Hard Work or Talent?

An age-older.

“Hard work beats talent until talent decides to work hard”, is an expression used by Nike on their shirts to promote athlete commitment to training, analogous to, “No hustle, no progress” and “Every. Damn. Day.”

They also have a shirt that says, “Lazy But Talented”.

Of course, Nike just want to sell shirts, and the more shirts they can print, of the same phrase, that they can put into different words, the better. Hence why they do not mind contradicting themselves. So much for branding.

But that’s the face value. Nike understand that, in the world of elite athletics, there are two ways to get there (assuming no one bribes there way onto professional sports teams); supreme, unworldly talent, or – beyond-the-human-limit hard work.

We can argue some middle ground within these, and they do exist, but it’s never at a top-performer level. As in, true success is not achieved by those who are kind-of hardworking and kind-of talented. There’s too much middle-ground there. Nike understands that people, consumers, love athletes that are inexplicably talented, or ones that have defied all odds to get to the highest level of their discipline.

From this, comes the debate; what is ‘better’ – talent or hard work? If I ever had a chance to ask Stephen A. Smith on ESPN a question, this would be it. Now there are many variables to this question but I would hope he would have one direction and explain why he thinks so. I think everyone has an opinion. I just like listening to him, him and Skip Bayliss.

The same goes in business world.

Companies today will do whatever they can to secure whatever they deem is high-potential talent. Many outsource this process to consulting firms, people who are experts in identifying candidates as high-performers. Candidates that demonstrate behavior and have the inherent traits to be successful in a given field.

At the same time, there are companies, pioneering, world-leading companies, whose workforce is comprised solely of hard workers; people who should become massively successful based on how much work they put in.

The problem with talented people is that they believe they can coast through, that success will come to them, without doing much of anything. That being said, this happens often – much to the frustration of the hard-workers. On the contrary, the problem with hard-workers is they might not have the juice, the flare, the instinct, that makes people in their industry ultra-successful.

But what’s preferred? Each to their own, and frequently dictated by industry.

I’m not a fan of hybrid cars because they circumvent what a car, to me, is supposed to be. Fuel-guzzling, throaty, fast, and ultimately raw. Not a hybrid car in the world I would designate any of those adjectives to.

I’d hate Stephen A. Smith to answer the question the way I would answer the question, and so goes hypocrisy.

In this case, a hybrid is the answer. Imagine the success of talented individuals who are the hardest-working individuals findable.

I thought I would saunter through everything I ever came across in my life because that’s how it was for my first eighteen years. I was just good at everything without trying (excuse me). That’s not to say I couldn’t have done a hell-of-a-lot better. But it was enough to surpass all those in my scope of competition. Talent personified.

Fast-forward to 22-years-old when I entered the insurance industry in a foreign country. No presence, no reputation, no credentials.

I worked out pretty quickly that I would have to dig deep to source something that I, for a lot of my life, hadn’t employed before. Ask my mother and she’ll tell you I’ve always been a hard-worker, and many of people that know me now in the professional realm would probably attest that I appear to be grafting. What can often appear as hard work to some is natural to the incumbent.

I played soccer for twenty years and reached some memorable heights, and with that comes intense training. But to me training was just training; a necessity I had to undergo in order to get where I wanted to be. Training never felt hard. Yes, I hated it at times, but it was still easy, natural if you will. I did well in school, so well that I must have been studying hard. In truth I never had a liking for school, mainly because I felt time was wasted with things I didn’t need or things I didn’t want. Even in college they make you take general education classes that simply will not apply, but hey, the more money schools can pry from you the better your life will be… I never studied. This is not a bragging statement; I genuinely believe in the role of education, but in a much more directed way.

The point being, when I started in insurance, I had to reinvent, to re-strategize if I was going to succeed. This process will last the duration of my career.

I would say a hybrid of the two is ideal. However, you can’t teach talent. Detailed, you can’t teach what talent entails (the juice, the flare, the instinct). Many will say you can’t teach hard work, and in some ways you can’t. I will always advocate that, while there are certain levels of hard work that may never be achieved by the talented, it is something that can be learned. Talent is inherent, instinctual, natural.

I’m glad I’ve learned on the trial-by-fire basis. I think that this is the best way to learn the importance of hard work. When talented people experience times when things aren’t going their way, they sometimes have no Plan B. This is where the hard work comes in. Vice versa, when a hard worker’s hard work isn’t working, what can they fall back on? If a talent has learned that hard work will be part and parcel of their career, they can revert to it, and while it should be synonymous with how they handle their business, it will always be their natural state they rely on.

This is why companies pay so much, either directly or indirectly, for talent. Raw talent can be tweaked to the industry and then set alight. Hence why we have the interview process. How many times has the smartest, most-qualified candidate been declined a job because they are unable to be, at the most basic level, personable in an interview? Untold times.

The most successful people are made for their fields and also have an unnatural talent for working hard. They love what they do, it comes easily to them and so the work doesn’t seem hard, yet they are working harder than anyone will ever see.

