Well, actually, we know the answer. Labor vincit omnia was an early propaganda statement to encourage more Romans to become farmers. And it’s in use nowadays in countless schools as a motto (oh, the humanity). Just goes to show, I suppose, that there’s nearly always a dark motive to just about everything if you want to search hard enough.
(By the way… some smart aleck asked me what I would use for a school motto in place of labor vincit omnia if I thought it was so awful. Scientia est potentia, I replied without missing a beat --- knowledge is power. Much more inspiring, in my humble correct opinion.)
In my last post, I mentioned, among other things, that I took classical guitar lessons when I was but a lad just entering my teens. While I enjoyed the lessons, at least until high school came along and I discovered girls and other entertaining diversions, I said I don’t think I ever had a huge passion for the guitar, and any skill I developed was technical rather than from the heart. I worked hard at the guitar --- for the first few years, at least --- and eventually became pretty good at it. But I was never great. Because I lacked the two other critical things necessary for personal success: Passion and Gift.
Hard work is absolutely necessary to achieve success/mastery, of course. (There are tremendously talented people out there who never amount to anything, because they’re not prepared to put in the work needed to accomplish their goals.) But it’s only one leg of a triad, passion and gift being the other two. To be great at something --- to conquer all, as Virgil says --- you must: have a passion for what you do; possess a gift, an innate natural talent waiting to be tapped and nurtured; and work hard to develop that talent. You can become competent at most things merely by working hard and striving to do well. But you will never be great, never conquer all, without the other two legs of the triad.
Lest you think this is all just me getting my Eeyore grump on, Billy Joel references this exact issue in his classic song Allentown as he speaks about the betrayal felt by an entire generation:
Well we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal
And chromium steel
And we're waiting here in Allentown
If we worked hard, if we behaved. Yep. Sorry, boys and girls, but that’s no guarantee of greatness. Nor should it be.
I mention all this because hard work conquers all is right in there with that other deplorable lie so many well-meaning people propagate, mostly on unsuspecting children: you can do/be anything you want. The unspoken but implied corollary is, if you work hard enough at it, you can be terrific. Well, nope, that’s just not true. Sorry to burst your bubble, folks. Case in point: I really wanted to be a fighter pilot when I was a kid --- attracted far more by the lure of Bright and Shiny Technology rather than any nascent cold warrior impulses, I hasten to add. (When my neighbourhood friends and I played ‘war’ --- hey, this was during the height of the Vietnam era, you know, and it was only one of the many games we played --- I was always the medic, with my GI Joe doctor’s bag, dispensing sugar pill drugs to soften the blows of faux wounds sustained.) However, my distance vision without glasses was so awful from grade three onwards --- thanks, mom, for that particular inherited characteristic --- there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell I would ever have been accepted into any fighter pilot program worth its salt. So that particular career option was closed to me.
Sigh. Yes, I know there’s laser vision correction and all that now. But if that’s your rebuttal, you’re missing the point: you can do/be anything you want is still a lie. A well-meaning lie, as I said, but a lie nonetheless, just like hard work conquers all.
So, what advice would you give children --- or even older people, then, Eeyore? I hear you muttering. Simply this: find your passion --- chances are, you may already know, or suspect, what it is, although you may not as yet, and that’s okay, too --- then check to see if you seem to be gifted with even embryonic natural ability at it: we’re all gifted with an ability to do or be extraordinary at something. Then, and only then, work hard at it.
And go out there and conquer the whole damn world with it.