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10 Factors That Contribute to Success, and Hard Work Isn't One of Them.

Updated on October 22, 2016
TessSchlesinger profile image

Growing up in a political family, Tessa joined her first political party at 14. Her interest in progressive politics & economics continues.

The myth of hard work bringing success

Repeated studies and books have shown that success has more to do with inheritance and the family one grew up in than any hard work that the individual has done. Yet get involved in a political discuss between the left and the right and soon the conservative (business owner) will tell you in no uncertain terms that he 'worked hard for his success.' The insinuation is that people who work 60 hours per week just in order to pay the rent and put food on the table for their families don't work hard. To anyone who is working long hours, being underpaid, being treated poorly by the management and ownership class, this adds insult to injury. Time to learn how to defeat this argument in ten easy steps.

1.Location. Location. Location. The geography of one's birth plays a big part in whether one will have the resources to develop, both intellectually and socially. Children without sufficient protein during childhood don't develop as well mentally as those who consume protein do. In addition, if the person was born in the Soviet Union, no ability on their part would have prevented the State from taking control of their lives. Place of birth plays a large part in their success.

2. Winning the genetic lottery. Increasingly scientists are tending to nature rather than nurture. Intelligence and talent have more to do with genes than with environment Tim Minchen explains this beautifully in the graduation speech he gave when presented with an honoury doctorate. So if you won the genetic lottery and you were born with an awesome talent, looks, plenty of energy to work long hours, and some brains to boot, you’re on your way to certain success. Again, nothing to do with hard work.

This cartoon explains, in a nutshell, why the argument about hard work is so fallacious. Click the link.
This cartoon explains, in a nutshell, why the argument about hard work is so fallacious. Click the link. | Source

3. Early learning. It was Malcolm Gladwell in his book 'Outliers' that indicated that success came from highly developed skills and that children who developed their skills came from prosperous families where there was sufficient money to give the children the opportunity to develop those skills. Early education and resources develop talent, brain, and provide opportunities for an early start. These are not available to those born in poverty. In a competitive world, it's the guy who gets there first who wins.

4.Luck. Many years ago I read a book about the robber barons. The author had interviewed the surviving members of the family, researched extensive newspaper coverage as well as interviewed past members of staff. Each of the robber barons indicated that they had been lucky in that they had the skills when the opportunity presented itself, and that it was a particular moment in history rather than any 'hard work' on their part. They also indicated that while they would have had an enormous measure of success, they would not have reached the peaks of mega-wealth without having bent the law to some extent. So being born at the right time in history with the right skill set is more luck than hard work.

5. Resources. One needs the resources to develop one's innate skills . A person born with a talent for ballet dancing in the middle of the Sahara Desert where there are unlikely to be ballet schools is not likely to be able to develop that skill. Thomas Gray, the 18th century poet, speaks of this is his Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard. To quote “Full many a rose is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” The poet, even in those days, knew that the only reasons the peasants didn't rise to the position of a 'Cromwell' was because they didn't have the parents who would start training them from early childhood.

Tim Minchen Speech about 'Hard Work' vs genes

6.Time and money. Utne Magazine had a section on creativity about half a dozen years ago. The two factors needed for creativity are time and money. If one is very poor and has to work every moment in order to survive, there is no time to be creative. To quote, "The wealthier a society is, the more inventive it tends to be." They also showed that, historically, it was the societies where even poor people had extra time and discretionary income where the most creativity took place. The above articles also indicates that where people were very poor and couldn't help themselves, countries like Russia and Japan stepped in to train children from very young.

The unfortunate may have to work 60 hours a week in order to support a crippled spouse, a dying mother, or more. Wilbur Smith’s wife worked when he quit his job as a journalist to write full time. Bill Gates had his full board paid for by his parents and worked in their garage.

7.Excellent education. There is a reason that Ivy League Colleges and private schooling are sought after by well-to-do parents. It's because they provide an excellent education. Most government schools in most countries just don't do this. Finland is the one exception. Private schooling is not permitted and every child is given the identical opportunity to develop their full capacity. When some children struggle, teachers give them extra time. The result is that, regardless of talent and/or innate intelligence, all children graduate well educated.

The difference between success and failures often has to do with being taught solid foundation skills and correct useful data Many people spend their lives working with erroneous information supplied to them courtesy of an inferior education or an ignorant parent/boss.

Hard work is not enough...
Hard work is not enough...

8.Secure early environment. Children who come from heavily dysfunctional homes do not have the same level of concentration and application that children who come from mildly dysfunctional homes. Most homes are dysfunctional to some extent. A child growing up in a home with no resources with a violent pimp for a father and an alcoholic mother may be using his or her attention to protect siblings rather than attending to school work. So a secure environment while growing up is also essential to future success.

9. The right connections. When the friend of a family is a famous movie director and one has decided to make a career in acting, success is that much more likely because one has the right connections. One can have all the talent in the world but if one does not have the opportunity to develop and use it, it will not lead to success. When one's parents move in circles it’s one of the more useful factors in having a successful career. Again, studies show that successful people had open doors (as in the cartoon above). People who through the wrong religion, the wrong skin color, the wrong friends, etc. don’t have those connections first have to try to make them. So they have a further and more difficult path to travel.

10. Safety and security. Sufficient safety or security to be able to work without anxiety. Studies have shown that people who are caught in a poverty trap have their mind working overtime in the background, thus draining them of the energy necessary to invest in creativity and resolve problems. But there's more to it that that. Poverty saps brainpower. So does violence, fear, despair, and other hugely negative emotions. People who are desperately trying to survive on very little cannot use the full capacity of their intelligence. The brain, in the background, is constantly trying to find a route to just find food the day or to stay safe.

Are you hugely successful as a result of hard work?

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The lucky break that brought success

All in all, the biggest component of success is simply luck. Born into the right family at the right time with the right genes and the right resources, success comes most of the time. While many would like to believe that their success came as a result of their own hard work, it is more a lack of analysis and knowledge that leads them to this conclusion. One could also add ego. It's nice to believe that one is that super special. Just not true, though...

© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger

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    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 

      3 years ago

      This is an insightful, worthwhile article. Thank you for exploring this important, often misunderstood topic. Voted up.

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