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Working Long and Hard, With Sacrifice: The Only Road to Success

In today's arena of eight-second news bytes, TikTok sensations, social media, etc., there seems to be a hype of people who suddenly get upon a stroke of fortune, fame, or genius. The latest gadget of Apple, a boom in a cryptocurrency, a hit single, or a top play in your favorite sport makes success look easy, fleeting, and fun.

However, today more than ever, there is less talk about all the long hours, hard work, single-minded focus, and sacrifice needed to succeed. Historically, much of this started to happen around the 1980s, when economic changes allowed fortunate and driven people in Wall Street banking, real estate, and entertainment to make a lucrative living, even at a much younger age than typical. Combined with increasing media presence in the form of 24-hour television stations and later the internet, more focus was given to the sensational aspects rather than the mundane amount of work needed to succeed.

Fortunately, many successful people, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, and a wide range of other people, have spoken about how their families nurtured them from a young age with lots of patience and encouragement to teach them the value of hard work and focus on tasks.

The late K. Anders Ericsson even devoted his study to "deliberate practice," while Malcolm Gladwell captured some of Ericsson's message through his book Outliers.

In a retrospective analysis, many people who have found success or claimed success could claim the target was always easy, and the path was clear. But, those who are much more honest can often say that their success required S.M.A.R.T. goal setting, immense amounts of hard work, focus, sacrifice, political skills, and simple luck. Being able to put forth such great effort, especially in times of ambiguity, has been paramount to success.

Perhaps the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan is the best example of a genius who admitted the pathology of such genius. Being born into a poor family in India, with a father as a clerk, such a gifted pupil was able to find an outdated mathematics book in the trash, induce the axioms that were based on, and able to deduce enough theory to answer mathematical questions that had baffled many capable mathematicians for centuries.

During his college years, he failed the University of Madras, neglecting all other topics besides mathematics. Later, he would get noticed by Professor Godfrey Hardy of Cambridge, eventually receiving a scholarship. While he died at the young age of thirty-three due to health problems, many proofs have stood the test of time and scrutiny.

While, in retrospect, many of us see him as an unparalleled genius who was able to achieve brilliant mathematical research regardless of his environment, the humble Ramanujan would simply term himself as "a man who loved numbers." A closer examination does show him as a gifted scholar, but someone who used this tremendous level of ability and intense energy to give sustained focus to his tasks. If nothing else, using our abilities and energy, working long and hard, and sacrificing many aspects of a comfortable lifestyle seem to be the method for success, even among the gifted few.

For an interesting documentary, watch Nova’s "The Man Who Loved Numbers."

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