“Wayne Gretzky’s a cheater!”

Such was my neighbour’s announcement when we were 8 years old. Asking what he meant, he told a story of a relative working at a hotel where Gretzky had stayed and how he watched film of other teams before games, learning how they played.  He was “The Great One”; he was simply supposed to be the best, a natural talent, why did he need to watch game film?  “He’s a cheater!”

In my undergraduate program the course everyone dreaded was Biochem 300.  It was a demanding full-year upper year biochemistry course.  Everyone purchased a copy Lehninger’s Principles of Biochemistry and by the end we had gone through it cover-to-cover.  Before the final exam a few of the students with the highest grades were going on about how they “didn’t study” or “just started studying last night” not wanting to appear as if they had prepared.

Even in medical school I see people hiding the effort they put in, whether in their studies or other activities.  They don’t want to be seen as trying or worse garner the label of “gunner”.

I have only picked a few examples, but they speak to a mindset that values accomplishment only when it is seen as produced by innate ability.  That achievements are to come without effort, being undercut if worked towards.  I find it rather disheartening that such a mentality is widespread, even permeating medical training. Holding effortless accomplishment as the ideal devalues the effort and time it takes to truly develop skills, learn information or produce high-quality work.  At the same time it stigmatizes the seeking feedback or assistance.

What is being elevated is essentially a myth.  We are venerating an illusory version of people and their accomplishments.  Gretzky worked hard, he prepared, and that takes nothing away from his accomplishments.  Neither should making an effort undermine how we see our own or other people’s achievements.  The reality, including the hard work and dedication should be valued, not the facade of innate greatness.

(I didn’t cover it above, but another aspect of not wanting to display or admit effort is hedging in case of a poor outcome.  A mindset that it is better to have ‘not tried’ and failed than to have tried and come up short.)


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