Workout of the Day

Effort Doesn't Make You Inferior


I recall, as a high school kid, the conversations that would go on after getting a graded test back. Generally, the conversations would bias towards boasts of how little effort went into studying. Regardless of the grade, the most outspoken and proud students tended to be the ones talking about how little studying went into getting their grade. “Yep, got an A+. Didn’t even read the chapter or do the study guide.” Equally boasted was apathy about a low grade and the lack of studying that it took to get that low grade -- “Got a D, but whatever, I didn’t waste my time studying for this stupid class.”

Occasionally, there was talk of considerable studying that went into getting a grade, but this conversation tended to be more reserved, even ashamed, and hidden from the group. Even the students who got a B without studying tended to be held in higher esteem than the student who got an A, but had to study to get there. I even recall lying about my own efforts when I received a high grade, claiming that I barely studied or looked at the material, when in fact I had spent hours studying the days before the test.

As high school students, we valued and revered, whether directly or indirectly, the students who didn’t put in effort, and particularly those who succeeded despite their lack of effort. Those who had to put in all of the hard work, on the other hand, were of little interest. They were inferior. Sure, some of them got a high grade, but they did a bunch of work for it, so what’s so special about them?

This sort of thinking isn’t isolated just to high school students, though. In general, we tend to value those who succeed without much effort, and see those who must work hard to get to the same level as inferior. Think of the praise and attention given to “naturals” and “child prodigies,” whether they are athletes, musicians, academics, whatever. Their faces are pasted on magazine covers, they are brought onto talk shows and interviewed on the morning news, they are written about in internet articles and newspapers, and held up as local heroes. They become, in many of our eyes, models of what it means to be a successful and exemplary human. We admire them because they’re good, and because they didn’t have to work hard to be good.
When you lay it out as such, it sounds rather ass-backwards (in my mind, at least), but it’s a way of thinking that’s not only rather ubiquitous, but quite deleterious.

This way of thinking profoundly affects our own relationships with success and effort. We see our value as determined by our natural talent. We assume that if we are good and worthy, we will be able to achieve without much effort. This can apply to anything: writing, athletic skills, cooking, relationships, public speaking, etc.
Then, when we find that we don’t immediately succeed at whatever the task is (let’s use public speaking as an example), we make a value judgment about ourselves. We decide that because it didn’t come easily, it must just mean that you are inherently flawed. “I’m just not a good public speaker.”

Too often, we don’t see this as an invitation to learn or grow, but as a final word on who we are as a person.

Because prodigious talent isn’t common, this leads to a generally low view of self-worth. It should be no surprise that this sort of thinking does not perpetuate growth or success. And above-and-beyond effort, in this way of thinking, is viewed as a sign of weakness. It is effectively a dead end.

This way of thinking also has a considerable negative effect on those who may fall into the category of “prodigy” or “natural.” While we may not think of these individuals as unfortunate, this way of thinking, and the way society often upholds and praises these individuals’ talents, sets them at a disadvantage in the long run. For children and adults alike, impressive performances garner praise of talent, gift, and ability. Value judgments are made off of innate qualities. The message, whether overt or underlying, is “you are valuable because of this innate thing that you have no control over.” This type of praise takes the power out of the hands of the individual and puts it into the unknown. Failure is not seen as a lesson for what can be improved on, but rather as a condemnation and a sign of lesser value. Successes and failures are seen not as a result of effort, but as a result of your inherent qualities, and therefore as a determinant on your worth. It is interesting to note that stories of failed child prodigies are rather common. Though great promise, talent, and effort is shown in early life, the unrelenting message of “you are valuable because of what you’ve been given, not because of how hard you work” takes its toll. Child prodigies grow older, attention wanes, less precocious individuals’ talents begin to catch up, and the weight of any failure and/or considerable challenge becomes crushing.

Even for individuals who do put considerable effort into honing their craft, regardless of innate abilities, attention and praise are often directed in a way that focuses on what is innate rather than what is earned. Terms like “genius,” “natural,” “whiz,” and “prodigy” are thrown around without consideration for what efforts may actually be behind performance and accomplishment.

Regardless of what my 16 year old self seemed to think, effort does not make you inferior. Effort is not a sign of weakness, nor an indicator of how valuable you are as a human. When we find ourselves feeling upset and defeated by our lack of talent in public speaking, I propose that we turn the question around on ourselves: “Why the hell should I be a good public speaker? What have I done in my life to make me think that I should be anything more than a sub-par public speaker?”
It would be foolish to deny that natural talent exists. Some people do better on day one than other people, and that’s just fine. Some of this difference is “natural talent,” something genetic over which we have no control. But the whole point is that we have no control over this, but we do have control over a whole host of other factors.
You are in control of your value. You are in control of the effort you put in, and you ought to be proud of it.

- Preston Sprimont


  • Legless rope climb - 4x2 ascents

  • 12 min EMOM

    • 20s max cal row