Reb Shmuel Strashun, author of the Hagahot RaSHaSH (a supercommentary on the Talmud Bavli) was known as a genius par excellence. Once, he was grappling with a difficult passage in the gemara when he met up with Reb Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Rosh Yeshiva [dean] of the famed yeshiva in Volozhin, author of Ha'amek Davar and Ha'amek Sheila), to whom he posed his difficulty.
Immediately, the Netziv (as Rav Berlin was known; not only was it an acronym of his name, it also means "prince" in Hebrew) answered Reb Shmuel's question. His answer was so brilliant and true, Reb Shmuel was astonished by the Netziv's erudition; not only was the answer so obvious, the Netziv had even supplied the answer in Reb Shmuel's own stylistic approach! When he expressed his amazement, and queried as to how the Netziv had attained such a level of understanding, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda looked him in the eyes and responded:
"Because while you studied in wealth, I studied in poverty!"
The RaShaSh was a renowned genius who displayed an uncanny mind even at a young age. He effortlessly mastered whole tractates of Talmud and volumes of Torah literature, and continued to progress through his adolescence.
The Netziv had far humbler beginnings. By his own admission, he was a mediocre student as a child, and only after nearly squandering his yeshiva career did he settle down and dedicate himself to the task of learning Torah. He sequestered himself in a room for thirteen years, toiling with great effort, spending weeks on a single folio of gemara until he knew everything in it.
The "wealth" and "poverty" that he referred to wasn't in monetary terms; it was in innate talent versus diligence and hard work.
There is much value in genius, and those who possess great cognitive abilities (and utilize them properly) deserve our respect.
But nothing - nothing - can beat hard work.
Adam l'ameil yulad - Man was born to toil, and this holds true for every aspect in life, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. Contrary to what the hagiographic biographies would have you believe, many of our gedolim were not wunderkind - they strove, and persevered, and sacrificed a lot to get to the level they ultimately reached.
And if they could do it...