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Hard Work or Innate Ability – Which Rules?

A short while back I sent the following inquiry to a renowned physicist and professor at a very prestigious university:

“I have a question of which I hope you can share your opinion. Can a person with an average IQ become a great physicist if he or she works consistently hard at learning, or is the mastery of high-end physics beyond the reach of the ordinary student?”

Graciously, the professor took some time out of his busy schedule to respond to my question, and his answer was both thoughtful and insightful. Here is what he had to say:

“I would say that 99% of being a good physicist, like anything else, is hard work. You could get to the highest levels, even winning the Nobel prize, through hard work, networking, and of course a great deal of knowledge and intelligence, but not necessarily an innate ability. However, fundamental theoretical physics is now so advanced that to follow it you have to be able keep a lot of variables and summation indices in your head, and you have to be able to have insights about them. I find that very hard to do, and I might concede that in that case there is some ‘IQ’ or innate cognitive ability that is critical.”

As you can see, the professor expressed his opinion that 99% of all achievement comes from hard work. Said another way, it is within the reach of the average person to go extraordinarily far in any endeavor if he or she is willing to put forth consistent effort. Key to success is to make targeted and practical goals, stick to them, and work with concentrated focus every day to reach them. Above all, believe in yourself. As the late Napoleon Hill said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”