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Hard Work Fallacy

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"If you believe that dedication and passion alone will give birth to equivalent results, then you're living in a naive dream."
Lin Xue Ya, Thunderbolt Fantasy

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.). In addition, it is a fallacy because it is unfalsifiable; i.e., no matter how hard you worked, if you failed others could just claim however much you worked wasn't "hard enough", and never lay out an explicit definition of how much work is required to do whatever it is.


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. 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. Contrast also Instant Expert, and Born Lucky. Is sadly a Hard Truth Aesop where some times, hard work doesn't pay off.

Some tropes that rely on this:


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • 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. Edward is also told point-blank by his father (who's the closest thing this series has to a Big Good) that the world in no way works according to an Equivalent Exchange system. A major point in his argument is that nothing he could personally give up would be worth having two wonderful sons.
    • 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. Connections allow 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 affect 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.

  • 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 the sack.
  • Million Dollar Baby has a minor character who wants to become a boxer... never mind that he plain sucks at it.
  • Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!: The 'tournament system' forced on chicken farmers. According to Big Chicken, it's a way for the farmers to compete fairly and rise to the top through hard work. However, it's not truly a meritocratic system since the farmer's success is subject to various random factors (right feed, faster-growing chickens, arbitrary regulations, etc.) that Big Chicken can manipulate for any or no reason. Spurlock is able to work around them so he can attain his own chicken farm but that comes at a price.

    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 chessboard.
      McNulty: Pawns.
    • One of the overall themes of the show is also how institutions will "juke the stats" to present a rosier picture of its accomplishments than reality would suggest. It primarily attributes this to the attitude that police or teachers simply need to work harder/smarter to catch criminals/educate students without giving them the necessary resources to do so.
  • 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.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: One episode has Will take up a job solely because he wants to be self made, like Uncle Phil, to the point of turning down assistance like his cousins. Uncle Phil reminds him that when he was making his way up, people did hold some doors open for him, and he in turn is holding doors open for Will and his kids, and others. Uncle Phil knows the value of a work ethic, but he also knows that that alone is not enough in the world.

    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 that 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 that 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.

    Web Original 
  • Tim Pool relies on this fallacy a lot, including an unintentionally hilarious instance where, after stating in a tweet all you need to succeed is hard work and perseverance, someone posited a hypothetical where two loggers were in a forest. One of them had a big logging machine, whereas the other just had an ordinary hatchet. When asked if the hatchet guy really had a fair chance against the machine guy, Tim responded with something like "Yeah, if the guy in the machine was asleep."
  • Mr. Money Mustache (who famously "retired" in his late-twenties after saving hundreds of thousands of dollars from his job, and then lived off the interest) falls into this. Basically, he runs a blog on how to save a lot and be rich in only several years. Those who argue the absurdity of his stepsnote  are mocked as "complainypants" and "not being badass enough". It doesn't help that he (and his wife, who supported him all the way) got near six-figure incomes right out of college, something even the hardest-working people cannot get. In short, it required all the right things to happen to him (including not getting major illness, or a divorce, or a job market bust) to succeed.

    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.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The episode "Bart Gets an F" was a deconstruction of this fallacy. Bart has been failing his history class and is in danger of being Held Back in School unless he can pass his final exam. He struggles greatly, but still buckles down and does his very best to study and prepare for the test. Then, the day he finally takes the test ...he still fails. This was meant to teach the lesson that we can do everything right and still fail, and that hard work does not always guarantee success (especially poignant since Bart seems to genuinely struggle with the material instead of just being a lazy underachiever.)
    • This is the crux of Frank Grimes' conflict with Homer in "Homer's Enemy". Grimes has had to work hard his whole life for minimal reward, and is enraged at the idea of a person like Homer having a comfortable life with many luxuries in spite of his incompetence and character flaws.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The concept was discussed in "Hurricane Fluttershy". Fluttershy had several problems with flying fast, including childhood trauma and her not being the athletic type anyways. Even with all the training she does during the episode, her wing power remains mediocre at best. Still, what mattered most in the end was not her inability to brute force outstanding results through hard work alone, but that she had the courage to face her fears and was there for Rainbow Dash in a time of need.

    Real Life 
  • 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 than 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 studying and practicing at the right things.
  • 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, at least until we become advanced enough to develop robotics more cost-effective than cheap labour.note  The basic concept of supply and demand also means that in order for money to be worth what it is, someone must have not enough of it.
  • 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.
  • 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,,, 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 affluent family backgrounds as well as university and business connections, or that the universities they dropped out of were already nearly impossible to get into, such as Zuckerberg getting admitted to Harvard. There's even less mention of the many university dropouts who wind up with massive debts and dead-end jobs — let alone the people who do finish college, get a degree, do everything right, and still (often owing to the way management manipulates things) end up in the unemployment line, on job-hunting websites, attending endless "workshops" and trying to "network".
  • Almost any time someone unironically uses the phrase "pull yourself up by your bootstraps", it's a combination of this and Dramatically Missing the Point, as the original meaning of that saying was something like "do something patently impossible (or claim you did)", which should be obvious if you know what bootstraps actually are. (For those who don't, they are those little things sometimes attached to shoes to make them easier to pull on, and, believe it or not no matter how hard you pull on your own shoes, you can't make yourself float off the ground.)
  • One of figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu's most well-known quotes discusses this trope: "Efforts may lie, but will never be in vain." He elaborates that if hard work is all it takes to win, then the person who work the hardest will always win, which is not necessarily the case. Winning is dependent on more factors than hard work. Sometimes you can lose even though you've put in all your efforts, creating the feeling that it was All for Nothing (a lie). However, working hard will always pay off in the end, even if it doesn't result in immediate victory.
  • Veritasium did a study to find out that neither Hard Work nor Luck was solely involved for success, but that you need both. If you work hard, but are unlucky, you probably won't succeed. If you have lots of luck, but do not put in the effort, that luck will not pay off. The video also mentions the fact that we tend to forget the lucky factors in our lives, only focusing on what we personally did, not what was done around us.