It is hard to really embrace this thought, and even harder to convince your child about it, but there is no other path.
Hard work should ‘pay off’, but there are plenty of times when it doesn’t. There are lots of people who don’t deserve things that get them. Life isn’t fair. If you are expecting a pat on the head and a key to the city for going the extra mile, you will often be disappointed.
The only true thing is that hard work- the satisfaction, knowledge and character that comes from it, is its own reward. The prize is the knowledge that you accomplished something meaningful, that is actively making you a more informed, more skilled, better person. It is almost impossible not to wish for the glittering prize (the admiration, the acknowledgement, the envy), but in the end, it often disappoints.
If you hold out the carrot of a plum placement as reward for a job well done, there is plenty of reason for kids to stop trying at the first disappointment.