I conclude that it comes down to what works for the individual. Many will say there is no substitute for hard work, while the other mob will scream, “Work smarter, not harder!” In short, find the remedy you need to succeed.

Hard-working talent will succeed.



Why I’m Motivated.

Motivation is something I believe everyone struggles with at some point during their careers and lives in general. Motivation by definition is the reason, or reasons, one has for acting or behaving in a certain way.

The insurance gig isn’t for the fainthearted. It comes with more rejection in a day than a lot of people will ever experience in a lifetime. It’s long hours in and out of the office. It’s cutthroat. Ultimately, it’s mercilessly ruthless, and now that I think about it, that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.

These factors are solidly verified by the industry turnover rate. They say only about 11% last more than 3 years, a percentage that I would say is pretty generous. I’ve been to a few Producer schools through my agency and I am surrounded by agents that are good, some are very good, and some are even great. But, this is an industry where even greatness, for most of us sitting in the classroom, will not suffice. Of the 40 of us attending the class, 36 of us will be into new industries in 36 months.

Reading what I’ve written so far makes for grim contemplation. So surely there must be a reason, or reasons, that I am motivated to be in this job. It is strange, however, how other people outside of the industry think the job works. Some phrases I hear all the time:

“I should get into insurance, all you guys do is drink beer and play golf with clients all day!”

“It must be nice to have so much free time.”

“You guys make a ton of money by doing very little.”

I tend to greet most of these statements with a laugh, depending how I’m feeling when someone says them to me, of course. One of my bosses always hits me with the reminder: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” I’ve adopted this as my main verbal response to the aforementioned fallacies, in place of something much more rude.

Opportunity – this career is full of it, that much is true. This is as close to being your own boss as one could ever be without being one (which, by the way, to me is very appealing in its own right). In terms of earning potential, the sky’s the limit, providing you’re willing to sacrifice a lot of things along the way, at least for certain periods of time. Once you have a solid book of business built, for example, if you ever want a pay raise, just write a new account. But it’s the big picture that is the real deal – I have the power to choose the life I want to live through how much work I put in and in turn how much money I make. And not just for me, but for my wife and future kids. Talk about motivation.

The perks – playing golf and drinking beer are two of my very favorite things to do at this point in my life. And it just so happens, other professionals around me love those things as well. It’s an age-old saying that a lot of business gets done on the golf course, and given the chance, who wouldn’t swap the office for the golf course or their favorite watering hole? This is part and parcel of the job; the same goes for realtors, financial advisers, really anyone who is truly in control of their own career. Take it as you wish.

Being ‘The Man’ – I tend to be a little bit of a show-off and never shy away from being the center of attention; again, take that as you wish. But in an industry with such a high failure rate, you have to set yourself apart. I love to hit people with the ol’ razzle dazzle. I love showing people how good I am. This cannot be achieved without the proof, however. As someone who has this personality, there is nothing more confusing to me than someone who acts in this way and has zero right to do so. It’s embarrassing. Rockstars are rockstars because they actually are rockstars, not because they behave that way.

People – being out and about all the time, I have the privilege of meeting all kinds of people. This is the basis of my business; I operate on a referral basis. That being said, without people, I don’t exist. The friends I have made in my short time pounding the pavement are friends I know I will likely have forever, in some form or another. I get to see how other professionals operate, learn from them, unlearn from them, what makes them so successful and what they do that hinders their success. There are some pretty sharp people out there, I’ll tell you that for free.

Genuinely helping others – this is the biggest one by far. Not many jobs allow one to truly help people. As an insurance agent, providing I’m doing my job well, I get to be there throughout a client’s life; the good, the bad, the ugly. I get to see their excitement when they buy a new house and want some info on Homeowners insurance, the same with a new vehicle. I get to talk to clients about Life insurance for their newborn baby. I get to be the one to who goes to a client’s house after a storm has ripped their property to pieces, and tell them it’s going to be alright. I get to fight for them, advocate for them, protect them. I get to sit-down with new business owners and explain the ins and out of the insurance side of their business, and how it can help make them more profitable. I get to take on the weight of protecting their investment so they can focus on what they do best, which is running the business. I get to say that I’m not the right guy for you in this instance, but this guy is, give him a call and tell him I sent you.

It depends what you want out of a career. Some people enjoy the solid 9-5 with the steady income, which is by no means a bad thing. My parents raised a family on this basis and couldn’t have done a better job; I still aspire to have the success that they have had. This is simply my two cents as to why I’m motivated to be an insurance agent.

Doing what you love is of the utmost importance, as we all know life is too short to do otherwise. We all fail at our jobs. I fail every day at mine and this is why motivation is paramount. We strive to be better. One of the guys I was in class with at one of the schools said a line that his agency principal, a real veteran of the game, says to young producers when they mess up and start apologizing frantically that I thought was great; he says, “Don’t be sorry, just be better.” 

Talk about motivation.