“The sweat of hard work is not to be displayed. It is much more graceful to be favored by the gods.” – Maxine Hong Kingston

Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are good friends. They have a number of things in common. They are rich, black, good-looking, well-known, and well-liked. They are also great athletes. Not just ordinarily great, but among the two or three greatest in the history of their sports.

When most people talk about Jordan and Woods, they talk about talent. What natural gifts they were given! Lucky them! But when they talk to each other about their success, they talk about work: how often they practiced, how much they prepared, how determined they were. And if you speak to athletes who are close to them, they will tell you the same thing — that what is most remarkable about Michael and Tiger is not their talent but their work ethic.

I think it’s fair to say that anyone who gets to the top of his field is a hard worker. And that’s probably why most Americans admire people who work hard. I certainly do. It’s different here in Europe (especially in Catholic Europe) where working hard is considered somewhat undignified. I first discovered this years ago when I was a tutor to a French student. “There is a word for a hard-working student,” she told me, “but it’s rude to use it in public.” Here in Italy, everyone seems to be working — but the way the Italians work is different. Success that comes easily and without effort seems to be preferred here.

I believe there is a direct relationship between hard work and success — and that it applies equally to individuals, families, ethnic groups, cultural groups, and nations. Those who work harder achieve more.

Yes, talent helps. But talent is not something we can choose. It is given to us, just as are so many other “advantages” of life: what kind of family we are born into, what color skin we have, and even our native intelligence.

You can’t increase your natural talents, but you can work hard to get better. And sometimes if you work hard enough, you will arrive at a point where your skills will look like natural talent. People will say to you, “Well, that’s easy for you. You have a gift for such and such.”

There are many talented people out there doing nothing, achieving nothing, and living unhappy lives. Talent is nice, but it isn’t necessary. In fact, it’s a two-edged sword. Having a gift for a certain something might rob you of the habit of hard work. If you don’t have to try as hard, you never develop the work habits. In the beginning, you are the natural leader — but as time passes, the less-talented overtake you.

Every super-successful person I know works a lot. “A lot” means 60 hours a week or more. How many hours are you working? How well prepared are you?

MN was telling me that the difference between Tiger Woods and other good golfers is that when Tiger Woods wins a game it feels like he did what he expected to do. He plays each game with the certain confidence that he is going to win. The same was true of Michael Jordan.

That level of confidence is not a natural talent in itself. Nor is it — as many success coaches would argue — the secret of success. A positive mental attitude is useful only when it is based on reality. You can think like a winner all day long, but if you don’t have the skills and the stamina to beat your opponent, you probably won’t.

Jordan and Woods approach their sports with supreme confidence because they know that they are supremely better at them than anyone else. They are good first and confident second. That’s the difference between real confidence — the quiet kind that each of them enjoys — and the phony braggadocio that lesser athletes display.

Supreme confidence is based on certain knowledge, and certain knowledge is based on long, hard, and very focused work.

How hard are you working?

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.

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