in defense of “trying”

yodathe word “trying” has a bad rap. why?

yoda said, “do, or do not. there is no try“. there is the idea that “trying” is associated with excuses, that trying comes just before failing, that trying implies no commitment, etc.

fair enough.

here are my points:

what does try mean?

let’s start by looking at some definitions of “try”:

  • to examine or investigate judicially
  • to put to test
  • to make an attempt

trying and commitment

when i google the word “trying”, the first site after the definition is trying to conceive. that’s interesting. all the women i know who are or have been “trying to conceive” are very, very committed to the process. one person i know spent eight years until she found what was working for her and her husband – and lots of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention dollars. i don’t think that there is a lack of commitment, or that “trying” stands for making lame excuses.

try and persistence

the last request in the extended version of the serenity prayer says

… and the strength to get up and try again, one day at a time.

trying, honest, earnest trying, requires strength. “trying” may make some people think of excuses – it often makes me think of persistence. “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again” and again, and again, and again.

trying as a process – example: quitting smoking

in addition to parents who try to conceive, another “trying” comes to mind: research shows that most people who successfully quit smoking have tried a number of times before they succeed. that was certainly true for me. interestingly enough, my first attempt or two were not overly committed. but the desire to quit grew over time. i honestly don’t know what the outcome would have been had someone said to me that trying isn’t good enough.

so what about yoda?

now i don’t want to diss yoda. i have a soft spot for him (you can even find him on my bathroom altar) so i want to take him seriously. in the snippet in question, luke says to yoda, with a dejected eeyore type of voice, “ok, i’ll try.” when yoda says, “do. or do not” i think the point is more about confidence than about dismissing the idea of trying wholeheartedly.

suffering from a lack of confidence (which, often enough, is truly a form of suffering) or simple being half-assed is something that you can do without invoking the concept of trying. i know enough people who say, “i’ll commit myself to … (losing weight, exercising, writing that letter, etc.)” and still don’t do it.

so leave the word “try” alone already.

(or go another route – try [!] the concept of “allowing“).

image by orange_beard


  1. I think Yoda said you do not try but you do to be a witty, smartass. I love the little fellow but they way he talks sometimes can be irritating. I’m surprised Luke was pretty calm around him. Anyways, I would agree with you that try is more related to persistence. Based on how committed you are to something you’ll try again and again until you’re exhausted or you have succeeded.

  2. There is hope for all of us. I’m one of those who tried to quit several times and eventually was successful. I’m still in the trying phase of weight loss, though my trying has led to success in the “get more healthy” arena. I’ll take that even if the scales won’t budge.

    sandy’s last blog post..Recovery Inc: A Cognitive Tools Support Group

  3. Trying is about learning to do. Generally, if you just go and do, it might very well suck. If you try, try, try, then you’ll learn to do it right. Or get stuck in trying, is when we have to question like Yoda did…

    antiSWer’s last blog post..A Different Kind of Grief

  4. sandy – that’s a really good point: that persistence in trying can pay off in perhaps initially unplanned areas,

    antiswer: hm, get stuck in trying. that’s an image i’d like to explore more.

    evan – i was actually thinking of you and your insights regarding success when i was writing this. maybe one of these days i should write a reply to one of your posts on questioning our success-crazy culture.

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