Yesterday I received an e-mail with the subject, “trying to reach you,” which is funny when you examine it; because, as made evident by the fact that I received it, the sender of the e-mail was successful. The person who wanted to reach me in fact did. What they might have said is, “I am reaching out to you,” or “I hope this reaches you.” When someone says, “I tried,” I wonder if they actually made any effort. I don’t wish to sound like a total fan-boy, but in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda famously tells Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not; there is no ‘try’“.
His point is that if you want to accomplish something, you should do what you can to achieve your goal. If you decide you want to learn to play the guitar, for example, you can “try”, which is what people say when they were unsuccessful after making feeble attempts. Or you can take lessons, purchase instructional material, and watch videos. We use the word “try” way to often. I can’t count the number of times when someone said, “I tried calling you, but…” I would then look at my phone, not seeing where that person actually left a message or even dialed my number. “Tried” to call? How about you failed to call me? Or you intended to call, but you either forgot or you couldn’t trouble yourself? You can see that I am slightly miffed. It’s like the sender of the e-mail, who said he was trying to reach me. Reach me you did, as Yoda would say.
Maybe we should work on getting rid of this word altogether. Let’s not try anything; instead, we can start things. We can say, “I’ve started to lose weight,” or, “I was almost successful in completing all my tasks.” I think we do not want to admit failure. We say, “I tried calling you,” when we know we didn’t actually pick up the phone. What we cannot admit to ourselves or to others is that we failed. We failed to make time. We failed to be disciplined. We failed to set goals. It happens. I get it. But let’s not make excuses. Let’s stop saying we tried.
I catch myself saying it all the time. The other day, I heard myself say, “I’m trying to get all this done.” What I meant to say was that I was overworked and feeling frustrated about it. I had a lot of work piling up, more than I could possibly do in the time allotted. What I should have said might have been, “I am doing what I can do.” Still, that does sound a little frustrated. But that’s understandable. Trying is nothing. I didn’t try to make breakfast. I made breakfast. Success. On the other hand, I didn’t try to learn to play the saxophone when I was in college; I failed at learning the sax. And I mean I didn’t really work at it that much. In other words, I didn’t try.
In sports, particularly American football, we hear the word “attempt”, which is another word for try. You’ll hear the announcer saying something about a 40-yard attempt, for instance. The kicker will line up and, in most cases, kick the ball through the uprights. Really there are two possible outcomes: either the kick will be good or it will be bad. Perhaps there is another outcome: the kicker might miss the ball entirely. Tony Romo didn’t try to hold the ball for the kicker. No, he failed to hold the ball. Oftentimes, the parlance of the game gives the impression that there’s something more going on. This was a field goal attempt. There’s a lot riding on this moment!
Let’s stop trying. Let’s strike that word from the English language. That is easier said than done, I know. I still find myself saying it everywhere. I’ll try to get more sleep. I’ll try to call my brother. I’ll try to get more done. I think I have been habitually making excuses my whole life. I didn’t really try to do those things until I really worked at it. I never tried to have breakfast everyday. Then one day we started the tradition, and now, years later, we have breakfast together every morning. There was no try. There is only do. Thanks, Yoda.