Moustache mask placed on top of a monitor

"'Do you admire effort?' I asked. 'Do you esteem feelings which correct themselves, and behavior which does not rest until it is different?'

'No,'she replied, 'I don't admire effort. I admire excellence, which is less accomplished when it results from effort. And less graceful, too.'"

- Susan Sontag, from The Complete Works; “The Benefactor”

Today, Instagram recommended me a post consisting of two slides of camel text on a mustard yellow background. The first one read “You’re great not because you born creative, smart or talented…”, and the second one concluded: “… you earned greatness by working hard. Every. Single. Day.”

This is only a grammatically poor example of the motivational speech that most young professionals living under this production system are bombarded with. I deeply dislike it for three reasons:

  • It’s meaningless. What does “working hard” mean? When those who carry out physical labor, who actually “work hard” and suffer the health consequences of it, demand the benefits, security and quality of life they deserve, we spit in their faces and praise their billionaire bosses. Us, who work at desks and can protect ourselves from the damage our work can do merely through emotional exercises are forced to either put up a facade of effort or bend our employment situation so it becomes lacerating.

  • It denies the existence of such thing as talent, which is factually incorrect. While talent and intelligence are refined by consistency, negating that someone might be “a natural” is absurd, and it serves to more strongly penalize those who, according to standards (probably set by people who were “naturals”), under-perform or fail.

  • It’s a simplistic approach and, therefore, an approach that doesn’t leave room for deeper, progressive thinking. The idea that one is born completely talentless and that one becomes good purely through work, distracts us from the contexts that foster success, by making it merely a matter of will. One is good because one has decided to be good. This mindset can, in some circumstances, inspire people to be high-achieving. But it very strongly tends to blind us to the environmental factors that make it extremely difficult for certain people, not to “achieve their dreams”, but to merely achieve a decent standard of living. The idea that one is self-made in all dimensions, denies biology and, by denying biology, it denies that, for instance, living in a house contaminated with lead paint tends to guarantee that one won’t ever meet one’s intellectual potential.

So, maybe you’re great because you born creative, smart or talented, maybe you earned greatness because you were tenacious and/or you had an enviable support system. Maybe you’ll never achieve your full potential because you don’t have the economic resources to do so. Maybe you’re in a position you don’t really deserve, because you could buy your way into it. Who knows? Maybe you’re not great at all. Maybe neither am I.