When I was in high school I had a friend who was extremely smart. Due to her remarkable memory, she hardly ever truly studied in the twelve years she had been in school. The two of us used to get similar marks, but while I studied for two weeks, she read through the material an hour before the test started.

It hardly felt fair.

My teachers and classmates always labelled me as smart too, although I never really liked that word. How could you compare her natural ability to remember things to my endless hours of study, just to remember half of what she did? It used to make me feel anything but smart.

However, I loved learning and I continued getting good marks. I even had a “study buddy”, a girl named Lara, who was also in my class and worked just as hard as I did. We used to prepare for tests together.

One day everything changed.

It was the day before the end of the school year and we were receiving our marks and examination papers. My genius friend and I both scored high, while Lara missed an A with only a small percentage.

She was heartbroken, considering we had studied together for two weeks, about eight hours a day. Her mood got even worse upon hearing how high my friend scored. She did not say anything, but I could see that the tears were close.

When the school day ended I went home with her. Her mother and I were trying to think of something we could do to cheer her up because I knew how it felt like to work hard for something and not be successful.

But while I was brainstorming, her mother just simply stopped at a grocery store on the way home and bought two large lollipops, one for me and one for Lara. It was heart-shaped, with red and white stripes. The colours reminded me of Christmas.

Lara loved those large lollipops. She said it always reminded her of home and being loved.

Lara’s mother hugged her and said, “I’m proud of all the hard work you put in and I knew you were a winner even before you took that test. No mark is going to make me think otherwise.”

After that it was not mentioned again, but Lara had a smile on her face through the whole afternoon.

Up until today, about three years later, I have still not eaten the lollipop that was given to me. It still lies on my desk where I see it every time I’m studying. Because, while a mother was comforting her child, I learned an important lesson.

I learned that hard work is never in vain, that even if you feel like you did not succeed, your willingness to at least try to the best of your ability, is what counts. You may not have a talent for the thing you are passionate about, whether it is music, cooking or gardening, but if you are prepared to work hard, then you can achieve anything you want.

I am currently studying to be a teacher and I will take this lollipop with me to class every day, to remind me to praise my students’ efforts and not their results, because hard work and talent are both equally important.