Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Does Effort = Reward?

As I was reading my first blog/opinion piece of the day, written by William Galston - a blogger at The New Republic; I stumbled across a sentence near the end that got me thinking. The piece was about President Obama and the job market, but the portion of the sentence in the article that caught my attention was how he thinks the President should be: ”restoring the belief that there is some relation between effort and reward”[1]. When lifted from the actual context of the article I began to think of how unrealistic this idea is.

While beautiful and flowery on the outside, when I opened up the effort=reward box on a few topic points I began to realize it only works for a percentage of people from topic to topic.

Malcolm Gladwell might well refer to this percentage as ‘outliers’, a statistical measurement of phenomenon that lies outside the norm. Externally an ‘outlier’ looks like effort=reward, Gladwell claims[2]; but when studied it’s clear (and frusterating) to see that effort=reward is only part of the dream.

Effort=Reward Points. Certainly there are more categories that can be discussed but I chose these as my top four.

Education – this hardly needs to be explained. The effort=reward falls flat when you look at the employment rates among educated peoples throughout history, and while certainly education helps one get a job, it’s not necessarily the job they got educated/trained for. Many MANY of those people put effort into an education in order to receive an expected reward – a reward that sometimes goes to the bosses sons best friend. It’s all who you know. There are countless stories about losing out on a job because the employer went with someone-that-someone knows.

Employment - certainly I will leave this topic to you. Read the news – particularly the piece I read as my first blog/opinion piece of the day. That one is clearly not hard to figure out. These days just having a job can be viewed as a reward. Even ON the job, effort does not always equal reward. Some of the hardest working people are the lowest paid. How does that equal a reward?

Sports – think about all the effort that athletic children put into sports. Dedicating their young lives, in some cases, to nothing more than sports. First, all the effort in the world isn’t going to equal squat if the person has no real skills at the sport. But let’s say they do have skill – how many high schools are there in the world? How many top athletes? How many make it big because of sports? How many Canadian boys are raised breathing, eating and sleeping hockey and can actually turn that effort into the reward of being a pro player?

Relationships – does putting effort into a relationship equal reward? In a time when 40% of marriages end in divorce [3] it’s not really hard to figure out. Despite the combined effort of forming a relationship that theoretically lasts a lifetime, the reward is only temporarily tangible in nearly 50% of the cases. For a couple, reward lays heavily on both persons effort, but what about when one of them decides the efforts not worth it anymore? The person who is still exerting the effort loses the reward.

This is not to say one shouldn’t put in the effort but maybe, in some cases, lower the expectations for reward; it would make for a happier world if we were realistic. Or redefine the idea of reward, as my friend [name removed for privacy] says:
“I think it’s best to expect nothing from effort – except the lessons learned from the results, whatever they may be. These lessons then become rewards in themselves. Anything else achieved is a bonus”
People are raised to believe that the United States is the place to achieve the American Dream, certainly the ideal American Dream is where effort=reward every time. That’s the dream. You work hard enough and you’ll have the world in your hands.

So, all this from me because I don’t agree with William Galston of the New Republic that President Obama should be “restoring the belief that there is some relation between effort and reward”; certainly there is “some” but being realistic should be more important, false hope is not needed. And it’s really not his responsibility.

I’d love to hear opinions: Is expecting a relation between effort and reward realistic, or idealistic?

1. Galston, William. How Bad Is It Really for the Unemployed? My ‘Aha’ Moment. The New Republic. 25 May 2010.
2. Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers. 18 November 2008.
3. Sratling, Cassandra. Blended families can overcome daunting odds. Burlington, Vermont: Burlington Free Press. pp. 9A. 9 June 2009.

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