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Talent vs. Hard Work

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In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth explores how much talent matters in achieving success, as compared to good old hard work. Duckworth is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive. Her research uncovered an insight, which she describes through mathematical equations:

Talent x Effort = Skill and Skill x Effort = Achievement Her point? Talent matters, but effort matters twice as much.

As young people across the archdiocese embark on another academic year, I’m shining a light on the four biggest obstacles to success and what the Bible says about each of them.

Ego says I don’t need it. Help, knowledge, hard work, discipline… insert your favorite necessary virtue. Ego kills effort, because it says effort isn’t necessary.

“Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prv. 16:18). So how do we help our young learners avoid ego? We encourage them to do hard things. Duckworth wrote that her family has an “everyone has to do a hard thing” rule. Whether it’s violin lessons or training for a marathon, her husband, children and she all have to do a hard thing. And they talk at dinner each night about how it’s going. Encourage young learners to take risks and face challenges. It will teach them humility, the ultimate killer of ego.

Specifically, the fear of failure. I often tell kids on the baseball team I coach, “If you walk up to the plate expecting to strike out, you most likely will.”

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). How do we help our young learners avoid fear? We teach them that it’s okay to fail. Ask your kids at dinner what they failed at that day. Encourage them to take risks. Help them to choose hard things. The more effort they believe they need to put in, the better off they will be.

The desire for perfection—the ugly stepsister to fear of failure—is a mind killer. It causes serious damage to emotional and spiritual health. Teach young learners it’s okay to try hard things and fail.

Laziness is a deadly sin. It’s the desire for comfort above everything else. It puts easy in front of virtue—the polar opposite of effort.

“In seedtime sluggards do not plow; when they look for the harvest, it is not there,” (Prv. 20:4). You can’t have the harvest if you won’t plant the seeds. If anyone is going to avoid laziness, they must first learn to be uncomfortable. Encourage small acts of self-sacrifice everyday—have a water instead of a coke, turn the thermostat up a degree or two. There are a thousand different ways to help young learners avoid laziness, and it all starts with helping them break free from their love of comfort.

Young learners need to learn! A young person can have all the grit and determination in the world, but still need help.

“Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it” (Prv. 22:6). Here we thank God for the many teachers—professionals, yes, but also the mothers, fathers, coaches and grandparents who teach our young people and help them grow.

We like to tell kids they can do anything if they put their mind to it. That might not be completely true. But if we remove the obstacles of ego, fear, laziness and ignorance, and we encourage our children to put in the effort, I’m certain we (and they) will be amazed by what they can achieve.

Dominick Albano is The Catholic Telegraph’s director of digital engagement, an author and national speaker. He and his wife have been married for 14 years and have four sons. [email protected]

This article appeared in the August 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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