Hard Work Fallacy

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 who 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!"

Common corollaries are the Gambler's Fallacy and the Sunk Cost Fallacy: "If I keep doing A/B/C, or put a little more work into it, I'll get what I want!", and the Survivorship Bias, which overemphasizes a small number of successes and downplays a large number of failures.

Some tropes that rely on this:


    open/close all folders 

     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.

     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  

  • A cornerstone of some American politicians' ideals is that anyone can be "rich". This idea is the basis of The American Dream, but is difficult to reconcile with reality, as it ignores multiple factors like where you grew up, whether you had a good support environment or whether or not you were safe in your home or at school, and even pure dumb luck. It also isn't even close to possible for an entire society to live the life of millionaires since somebody has to clean the toilets, unless we become advanced enough to develop robotics more cost effective than cheap labour.
  • 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.
  • One of the cornerstones of the sales industry is that anyone can be an effective salesman as long as he works hard at selling. Never mind things like market fluctuation, the economy, the fact that some people just plain don't want what you're selling or the fact that there is a personality type that goes along with being geared toward sales, and not everyone has that personality type. Of course, all of the above is usually dismissed by career salespeople as "excuses", "bad attitude" or "a refusal to put in the hard work." A famous example of this attitude here.
  • The fallacy of survivorship bias thrives on this. To name a few examples, it's all too easy to forget that for every Google and Facebook that become Silicon Valley giants, there are dozens that crashed and burned like Webvan, Pets.com, Boo.com and Friendster. Much is made of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropping out of university to make it big in the tech sector, with little mention that they already had the affluent family backgrounds and university and business connections. There's even less mention of the many university dropouts who wind up with massive debts and dead-end jobs.
  • During The '70s when Bruce Lee and kung fu movies were popular, a number of martial arts tournaments had Bruce Lee imitators competing. These imitators would dress like Bruce, execute fancy moves or even yell like Bruce did in his movies. Few would make it to the final rounds, let alone win. Some believed copying Bruce's techniques and training regimen or outright imitating him would produce the same success he had.