SummaryOur children’s success will be bolstered by teaching them not to fear failure; people who try (and fail) the most tend to succeed the most.
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
So says the little Jedi Master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda says these words in response to Luke Skywalker after Luke states that he’ll “give it a try.”
Since that movie was first shown in theaters four decades ago, Yoda’s saying has worked its way into pop culture. Chances are, someone has said it to you, and/or you’ve seen the saying as a meme. Well, I’ve had about forty years to think about it, and I think Yoda was wrong.
There IS try.
I know what you’re thinking: Wait a minute! John’s wrong. He’s missing Yoda’s whole point. Yoda is saying that if you choose to do something in life, give it everything you have. That’s how things are done!
I understand Yoda’s point. I really do. But I still don’t agree. And I am going to make a very bold statement here: It’s high time we congratulate trying. For that matter, it’s time we congratulate trying and failing.
Largely, because it is not always in my power to succeed. To use a baseball analogy, life is not all about hitting doubles and triples and home runs. As every baseball player from Little League to the American League can tell you, merely hitting the ball hard does not guarantee success.
In the year 2021, a New York Yankee player named Aaron Judge hit a ball that traveled 119 miles per hour off his bat, making it one of the hardest-hit balls in all of baseball history. But on that play, not only did Judge make an out, but it resulted in two outs: a double-play. On the way back to the dugout, should the message for this great player be: “Do or do not. There is no try?” Here’s my message to him: Sometimes you can do everything right and still “fail”—whatever that means. And that’s ok. But better than ok, it’s great.
Life is about plate appearances. It is about showing up, stepping up to the plate, and, with apologies to Master Yoda, trying. Take a swing; put the ball in play. After that ball is in play, there’s not much you can do to influence what happens next.
You know what’s not ok? Not trying. Not trying means refusing to put yourself in a situation in which failing is likely or even possible. That’s not ok. Yoda’s pithy maxim provides an out: “Do Not.”
Excuse me? “Do Not” is superior to “Try?” How did you get to be a Jedi Master with that sort of logic? The problem is not that people are trying and failing. The larger problem is that they’re not trying at all. They simply opt for “Do Not.”
The Secret to Success
I’m not the first to notice that the current generation of children seems afraid to fail—so much so that some children are not even put into positions where they could fail. That’s not good. In her book, The Gift of Failure, Jessica Lahey observes, “We have taught our kids to fear failure, and in doing so, we have blocked the surest and clearest path to their success.”
And that’s just the point. The man or woman who tries (and fails) the most also tends to succeed the most. I have written books for major publishing houses and speeches for presidential candidates, but before that, I was rejected by publishers…a lot. In fact, as I write this, I can say that I have received half a dozen rejection letters in the past few months. Guess what? I’ll keep trying. I know I’ll have both failures and successes. And so will you if you just keep trying!
Years ago, Kipling insisted that manhood included the ability to “meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.” Why “impostors?” Because these are things that, very often, we cannot control.
What can we control? What is not an impostor? Trying.
Sometimes, trying means you’ll fail. But you’ll discover what I discovered, and Babe Ruth discovered some years ago: “Every strikeout gets me closer to my next home run.”
One last point. For reasons that you may never understand, some people might want you to fail. Some will stand ready to criticize your efforts—your trying. Turns out, President Theodore Roosevelt had something to say about that:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”