Hard Work Matters, But Only a Little

There exists in life a totem pole. With success at it’s apex and utter fail at it’s base, the totem pole can faithfully represent every individual that lives, has ever lived and will ever lived. Unfortunately, it is poor in representing the truth behind the dice roll that is life. Even before you’re born, you’re placed somewhere in the rung of this immense totem among the other helpless eight billion neighbors based on three factors. These three factors are luck, circumstance and genetics. Among these three hard work is not, and for good reason. While you will most likely work hard in your life, unless you’re already comfortable with your spot on the totem, it’s bearing on where you end up on the totem is negligible at best.

The three aspects responsible for where you end up on the totem pole are worth a further examination, if nothing else. The first is luck, and the easiest to explain. During your conception, biochemical decisions were being made for you months before your brain had developed to form what we now know as consciousness. Your mother for example, may have made the rationally poor decision of smoking during her pregnancy,  increasing the risk for mental and physical deformation. It’s not critical to hypothesize that your life would have turned out much differently had your mother made these decisions, and say, inadvertently caused you to be born with a mental or physical deformity. An easier example, who your mother decided to conceive with, has an effect on who you will become. A simpler example again, on where your mother was when she conceived you, or even still where she was when she birthed you, can all have irrefutably massive effects on where in the totem pole you begin. These factors are seemingly random, but they are anything but. Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism.

Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse.

The second of the three is most linked to the first, and exists as an extension to it. Circumstance is the the fact or condition relevant to your state. The majority of those around you will tell you that where you are in life is exactly where you deserve to be. Your current situation is the summation of all your previous life decisions. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s easy to assume that our success in life is simply how we play the cards we’re dealt in life, but that assumption is predicated on two false premises: that A) we were all dealt the same cards and that B) we all have the same fundamental stakes in the game. Both of these can be proven false without much effort.

Donald Trump is often made synonymous as a “self-made man,” but this is simply the sum of the two factors of life working with him. Donald Trump had luck on his side being the son of a successful real estate investor Fred Trump. Would your life have been any different–any easier–had your father been a millionaire? The circumstance of this birth elevated Donald Trump further. He mentions it in a 1999 interview: Recently, Donald Trump said he was happy his father stuck to Brooklyn and Queens. ”It was good for me,” the developer said, chuckling. ”You know, being the son of somebody, it could have been competition to me. This way, I got Manhattan all to myself!”  (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/26/nyregion/fred-c-trump-postwar-master-builder-of-housing-for-middle-class-dies-at-93.html?scp=2&sq=Fred%20C.%20Trump&st=cse&pagewanted=2)

The mere circumstance that Donald Trump’s father died with a near monopoly over the larger New York City era and subsequently left a power vacuum for his son to take shortly after only further aided Donald Trump’s financial rise. In fact, I’ll argue that Donald Trump isn’t genetically wired to be a good businessman. He’s declared bankruptcy four times, though his wealth (much of it made from money given to him from his father) was only ever at stake in the first bankruptcy of the Trump Taj Mahal. In the subsequent three bankruptcies, his own personal wealth was never at stake.

‘Hard work is most important,’ is what businessmen like Donald Trump, Sam Walton and Ray Kroc would say. Though a more in depth look at Sam Walton would reveal he merely filled a niche that did not exist at the time: large scale stores in small scale towns. Was it all elbow grease that got these men to the top? Are there no examples of men that worked harder than Trump, Walton or Kroc and failed where the former three did not? What explanation then can be given for their success?

Michael Jordan, Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are stellar examples of sports mega-athletes. “They’re the first to show up and the last to leave,” has been said of them. The idealistic idea that the amount of time put into a given task leads to it’s optimization is farcical at best. Thousands of would-be professional athletes almost assuredly shoot more shots than Lebron James does, practice crossovers more often than Bryant and spend more hours on their full court endurance than Jordan, yet will never be half as good can easily be explained. If there is anything we can be sure, the athletes that win won’t always be the hardest working or the best coached. At the most elite level, the victory is contested by those with the best genes.

The fact is that systematic development of alleles in the genetics development of the human condition are the reason for the existence of these athletes. It is both rational and at the same time heretical to say that one day there will be a player whose own skill dwarfs that of Michael Jordan or Tom Brady or Barry Sanders at their respective positions. For the latter because they are some of the best to do ever do it, the former because it is simply inevitable that as humans evolve, so too do our genes to better succeed at the games and tasks we have been conditioned to play.

These players work hard, but not because hard work is what matters to be successful. Instead, they work hard because the human psyche is designed in such a way to play at one’s strengths where possible. It is not feasible for one human to give 110% effort and another to give 100% and assume that player giving more effort will win. The maximum effort that can ever be given by any one person at any one time is 100%. Assuming two athletes are both giving the maximum effort at one time, genetics will always decide the winner. Yet, it’s your natural human inclination to disagree. Hard work is what separates the winners from the losers, right? To agree to the idea that you are not wholly in control of your successes and failures rides against the very criteria that many have used in their formula for success.

Michael Jordan, one of the best (if not the best) basketball players in the history of the game, is currently owner and head of basketball operations for the Charlotte Hornets. For all his prowess on the court, Jordan has shown himself incapable of manifesting any form of success on the financial side of things. Is he simply not working hard enough? Is it luck? Or are his genes simply not wired for the tough to make decisions of running, as opposed to playing for, a professional basketball team. Jordan has the income and assets to focus on things in life in which he has no strengths, but the rest of us, we must simply stick to what we are good at.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s