Slow and steady wins the race
The best illustration of this proverb is the old fable of Aesop about the hare and the tortoise. A tortoise, which moves very slowly, challenged a hare, one of the swiftest of the animals, to a race.
The hare took it as a joke; and after running a certain distance, lay down under a bush and went to sleep, thinking he had plenty of time to beat his slow competitor. The tortoise, however, plodded on steadily, without pausing.
He passed the sleeping hare and had nearly reached the goal before the hare woke up. The hare, seeing his rival so far ahead, set off at full speed; but he had delayed too long, and before he could reach it, the tortoise had passed the winning post and won the race.
The proverb and the fable are a warning to erratic and lazy geniuses and an encouragement to the ordinary man of average ability. Even a man of brilliant gifts cannot achieve much without steady work and perseverance; and there have been many men of talent, and even genius, who have failed, or at any rate not achieved the success they might have achieved, owing to laziness, or over-confidence in their natural ability.
The English poet Coleridge is a good example; he undoubtedly had high poetic genius, but partly owing to a natural inability to persevere and partly owing to the habit he got into of taking opium, he did very little perfect or finished work.
“The Ancient Mariner” is his only great finished poem; most of the rest are uncompleted fragments. He began many things but completed very little. An average man with very mediocre gifts is tempted to think that it is no use to accomplish anything great. So he attempts nothing.
And yet many quite ordinary people have achieved solid success in life through perseverance, steady application, and hard work. Compared with a brilliant genius, they are like the tortoise to the hare; and yet, as the tortoise won the race by plodding on bravely with unrelaxed perseverance, a steady worker wins through in the end.
At school, it is not always the cleverest boy that takes the prizes; a steady plodder of average intelligence is often the winner. The proverb, therefore, means that success in life may be achieved by even ordinary people having perseverance and steady application.