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Looking for a very niche definition for a friend, she wants to find a single word that encapsulates the general meaning, "success, but not without hard work" for an article she is writing.

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6 Answers 6

Why not simply achievement

a thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill

Or perhaps accomplishment

something difficult that you succeed in doing, especially after working hard over a period of time

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That's exactly what I was thinking when I saw the question. –  Pitarou Feb 20 at 4:31
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A 'triumph' implies that the success required effort. Similarly a 'conquest' or 'to conquer [a challenge]' may carry this meaning in a nice package. Likewise the idiom "to make headway" isn't one word but carries a meaning akin to succeeding in spit of significant barriers. To 'overcome [something]' may be what you are looking for if there is a specific barrier.

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As a verb, you could say surmount or overcome. Both imply achieving victory despite difficulties. But I can't think of noun forms of those words.

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You couldn't use surmount or overcome when dealing about something challenging but good, like education: "I overcame my studies" or "We surmounted our college education" makes it sound like college is a bad, depressing thing, nobody would want to be reminded of –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 20 at 15:11
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You may also use the verb "prevail" in some contexts:

: to gain victory by virtue of strength or superiority : win mastery : triumph — used with over or against (gates of hell shall not prevail against it — Matthew 16:18 (Authorized Version) (the ungodly o'er the just prevailed — Robert Burns)

: to be or become effective or effectual : be successful (the temptation to exploit consumers … usually prevails unless it is curbed — T. W. Arnold)

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What about "consummation"?

Although, it's not necessarily as positive "success", it does include hard work and presumably if you were working hard it would be towards a goal you really intended.

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Given your friend is writing an article, it could be useful to get some context. However, to me, the verb to master would be a likely candidate:

tr.v. mas·tered, mas·ter·ing, mas·ters
     \/ General, but careful of lord vs servant connotation \/
  1. To act as or be the master of.
     \/ if it's a scientific article \/
  2. To make oneself a master of: mastered the language in a year's study.
     \/ when writing about a personal battle of sorts \/
  3. To overcome or defeat: He finally mastered his addiction to drugs.
     \/ a rather practical topic, but a tad dated \/
  4. To reduce to subjugation; break or tame (an animal, for example).

He/She [finally] mastered the task/skill...

To achieve mastery in anything implies hard work, time, devotion and so on.
If used in a different context, the results can be silly or oddly laughable, for example:

After I mastered opening a can of beans, I could finally get to cooking.

Now either I'm joking, or I found my nemesis, and it was a can of beans. This sentence, then, really is a bit silly. It's a bit like saying "I showed that can of beans who's boss" or "I totally owned that can". May sound nice in a rap song, not so good in an article...
However:

I think I finally mastered Bach's first of six Cello suites.

Implies that I've achieved my goal (being able to play a piece of Bach). And this also needs no further explanation as to how big a challenge my learning to play this music proved to be. If I were to quantify this, it would make my sentence look (overly?) dramatic, or it would appear that I'm emphasizing how much effort went into this:

I've been playing the cello for the best part of 10 years now, but I think I finally mastered Bach's first of six Cello suites.

Explicitly stating the time just makes me look like a drama-queen, or an insane perfectionist.

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