The crucial talent and key to success is hard work

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 11, 2000

Innumerable times college freshmen have come to me after but one failing marking period: "I may as well drop out.

Monday, December 11, 2000

Innumerable times college freshmen have come to me after but one failing marking period: "I may as well drop out. I’m dumb. I don’t have what it takes." In some more rash moments, I retorted: Well, then, give what you have and see if it takes. People who overcome the most in their lives are those who accomplish the most with their lives. It is not those with great intelligence and talent who win, but those who work hard with whatever intelligence and talent they might have.

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Non-artists often observe the smooth style of an accomplished artist and confuse style with ease. They must have been doing this for a long time, because Michelangelo observed: "If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem wonderful at all."

A frustrating number of my writing students have dismissed challenges by saying, "Of course you write good [sic]. You’re a published writer." They seem puzzled when I ask what they think I had to do to come to the place where I can write well. I appreciate it when someone compliments what I have written, but I resent it when one immediately, in effect, discounts it by the disclaimer, "But, of course, you have the talent." I work hard at writing and, thank-you-very-much, I do not appreciate someone making light of this hard work.

No less an accomplished mind than Thomas Edison wrote in his Life (1932): "There is no substitute for hard work." Even better known, but no more understood or practiced: "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."

The most skillful circus performers are the clowns on the high wires who come close to falling but never do. So, too, the clowns in rodeos demonstrate greater skill in riding a bucking bronco backward and almost falling off than the serious riders in competition. To become this kind of a clown is a promotion. Crowds, however, don’t understand this and, so, pro wrestlers must fake groans and injuries to make them feel they got their money’s worth.

Super-salesman Mark Yozipovic told a workshop on sales: "The people who overcome the most in their lives are the ones who accomplish the most." One might suppose his last name is one of those things he had to overcome, but I suspect his customers never forget Mark. For a successful sales person, a prospect’s resistance is never accepted as an excuse to quit but an invitation to work harder to close the sale.

Working hard does not necessarily mean physical sweat and emotional stress. It means commitment to the task and bulldoggedly staying on task. Rather than "Well, I’ll try", it will be "I will do the very best I can!" or "I will do it or die trying!"

When I employ people, their IQ or skill levels interest me but little. I want to know how hard they will work, and I know this best by how hard they have been working. Very often a humble recognition that you sustain limited intelligence or skill is a distinct advantage. You know you must work to achieve, and you will work and you will achieve.

Wallace Alcorn’s column appears Monday