can’t have one without the other”!

I sometimes view the yin and yang of talent versus hard work as being akin to driving a car from your starting point A, to the place where you ultimately want to go, your point B. Simply because you are a talented driver who knows the route and has the desire to get there quickly does not guarantee that you will effortlessly reach your destination. A myriad of other things can hinder the process – the weather conditions might be treacherous, your car made not be roadworthy, the traffic may be bumper to bumper, the road itself may be impassable or you might even be pulled over by the Guards on the way!

But if you plan for your journey, bearing in mind your strengths and weaknesses, if you do your homework in advance by, say, finding out when rush hour is; by making sure you’ve enough petrol in the tank; by reading the weather forecast and listening to the traffic reports before you set off; by being aware of the speed limits or by evaluating alternative routes in advance, your chances of getting to point B without a hitch will undoubtedly improve.

The same applies to career development and success. Your raw talent will certainly put you in a good position to reach your potential but the combination of knowledge, experience, nous and patience that working hard brings is the crucial factor that transforms your potential into your reality. Working hard is the thing that will get you there because it is the thing that gives you confidence, and confidence, as we all know, is the key to success.

Confidence, that inner belief that you can deliver what is required better than anyone else, is not gained simply by charisma, by talking the talk and fooling people into thinking you are the right person for the job. It’s achieved by walking the walk and showing them that you are the right person to lead, the right person to achieve. To be confident is to believe in your own ability and to have to scars to show it!

Take the example of Victoria Adams Beckham, aka Posh Spice, who famously said she wanted to be more famous than, not another pop singer or girl band, but more famous than the biggest brand of washing powder in the world! With no real musical credential or instruction in fashion design, she became a member of one of pop music’s most iconic groups and, from there, went on to create a high end multi-million dollar fashion brand that ended up winning Designer Brand of the Year at the British Fashion Awards. With her insatiable ambition, she mixed with people she knew who could help her, learned from them and used her force of ambition to become an internationally recognised style icon and fashion designer resulting in the multi million pound “Posh and Becks” global empire estimated at £508 million.

Or, conversely, take the example of former ice-skater, Tonya Harding (the subject of the current movie release, I Tonya) who famously became the first woman in American figure-skating history to land a triple axel in competition, a rare skating move that is coveted by most skaters but achieved by few. Harding had the natural talent as well as the sort of worth ethic that real Olympic champions are made of. But even so in 1994, her husband and her bodyguard hired a hit-man to break the leg of her fiercest rival, Nancy Kerrigan, in order to increase her chances of getting selected for the Winter Olympics that year. Sometimes, then, even rare talent and enormous dedication cannot compensate for a lack of confidence. Having no self-belief, indeed, can often make us our own worst enemy.

While the debate about talent versus hard work has its chicken and egg dimensions, the bottom line is that most people become successful because they crave it, whether they are gifted or not. With that as your starting point then, all you need is to work hard and your chances of succeeding will increase. And, heck, even if your work ethic is not what you’d like it to be, you can even take comfort from Woody Allen’s observation that “80% of success is about showing up”!

It’s true, too, that some guys have all the luck and that stars always seem to align for the jammy few. They are blessed with success without having to lift a finger to achieve it – the famous for being famous, the writers of unreadable books, the two left-footed footballers, the all-thumbed musicians, the list goes on. But such is life and foaming at the mouth over their lack of talent gets us nowhere.

For most of us, success is all about graft in a world where the scope for development is limited. No matter where you work or what you do, the formula for success is to marry your talents to a solid work ethic, to do the best you can under the circumstances. The key however, is to do your best with a confidence and aplomb that garners notice from those who count. And to remember that if someone still managed to get to the place that you wanted to go ahead of you, if that person got a little luckier this time – it might just be because they practiced a little harder!

But there’s always next time!

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