Hard Work Fallacy

"The hideous thing about meritocracy is it tells you that if you've given life your all and haven't gotten to the top you're thick or stupid. Previously, at least, you could always just blame the class system."
Laurie Taylor

This is the argument that states that the outcome is directly proportional to the effort the individual put in. Failure is therefore the result of simply not having put in enough effort. This argument ignores all other relevant factors.

For example, sometimes whom you know is more important than what you know. Or your unrequited Love Interest isn't dating you because they're already dating and satisfied with someone else. Or the so-called Self-Made Man did indeed have help from other people, even if it wasn't direct or reserved only for him (e.g. parental or public education, housing, healthcare etc).

A staple of movies from The '80s. Contrast Hard Work Hardly Works when the extra effort doesn't achieve much and You Were Trying Too Hard where the extra effort prevents you from succeeding.

The Perfectionist (real or fictional) may incorporate this into their mindset - "That was good, but it wasn't right. Next time I will try harder and it will finally get there."

Often involves the words, "If I can do it, so can you!"

The idea behind the Charles Atlas Superpower. Contrast Hard Work Hardly Works, Instant Expert, and Born Lucky.

Some tropes that rely on this:


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     Anime and Manga  

  • The 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime series is built on the idea of Equivalent Exchange: if you put X in, then you get X out. Yes, it is a Real Life scientific law proven by Isaac Newton, but in-universe, it is also treated as a philosophy to live by. The final villain attempts to prove that real life is not so neat or predictable in order to break the heroes near the final leg of the series.
  • The Fullmetal Alchemist manga (and accompanying anime) deconstructs this from the opening narration. "Back then, we really thought that was humanity's one and only truth." It's repeatedly pointed out that just because the exchange is equivalent doesn't mean it's worth it, or even anywhere close to what you were expecting. Even though some things thought impossible can be bought with enough alchemy (like immortality or godhood), the price is too high and it is quick to backfire. At the end, Al decides to travel the world with the philosophy of giving more than what he receives in return, in order to enrich the world instead of just turning it into an endless series of deals.
  • World Trigger:
    • Osamu's success in Border can be attributed to his connection with powerful figures. Connection allows him to team up with stupidly strong aces, receive top notch mentoring, get promotion off other people's merits, break rules and escape punishments. That said, it is through Osamu's own brave and caring attitude that he earns the respect and support of the said connection. Many other Border agents have talents, works hard, and trains longer than Osamu but cannot progress as fast because of the lack of luck and connection that Osamu has.
    • Played with even further over the course of the series. Osamu, and indeed everyone at Border is well aware that his strength comes from his connections. This initially causes problems for him in the B-Rank Tournament as he tends to get targeted first fairly often, due to being seen as an easy target. Without the ability to rapidly increase his power via training in time to effect his plans to advance to A-Rank in time for the next Neighborhood expedition. He instead focuses on working on his strategy and altering his trigger loadout to better support his teammates. This of course only makes him a bigger target, as the other teams, who before only wanted to take him out first now have to.
    • Zig-zagged with Chika. She did get to her present level of skill in Border due to hard work, which happens to be one of her primary traits. But she can do so mainly because of her naturally enormous supply of Trion, which let her practice relentlessly for hours on end. That said, her marksmanship only carries her so far, and her true strength is still her huge Trion reserves, which turn her BFG into a Wave Motion Gun.

     Fan Works  

  • In the Marvel fanfic Twilight War, Thanos has acquired the Infinity Equation which is increasing his power to omnipotence and is heading towards Earth. Earth's heroes watch as a fleet of 150,000 alien warships attempt to intercept Thanos, who promptly wipes them all out without sustaining a single scratch from their combined firepower. One hero asks "He just defeated 150,000 ships. What chance do we have?" Captain America responds by saying "THEY weren't fighting for their planet," insinuating that it wasn't a lack of firepower but a lack of dedication that defeated them and that Earth's heroes will do better at fighting Thanos when he arrives because of their personal stake in it. He might have just been saying this to keep up morale, but still insulting all those aboard those ships who sacrificed their lives for Earth and ignores the fact that Thanos wasn't hurt in the slightest by physical attacks and that they should be concerned by this.


  • Zig-zagged in Rudy. The eponymous character works really hard in spite of having no athletic talent or societal advantages and achieves his goal of playing for the Notre Dame football team. However, it's never even presented as a possibility that Rudy will ever become a good football player. His teammates have to insist on allowing him to suit up for a game simply because his hard work was an inspiration for the truly successful members of The Team. However, when he's given the opportunity to play in a real game for two whole downs, he gets a sack.
  • Flashdance: Underprivileged girl is finally given a chance to prove herself at a prestigious conservatory... and gets in. To do so, she hones her dancing skills and auditions.
  • 8 Mile: The main character (who is in no way an Author Avatar of Eminem himself) seeks to prove himself a great rapper, despite poverty, relationship troubles, and racial issues.
  • Million Dollar Baby has a minor character who who wants to become a boxer... never mind that he plain sucks at it.


