Stop Doing. Start Trying.

A heartfelt try shows a far stronger commitment than an ill-considered will do.

A small Yoda sits on the roof of a courthouse
In Defence of Trying
"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.

A miniature Yoda
Photo by Alberto Bigoni at Unsplash

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:

Don't say:

"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.

The Scales of Justice - and Yoda
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels

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.

A Gavel - and Yoda
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels

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.

A Gavel - and Yoda
Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

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”.

A Gavel - and Yoda

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.

A Gavel - and Yoda