Two Strangers, Ten Minutes, One question

Varshini Kumar ’17, a four-year senior from League City, TX, and Edward Rakphongphairoj ’17, a three-year senior from Bangkok, Thailand, had never spoken before when they sat down together in a Lanphier Center study room a few weeks ago. They were given one issue to discuss.

Here is an abridged transcript of their conversation.

Does success depend more on hard work or luck?

ER: Hard work is a fallacy. A human’s success is predetermined.

VK: Uh…

ER: But wait, how do you define talent?

VK: Talent is an inherent ability that is natural to one to do anything.

ER: Okay. Do you prefer to have talent and be able to do things just by breezing through? Is that more efficient, is that better, in your opinion, than having to work really hard for it?

VK: Talent, yes, is important — maybe even required for things — but if you end up approaching a certain thing very easily, eventually you’re not going to learn how to work hard. You’re not going to learn how to put in 50 hours to do something.

And so in other areas of your life, you’ll be lacking.

ER: So basically being able to work hard is better overall, but talent is more important if you’re just doing this one special thing.

VK: Mhm. I mean, at a certain point, Picasso probably really had a talent to do art. And I think that no matter how hard someone else worked, they were probably never going to reach Picasso’s level.

But then you get into the question of, well, how is success defined? Are you truly successful as a painter, even if it’s the only thing you’re good at? I don’t know.

ER: Let me spice the question up a bit. Does success also rely on luck?

For example, you may have heard of “year bias” or “birthday bias.” If you look through history, basically all the richest tech guys in the world right now are all born between 1950 and 1960.

When was Bill Gates born? 1955. Steve Jobs? ’55. My dad was born in ’56, and he also went into computer engineering. Now, there’s so much competition for computer industries. They wouldn’t be successful. Well maybe, but I don’t think it would be as easy as back then.

That’s luck for me.

VK: I feel like when you say luck, you mean “fate.” For me, I think it is possible to be genetically predisposed towards a certain activity, whether that’s arts or sports.

Also, especially when you’re zero to four years old, I think the environment in which you were raised —

ER: Yeah, nature versus nurture.

VK: — also determines whether you develop a talent towards something. But that’s related to how wealthy your parents are. Did your parents have enough money to pay for the best dance teacher in the world?

That is luck, to be born in to a family like that. But it’s luck with a method — there’s a reason that happened.

So I do think that luck plays into this a little bit, but maybe not in the same way that you do. 

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