I walk into the first tutorial. The first of many that will be a two-year journey with the student. It’s always the same. That similar look across their faces; always nervous, keen, sometimes shy, and always hopeful.

The usual polite introductions take place. Finally, I will ask “Shall I tell you the secret to success, to guaranteeing an A?” Any nerves are being displaced by the surging hope of the mystical answer being delivered by The Access Project tutor.

These students are on the scheme. Selected because of their potential to succeed. Perhaps they think that all they need now is this mystical answer to go along with their A from GCSE to deliver them into the promised land of a top University. Perhaps they think they think I will answer with words such as “gifted”, “talented”, or tell them about some secret web page that presents easy short cuts.

I tell them the answer “hours and hours of hard work”. All I want is hours and hours of deliberate learning from you.”

Grammy award-winning musician and Oscar nominated actor Will Smith has thought a lot about talent, effort, skill, and achievement. “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented”, “Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.”

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.”

I tutor maths and I finish the session with some equations,

Skill = talent x effort

Achievement = skill x effort

I.e. Achievement = talent x effort²

Talent, which tends to be constant, gives you the ability to learn something quickly. Skill comes from the practice of that talent. Achievement is all about effort! As your effort increases your achievements go to infinity and it is far, far more important than your talent! Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have become.

There is no magic to success, only treadmills as Will Smith would say.


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