Follow TV Tropes


Hard Work Fallacy

Go To
"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:


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • The Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) 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. The problems with this mentality 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.
  • In the city of Fortuna in Warframe, you are regularily bombarded with advertising reminding put-upon Solaris workers that they can get out of their soul-crushing debts if they only work harder, with Nef Anyo even chiming in to claim he was dirt-poor just like them, conveniently ignoring that not only does he do everything to keep his free source of labour from ever paying those debts off (having their debts passed off to descendants is just the tip of the iceberg), in "The Deadlock Protocol" he tries to claim direct genetic lineage to the very founder of the Corpus in order to gain complete control of its Board of Directors.

    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) 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. It also implies Bart is Book Dumb and just not good with the academic methods of testing intelligence, he got a marginal bump in his grade when Ms. Krabbapel observes he does have practical knowledge of the subject.
    • 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: 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 
  • 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.
  • A very common attitude within the sales industry; all one has to do is work hard and have a positive attitude and they will become incredibly successful at selling. There are no considerations given to the fact that certain personality types and even physical appearances of the salesperson have any effect on a customer's decision to buy, or even keep listening to the pitch. This is to say nothing of the fact that it has been repeatedly proven that some people are better at building, repairing or providing information about a product than they are at selling it.
  • 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.