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).
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!"
Some tropes that rely on this:
- The Dogged Nice Guy: "If I keep telling her how awesome she is, buy her things, hold the door for her, listen to her problems, et cetera, she'll see how awesome I am and become my girlfriend!"
- Japanese Spirit: Persistence and hard work is one of three major values for the concept of "Yamato-Damashii". The idea being that if you work hard enough, your true power will be revealed.
- Rags to Riches: From poor to rich but not necessarily though hard work. Marrying someone who was already wealthy and winning the lottery are all valid examples for this trope.
- The Self-Made Man: Success boasted to be the result of hard work alone with zero favours, assistance (bar early childhood care), or luck.
- Training Montage: By working hard (Training from Hell level hard) you take a level in badass. (Gonna Fly Now from the Rocky Franchise is optional.)
- Underdogs Never Lose: Succeeds as a result of determination, surmounting all the odds no matter how large.
- The American Dream: Work really hard, earn a decent life, settle down with a spouse and some children.
- 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.
- 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 who wants to become a boxer... never mind that he plain sucks at it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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". 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.
- 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, 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.