How Hard Work Trumps Talent and IQ

By Kaitlyn Rhodes

As a child, I was often described as smart and talented, and I worked really, really hard to earn it.  I was a perfectionist, working late into the night to ensure that the quality of my schoolwork surpassed that of my peers.  In high school, however, I had a strange epiphany when my English teacher told me I would receive an A on an assignment I had yet to begin.  This incited some experimentation in my other classes, after which I came to the conclusion that I didn’t merely get “A”s; I was an “A” student.  That is to say that my grades were more a reflection of me than the quality of my work and efforts.  My teachers saw in me a smart and talented pupil, allowing me to get by just as successfully on wit as with work.  I rested on that for a while, cutting corners and failing to push myself in school.

The success of this strategy did not last.  As I began preparing for the SAT, my tutor discovered that I was substantially behind in my reading, comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills.  She was appalled, and so was I!

In the two years following, I had to work my fanny off to achieve an SAT score that matched expectations.  In the end, it wasn’t a brilliant score, but I did quite well.

In college, I received many compliments for my intellect and skills, even though I am not inherently smarter or more talented than my peers.  My professors and fellow students were enamored by my writing and vocabulary, skills considered appalling only a short time ago.  My secret weapon is hard work, and if I’m perceived as brilliant, it’s only because I wield my weapon well.

My story is not unique.  In our society, we tend to obsess over talent and IQ, while dramatically underestimating work ethic.  Meanwhile, studies show that hard work is more important to one’s success than talent or intelligence.

Success expert Richard St. John gave a TEDTalk based on his book, The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common: 8 to Be Great.  Trait #2 is hard work.  He referenced Thomas J. Stanley, author of The Millionaire Mind, who studied hundreds of millionaires and found that most were not “A” students in high school/college, did not score high on tests, and were not expected by their teachers to succeed.

So when children become frustrated by challenges in school or recreational activities, perhaps we should remind them of the power of hard work.  Journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularized the assertion that it takes ten thousand hours to master anything. The point being: talent and IQ have little (or nothing) to do with it.

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