Work ethic beats talent

07 Sep 2016

Work ethic beats talent if talent has no work ethic

A friend came to me yesterday with a frustrated expression on his face. I asked him what was wrong. He said his business wasn’t doing so well. “People with half my talent are making twice as much as money,” he said, throwing his hands up in disgust. “But is that happening even after you’re doing all the right things?” I asked him. He didn’t have an answer to that. He just waved his hand to signify there was probably no use doing those things anyway because somehow the universe was conspiring to keep him in the lower echelons of life. But I know the real reason he didn’t answer my question. Because we have discussed this before. My friend is a hugely talented person who has unfortunately not mastered the talent of managing his own talent.

This is a problem many talented people face. What do we mean by “the talent to manage the talent?” To understand that it’s important to know that talent is not an end in itself; it is a means. Talent is the raw material which must go through a process in order to become something bigger than itself. Not putting talent through the process keeps talent raw and untapped. Untapped talent, over time, manifests as rage and frustration. What’s more, talented people are very good at rationalizing this rage and frustration as the result of ‘bad luck’ or a ‘cursed fate’ or a ‘shallow society where image takes precedence over substance’. But the truth is these are all excuses and talented people with even a sliver of self-awareness know it very well.

With a rigorous work ethic, a healthy degree of success can be achieved.

And without a rigorous work ethic, the greatest talent becomes comparable, over time, to a very average talent.

In others words, work ethic beats talent if talent has no work ethic.

Take the case of the gymnast Nadia Comaneci. She was an aspiring Romanian gymnast in a world where the gymnastic honours were repeatedly clinched by sinuous, supremely confident Russian gymnasts. But Nadia came from nowhere and with gruelling hard work and dedication, achieved what no gymnast ever achieved before: a perfect 10. The Russians were stunned. Here was a small, insignificant looking girl from a little-known country. But she had achieved the Holy Grail in gymnastics.

I believe the story of Nadia beating the Russians and executing her historic perfect 10 is not a story of genius. It is a story of work ethic – six hours of practice a day coupled with the most rigorous diet and a killer coach how never let her off the hook. That’s the ground that made her perfect 10 possible.

But self-proclaimed untalented people won’t believe that story. “That can’t be the whole story!” they cry. “She was special.”

Sure she was. She was special because she put her nose to the grindstone for months. She was special because she respected her talent by putting it through the most gruelling process ever.

So the next time you wonder why people with half your talent are twice more successful despite the fact that you are special, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I have a strong work ethic?
  2. Is my work ethic merely abstract or is it broken down into clear, challenging routines and practices engineered to yield results on a daily basis?
  3. Am I pursuing these routines with 100% vigour every single day?
  4. Am I confident about my abilities and do I tell myself the right story in my head?

If the answers to any of those questions are ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ then you know where the problem lies.

It doesn’t lie with your talent.

About the Author:

Sandhya Reddy is a leadership & transformation coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.

Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.


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