The Star Wars movies have it all: action, adventure, amazing visual effects, and exciting battles between the ultimate forces of good and evil. I love these movies and have watched them several times. I must admit, though, that I have a recurring conflict with the fierce and lovable Jedi Master, Yoda. When Luke struggles to complete tasks with the ways of the Force, Yoda admonishes him with the following statement: “Do or Do Not: There is No Try.” For years, I have been sending my kids off to their activities with catchy mantras such as “Do Your Best, Forget the Rest.” Yoda’s wise words seemed to contradict my cheerful phrases focused on trying. Was I letting my kids off too easily? Was I not expecting the best from myself and my family? Was I settling for a mere “try” when I could be advocating for nothing less than success?
This got me thinking about the distinction between “trying” and “doing.” Throughout our years in youth sports, we watched our children come up to bat with their team trailing by one run in the bottom of the 9th inning, serving for the game point in the volleyball game, or facing a tiebreaker to win a tennis match. In these situations, trying meant giving every effort they could possibly muster. Of course, they faced other competitors who were also trying their best; certainly one or the other would fall short of the goal. As parents, we wanted to encourage their best efforts and certainly enjoyed the times when they produced the winning hit, ace serve, or smash down the tennis baseline. We hoped for winning: it meant instant joy and much more uplifting car rides home. Yet the times when our kids needed us the most were the times they tried but fell short of victory. In these times, we could reassure them that we were proud of their efforts, that satisfaction still comes from giving their best, and that the outcome of some events is beyond our ultimate control. Given their choice, they likely would have opted for “winning” over “learning.” They did not want to hear it at the time, but those games are temporary: the ability to bounce back from failure would stay with them far into the future.
Adults are often humbled to realize the limits of what we can do, especially when it involves helping other people. I think of a dear friend who is enduring the loss of a loved one. I cannot erase this person’s pain, or make life the way it was before this loss, or answer the question of why this had to happen. It would be unwise to try, which leads me to recognize the importance of finding things I can do. I can remind my friend that I care about her feelings and that I am available to listen. I can send messages that let her know she is in my thoughts, and I can drop off a favorite coffee drink or treat she might enjoy. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed by all that we cannot do, and forget about so many things that are within our control. If we pressure ourselves to fix problems that are beyond fixing, we feel overwhelmed and hopeless, making it harder to do anything at all. Letting go of the temptation to “try” and fix what we cannot and allowing ourselves to “do” what we can brings tremendous freedom and peace.
In some situations, whether we prefer it or not, we must completely abandon “trying” in favor of “doing.” A few weeks ago, my college-age daughter prepared to embark on a study abroad trip to New Zealand. As I wrestled with the concept that these days my children are not only leaving the household but leaving the country, I realized that I could support her tremendously by traveling to her college location and helping her get ready for the trip. When all the other variables were sorted out, I faced the reality that in order to make this happen, I would need to drive several hours by myself. I have always found the idea of longer solo drives unnerving and unappealing, but, in this situation, there was no option to just “try.” I needed to set my intentions, realize that I would be traveling and navigating this trip alone, and, in the words of the Nike brand, “just do it.” The morning I left, a dense and somewhat eerie fog covered the area, triggering my anxiety about driving in less than ideal weather conditions. Luckily, this fog lifted about an hour into my trip. Unfortunately, any relief I felt when the brilliant sunshine burned off those dark and gloomy clouds quickly faded. My navigation system insisted I prepare to take an upcoming toll road, but road signs told me the exit was closed due to construction. When going forward was the only option, it meant looking for another exit, which thankfully appeared fairly quickly with the assistance of today’s technology. Once rerouted, I put the shaky start behind me and settled into the routine of the trip. It became easier to follow the notion that if my 21-year-old daughter could travel to New Zealand, I could “do” what was needed to help her get ready for this once in a lifetime experience.
The wise Jedi Master Yoda knew the importance of visualizing success above all else. Many times in life, this approach helps us turn trying into doing. Yoda certainly did not qualify his famous words with extra stipulations about the limits of our control, where to direct our energy, or how the rest of creation factors in our accomplishments (when it involves saving the galaxy from the Dark Side, it is important to keep nuggets of wisdom as short and impactful as possible). In real life, the motto “Do or Do Not: There is No Try” reminds us how important it is to give our absolute best. When we think a bit beyond the words, we remember that sometimes, we may really need to do our best and let go of the rest. This letting go, rather than the action itself, may be what truly leads to the peace of mind we search for throughout our lives.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.