A heartfelt try shows a far stronger commitment than an ill-considered will do.
"I try to say goodbye and I choke Try to walk away and I stumble Though I try to hide it, it’s clear My world crumbles when you are not near."
It’s hard to believe it’s now 21 years since Macy Gray’s Grammy-winning I Try was released. For those who can remember back then - a time when the upcoming Millennium held some promise - it’s impossible to read those words without hearing the raw emotion in Gray’s voice.
It was the sound of the thick tar of hope trying to cover the gravel of heartbreak. Many of us empathised with the memory of a time when we were just as broken, but equally determined through the tears. Certain that we would get through this. If we try.
But for some, the song represents all that is weak about humankind. Rather than relate to Macy, they will first pity, and then deride, her display of weakness.
You will probably be one of this angry group of people if you have ever:
Read a self-help book called “Be Your Outside from the Inside” or “You are the Key that Opens the Success Door – Don’t Keep it Locked”
Been to more than two workshops that promised to Bring out the Business Leader in You
Stumbled over a post on LinkedIn that began “I failed many times in business before becoming the multi-billionaire I am now”, continued reading and ended up connecting with the author, who you think of as insightful
Watched Star Wars and believe that Yoda is more than just an early animatronic with a cod-spiritual script.
If any of those sound like you, then you will be angered by Macy for only trying. You will say that this attitude shows she has already accepted failure. That she is prepared for, and is excusing, this failure by making it one of the two potential solutions open to her.
That she doesn’t have the mental commitment required for success.
Do or do not. There is no try.
As George Lucas wrote.
In a work of fiction...
For a glorified puppet.
(With apologies to fans of the Star Wars Multiverse, but come on, you know, it's not really real.)
The quote's fictional origin doesn't stop it being used to satisfy the self-publicising needs of self-help gurus and self-aggrandising, self-made, self-defined, successful folk.
You see it quoted in two different contexts; to proudly summarise their approach to life and how they made gazillions, and to angrily attack the weaklings around them who don't heed the words already.
The sentiment seems to be much hold more aggression than seems fitting for a Jedi mantra:
"Trying is an excuse that gives you a way out of committing."
Or exaggerated claims with titles such as 3 Words That Guarantee Failure:
"People who fail to achieve goals almost always signal their intent to fail by using three little words: “I will try...”
The preference is for anything other than trying, even if it creates nonsense as suggested in this example:
"I'm trying to solve this accounting problem"
you will increase your chances of success by thinking:
"I’m transforming this problem by gamifying the accounting issues so I can see it from a different angle and my intuitions can get a better handle on it."
To dismiss the word try as non-committal, and those who use it as half-hearted and destined for failure, is misguided. It also makes many people miss the point, as individuals and businesses remember only the mantra and think avoiding the word will change the mentality.
The problem with try is not the meaning of the word, it’s the feeling that can be behind it. But this sense of negativity – the shrug, half-heartedly acknowledging rather than fully absorbing – is not exclusively or intrinsically linked to the use of the word, try.
Not every use of try comes with this inflexion and to imply otherwise is prejudicial presumption. Conversely, the intention isn't magically removed by changing the word try to can or do or will.
Anyone who thinks it is a matter of words is a naïve, peddler of platitudes.
In Defence of Try
Trying demonstrates an awareness of the reality of the situation we are faced with. Saying you will try shows a far stronger commitment and engenders more trust than spitting out an ill-considered will do because of a self-help mantra.
Trying is Committing
It is suggested that when you are only trying you have set yourself up to fail before you even begin.
That is pretty much the whole philosophy of the anti-try brigade.
This is not true.
You can commit to trying. It is something you do in the face of adversity. Though others failed. Even if the odds seem stacked against you. When it may seem impossible. When you don’t know that you can.
You will try with all your might.
Trying Demands Your Best
To really try is to do everything you can to succeed. By implication, trying requires you to give the best of yourself.
On its own, “I tried my best” may be a statement of little value. But that should not be because it is thought of as apologetic.
The value you assign to the try is dependant on how well you know the person's best. It can only be seen as a low commitment if the benchmark comparative is also low.
I do not have a problem with trying.
I have a problem knowing the value of “your best”.
Trying is Human, Blind Faith is Naïve
When you tell me all the things you have done, have achieved, and have succeeded in, I become cynical. I question what things you are not telling me. I want to know what you failed at. Everybody fails.
If you tell me all the things you have tried, pointing out failures without back fitting them into successes, I believe you have tenacity.
Trying Risks Emotional Anxiety
The brain is engineered to erase the memory of physical pain. It cuts out the physical feeling when we recall an experience, so that we can survive and grow by trying again.
It is the same with emotional pain and anxiety. For most people, the feeling we experience when we fail is unpleasant, even nauseous.
When you tell me you are trying, I know the emotional risk you are taking for me.
People Try, Machines Do
The choices we make are guided by our emotions more than our logic.
We instinctively draw on memories. We act in the moment. We make choices and take actions we would never have considered ourselves doing.
This makes us able to deal with unforeseen problems along the way. It makes us creative as problem solvers. It makes us able to take on impossible challenges. It makes us continue to try.
Machines are binary. They do what you tell them. No more, no less. They won’t make anything better or worse. They don’t even care whether you asked the right question.
If the output of the machine is not what you wanted, a machine takes no responsibility. It did what it said it would do, and so what if what it did was shit?
People who say they will do, will do and will move on. They may succeed. They may not. For these people, the doing is finite.
People who say they try, will try and will try hard. They will want you to feel they have succeeded. Or they will try some more. For these people, the actions combine to create an attitude of involvement.
Trying Stops You Being Fired
If you have never had to say you will try, you have never had a boss.
Or you have always had an independent source of funds.
Sometimes your boss tells you to do something that you know will not be possible. At those times, you face a choice.
Say you will not do it. You get fired.
Say you will do it. You fail. You get fired.
Say you will try. Show you have tried. You keep your job.
Sometimes trying is the only acceptable response.
Trying Shows Empathy
When you tell me something will be done, you are also dismissing me as being done with. It makes me question whether you have really understood the problem or even if you have listened.
It has an overconfidence that seems glib. It is task-oriented like hitting today's call centre target. It's not personal and shows no interest.
When you tell me you are going to try, I feel you have an interest in succeeding. It implies you are invested in finding the solution or completing the task. It makes me feel you are a person who is treating me like a person.
Not Everything is Do or Will or Can
If you remove trying from the conversation, you won’t encourage positivity and increase success. You will stop people from taking risks. You will hold people back.
Trying gives us the courage to do more. Trying gives us the ability to come out of our comfort zones, to face adversity and to grow. Trying makes us human.
If you’re a business, telling a customer you will solve a problem is transactional. It is void of emotion. When it has been solved, you have delivered on a task. No more, no less.
And when you fail – and you will fail – you have no emotional connection with your customer on which you can fall back. You have little chance for acceptance, understanding or forgiveness.
Your 'sorry' falls on deaf ears.
Tell your customer that you will try. Commit to trying. Show the effort you have put in, trying on their behalf. Of course, this has to be genuine and without the inflexion that can be implied by the word.
When you are invested in trying, you show your customer empathy and understanding. You don't have to resort to hollowly telling them how much you understand them when you clearly don't.
It is only those who speak the language of business-speak who have the issue with TRY. When you say you will try for your customer, and really mean it, your customer will feel understood, not underwhelmed.
Trying builds trust that will improve the relationship you have with your customer for the long-term. What you have done - the task itself - will just be the forgotten icing on the cake.