  • Discussed in Starship Troopers. A teacher points out the fallacy in the notion by pointing out that all the effort one cares to put into a mud pie won't make it edible, while on the other hand, a substandard cook can take valuable ingredients and turn them into a worthless mess. Being that the book was written in the 50s, this was written as a Take That! against the Labor Theory of Value, which is associated with communism.

     Live-Action Television  

  • On My Name Is Earl, Earl gets a promotion from docker to appliance salesman based on hard work and determination, despite teasing from everyone else...and wins their respect. (The episode is a parody of the above-mentioned Rudy, even featuring a few of the actors from that movie.)
  • The Wire: Deconstructed in the character of 'Bodie', a lowly soldier in The Game who figures that by doing everything he's told and working hard in the drug trade he can eventually advance beyond his station. By the later seasons he's still in the same position if not worse off, and realizes that The Game is rigged.
    Bodie: We like them little bitches on the chess board.
    McNulty: Pawns.
  • Better Call Saul is pretty much an extended takedown of what's wrong with this philosophy, but the theme is arguably the most explicit in Kim Wexler. She's a great, highly principled lawyer with no criminal past who's been trying advance her career through hard work for years, and has been rewarded with almost nothing for her efforts.

     Video Games  

  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic only the strongest and most worthy will emerge from their training group a Sith. The rest usually all perish. This trope's mentality is ingrained within Sith teachings. The problems with this soon become rather self evident. The Sith trials serve the grim purpose of weeding out those who would not last long in The Sith Empire but if there's more than one capable acolyte, only one can emerge alive. So in the long run this means working hard to be strong enough to be a Sith isn't enough if there happens to be a more powerful rival in your group. This is made worse by the fact some individuals are simply born with a stronger affinity with the Force than many could ever hope to learn. The Sith Warrior's storyline has you play the role of a powerful young acolyte from an ancient Sith bloodline who has been brought into the Sith trials at the last minute. The strongest member of the group, Vemrin, fought his way up from nothing against Sith snobbery. Unfortunately for Vemrin, this new arrival is one of the most powerful acolytes to ever set foot in the Sith Academy. After the inevitable confrontation, and despite giving everything, Vemrin is slain.

     Western Animation  

  • DuckTales (1987): Scrooge attributes his early success in life to the motto, "Work smarter, not harder." Not that he doesn't work plenty hard, but he doesn't reach his full potential until he learns to apply his effort effectively.

     Real Life  
  • In real life, conscientiousness - the personality trait of being careful, vigilant, and diligent - has almost as large of an impact as intelligence does on life outcomes, including income. It turns out that being a dutiful and disciplined person has a major positive impact on both your earning potential as well as the general stability of your life, and it also helps people get high grades and stick with tough projects and training until the end, when it pays off. Most successful entrepreneurs have very high conscientiousness scores. The most successful people tend to be both more intelligent and more conscientious than the general population on average, though there is a fair bit of variation.
  • Studies also show that simply *believing* that hard work pays off is not only associated with success, but is actually predictive of success. If you ask young people whether or not they think hard work pays off, those who reply that it does will earn higher incomes on average and have overall better life outcomes. This isn't very surprising - people who work harder at school and work are more likely to succeed than people who don't believe it matters whether or not they try, and being viewed as a dutiful or hard worker is more likely to earn you a raise or a promotion at work.
  • Defying this is the above-mentioned mantra of "Work smarter, not harder." When taken as more than just an excuse not to work your hardest, it means that knowing when and where to focus your efforts and resources will be more effective that just plowing through a situation on brute force.
  • Likewise, the way to improve one's skill or talent at something is not just hard work, but "gainful practice" - in other words, pushing one's own limits and trying to learn new things, rather than just doing the same thing over and over again. This is why someone might spend years working at something without significantly improving, while some newcomer rapidly surpasses them by study and practicing at the right things.
  • A cornerstone of some American politicians' ideals is that anyone can be rich if they try hard enough. This idea is the basis of The American Dream. True in a global sense - American productivity is one of the highest in the world, and work some of the longest hours of any developed country. As a result, the US is also the wealthiest country in the world, and people in the US enjoy an extremely high standard of living by global standards. Indeed, the US is so rich that the poverty line in the US, if it was measured as a separate country, would be in the top 30 *median* incomes in the world, and the median (50th percentile) household income in the US is one of the highest in the world.
  • One of the cornerstones of the sales industry is that anyone can be an effective salesman as long as he works hard at selling. While working hard is indeed predictive of success in sales, other factors - like market fluctuation, the economy, selling the right product, and most especially learning proper sales techniques - also factor in in a major way.