Arguing with Yoda: You Can Too Try

As I grow older, I find almost every wise saying I have ever quoted can cut more than one way. For example, Yoda’s most famous line ever is “Do… or do not. There is no try.” When Luke is whining and letting his imagined limitations hold him back, these are exactly the words he needs to hear. But I don’t think that they are literally true.

There is a value to trying. Making an effort. Showing up when you don’t think you will be able to do everything (or maybe even anything!) you are expecting to do.

Because of poor health, I have many days when I feel drained. Sometimes just the thought of what I need to do wears me out. On really bad days, I will let myself off the hook and take it easy. But when I have any energy at all, I look at what I want to do and then break it down until I find something I can manage to do.

A good example is my writing, though this applies to everything in my life. I am rewriting a novel right now, and while I would love to write for hours every day, I can’t. I’m only good for an hour or two of creative effort. When I set my goals every week, however, I tell myself I only have to write for half an hour at a time.

Half an hour sounds like nothing. Why would I set that goal when I know I can usually write more? Because in the moment, when I get tired just thinking about what needs to be done, I need a low hurdle. If I say I have to write two hours every day, or even an hour, there will be days when I will be Luke and believe it’s impossible. If I think it’s impossible, then there’s no reason to start.

So I stick with my thirty minute goal. When things are really bad, my goal is ten minutes. Knowing I only have to do a little gets me over the hump, enables me to start. And once I am started, I often can do an hour or more. But I don’t know that beforehand. I only find it out by getting to work.

When my day looks like a mountain, I don’t believe I can climb it. But I do believe I can walk a little, start up the path, reach the first overlook. Often, I can even make it over the mountain.

All I have to do is try.

Which way does this quote read for you?

15 thoughts on “Arguing with Yoda: You Can Too Try

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  1. I think this quote from Yoda does ring true. As I see it, making the choice to do or do not, in your mind sets the stage that you have made a firm commitment. I find that when I give firm answer, it sets in motion my desire to accomplish the task (‘Do”) or to be relieved of the task (“Do not”). Often times I’ve said “I’ll try” and then i don’t do the task but end up feeling guilt ridden for not doing the task. If I say i will do something and only accomplish a portion of the task, I congratulate myself for the portion I completed and not beating myself up for what has been left uncompleted.

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    1. That makes perfect sense. For you, “try” opens the door to failure. For me, it opens the door to accomplishing whatever I can. If I think in terms of “do,” I get angry for not finishing or accomplishing everything I want to. But “try” gives me permission to do what I can do in the given moment, redefining what success looks like.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post triggered two things for me: First, I’m reminded of Laura Hillenbrand’s challenges in writing “Seabiscuit,” which is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. While in college, where she had been a competitive swimmer, Hillenbrand was afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome. She had to drop out of school but ultimately she wrote her bestseller from her bed, at times having to chose between using her limited energy to either write one paragraph or go to the bathroom.

    Secondly, I’ve recently been reflecting on the long list of “false starts” in my own writing life. For decades I was ashamed of the rejection slips from magazines and publishers, the cold shoulder from agents, the failure of a self published book to turn a profit, and a succession of projects unfinished despite the hours I spent on them. I can continue to view those life chapters as false starts, but that would be a choice, not a fact. There was real effort (trying) in those projects – rejected, finished, or unfinished. And real value in lessons learned. Thanks for your insightful post!

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    1. I also love Seabiscuit and think it’s amazing she was able to write such a gripping non-fiction book when she was so sick. There are lots of authors out there who have these sorts of challenges.

      I try not to look at unfinished projects as failures, but as lessons. No matter how I feel about the results, I definitely learn something from everything I do, even the things that don’t work out as expected, or that I don’t finish. Thanks for your comments.

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  3. Thanks very much for stopping by my blog and liking my post – Weekend Funnies.I am enjoying my visit to yours. I would also like to respectfully disagree with you on Yoda’s words. I think your last paragraph, not last sentence, loses your argument. You are DOING as much as you can. That is way past TRYING. In my experience the word ‘try’ is often code for failing. What is more negative than the words – “I’m TRYING” when the person is clearly failing. My two cents. I like your writing.

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    1. I see your point, but still stand by my thought. Nothing is done until I start, and to start, I have to try. Trying is how I get things done. Many people, including Yoda, interpret the word “try” as you do. They hear it when someone whines, “But I tried my best!” and equate it with a feeble attempt that leads to failure.
      But the literal definition of try is “to make an effort to do or accomplish (something); attempt” (The American Heritage Dictionary). There is nothing there about whether or not you succeeded; trying can lead to success or failure. So I stand by my statement: trying is how I get things done. For me, the gentle approach is the best.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree that trying can lead to success or failure. In my experience, I have excised the word from my vocabulary. Instead, I ‘work on’ something. I may succeed or fail at it, but at the end, I didn’t ‘try,’ I ‘did.’

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      2. We all have to go with whatever works for us. It’s one of the joys about language: it’s fluid, flexible, and always changing.

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      1. Semantics aside. Maybe it really comes down to your aim. If you aim to live healthy, eat right, exercise, you will lose weight without ever considering that. If you focus on losing weight, I consider that a negative. Living healthy is a positive.

        Liked by 1 person

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