It is not enough today to “do your best” or to “try” or to “make a go of it” because all those phrases indicate you did not set out what you intended to accomplish. In America, “trying” has unfortunately replaced “getting it done” for many of our young people and that is a frightening watershed event in the marking moments of our history as a nation.

I am uncertain when the bright line was crossed between verifiable accomplishment and the “I tried my best” failing effort, but “trying” now incredibly not only equals, but trumps, “finished” for many young people and that is a terrible future sign of international indignation and an impending failure to thrive in the marketplace. There’s no getting around this simple fact: When you set out to do something you either get it done or you do not. There is no in-between. We cannot continue to grade effort on an “A” scale.

Too many parents and teachers teach children under their care that “trying” counts just as much as getting it done and if you “tried your best” that is the same thing as if you actually did what you set out to do. People who “try their best” and succeed don’t ever say, “I tried my best” they say, “I finished.”

Few students learn the difference of that important lesson early enough in their young lives. In the Real World you must produce verifiable results and “trying” to get those results instead of actually getting them gets you nothing other than fired and that is where a great disconnect occurs between the hunger of the employer and the appetite of the employee. Too often that hunger goes unfed because of an untrained appetite. I teach my students the only thing that counts in my class is “getting it done.” They always fight me because they have rarely experienced the black and white demand. They always prefer the fogginess of the grey. Did you finish you paper? “No, but I tried.”

That isn’t good enough.

“But I tried!” Give me your paper. “I didn’t finish it, but I tried!” I quickly extrapolate that attitude into a larger lesson for the entire class. I bluntly ask them all: “What kind of life do you want to have? One where you fill your pattern of behavior with ‘tries’ and ‘almost got theres’ or do you want to be known as the ‘go-to’ person when someone needs something done?” I ask them to leap into their future with me: Did you pay your rent? “No, but I tried.” Did you get the job? “No, but I tried.” Did you graduate from college? “No, but I tried.” People who get it done never have to say “they tried.” They get to say “I did it” instead.

The different is glaring and important to learn. Students quickly see the difference they have never been taught: “Trying” and “Doing Your Best” gets you nothing but a condescending virtual pat on the head and a meaningless “A” for Effort. If you hear those expressions your work ethic has been insulted and you should be offended by your own behavior because you didn’t get the job done. It’s easier to pat you on the head and send you away feeling good about your “effort” than confronting you with the fact you failed.

The next time someone says to you, “Well, you tried your best” you will know you are being mollified and spoon-fed and you are on your way out the door to never having that opportunity again. If you want to find success and have respect in your life, I tell my students, make yourself the “I did it and I’ll do it again and again and again” person and you will never again want for false praise or a pat on the shoulder for trying but failing.

To get beyond “trying” don’t even start with the idea or utter the word. If you are asked to do something, replace “I’ll try” with “I will” and you will be on your way to marking more successes in your life that can be used to create credibility and a stable life built on deeds and not wishes.

31 Comments

  1. I definitely agree with you there. I came from a very high-powered, high-pressure high school and we all had to learn early on that there were no points for effort – you either hand in the thing or not. It irritates me to no end to see people proud of half-finished work they’ve done just because they spent a long time on it. I guess Yoda does have valuable lessons for us all…

  2. Blair!
    It is so nice to hear from you on this matter because you are a hardworking Princeton student and you have done well in your life by setting goals and working hard to meet them. Do not ever let the lazy become your touchstone or your inspiration. You are too gifted to become their fate.
    Money and power can massage “getting it done” by having others do the “doing” for those who are only trying. I’m sure you’ve seen that in the circles in which you rotate.
    You are right the “try-ers” will often hand in half-finished work and call it “done” and when you call them on it they become indignant and complain and make a lot of trouble until they either get satisfaction that their half-baked effort is “done” or they hit stone walls at every angle they try to work.
    I am glad you made the Yoda reference so I didn’t have to do it!
    :mrgreen:

  3. Some call it ”try” and some call it ”luck”, I call it ”a loser’s excuse for a winner’s position.” A pat on the back for ”trying” doesn’t help the ”try-er” to reach the destination – on time.

  4. Hi Katha!
    It is interesting you use the idea of “luck” to help shine light on this issue.
    I don’t think luck takes any effort at all while “try” at least takes a modicum of thought to utter the phrase.
    The lucky are blessed while the tried are just tired.
    😀

  5. Hey David,
    I have heard people saying ”…bad luck…but I tried my best…” What they don’t understand is the mind set of this ‘trying” is a sure fire way of failure.
    And, the lucky are not just blessed, they know the right person to ask the blessings for – that makes the difference 😀

  6. Ah, I understand what you are saying now, Katha. I haven’t heard the “back luck” side of the “I tried” sob story, but I’ll keep a sharp eye out for it now thanks to you!
    Yes, the lucky are also smart. I believe some people are luckier than others. I have a good friend who was Born on the Fourth of July and he is truly Blessed. Everything he wishes always comes true. He works hard, but his edge in life over identical preparation and training is his uncanny luck.
    I admit to have a good surge of luck myself when needed, but I try not to call up that reserve unless I’m in a most dire situation.

  7. I do agree that some people are truely ”blessed” but at the same time I know that the ”truely blessed”s are hard workers. There is a saying in my language ”luck helps the courageous.”
    I won’t call myself lucky but I don’t want to trade the experience either – because I learnt a lot. And if needed I don’t feel like asking for it because when I am in good shape I normally forget to thank my ”luck” for providing assistance. Sounds ungrateful – I know and thats why I try not to be opportunist.

  8. I love the saying in your language, “luck helps the courageous,” Katha!
    That is simply beautiful!
    Vince Lombardi was a football coach here in America for The Green Bay Packers during the late 1950’s and he was fond of saying “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.”
    I think that’s a pretty accurate description of how luck works — at least for me anyway!

  9. The parents play a big part in this, too. They teach their kids they can do no wrong, the world belongs to them and they alone are special among us. It makes them hard to socialize.

  10. Right, AdjunctX!
    There was a philosophy of raising children for about 20 years that had parents lead their children to believe the world centered on their wishes and wants. While that falsely builds self esteem in children through words and not deeds it also makes for narrow-mindedness that disallows perception and empathy.

  11. And where does that leave us? The rest of us? We have rooms filled with students who each think they are entitled to their own way. Nothing applies to them unless they decide it should. Discipline, planning and the importance of “finishing” are lost on them.

  12. We are left to take up where the parents never took up.
    We teach the difference between momentary morality, learning vs. memorizing and trying vs. getting the job done.
    We could do so much more if we didn’t have to bring them up to a level socialized understanding of interacting with other students.

  13. Ha, you should be at my school. I once had an instructor tell me that shooting for a ‘C’ was acceptable, and the course wasn’t even difficult. It’s funny how there are concepts of getting it done. Some people encourage doing your best, some merely ask that you do it.

  14. Hi Kimberley —
    I agree a “C” is an acceptable grade.
    The “C” grade means the work is “Satisfactory” but many students feel a “C” equals and “F” but it does not.
    Some students are “C” students and there’s nothing wrong with that because getting it done on the “C” level is better than trying your best and not getting it done on a “B” or “A” level.

  15. David, I love that – ”luck is what opportunity meets preparation…”that’s exactly what it is and when/ if I miss the opportunity? That’s not running out of luck – that’s bad timing.
    I have observed a peculiar trend with my class mates, this ‘’trying’’ concept is some kind of a consolation prize – an escape from hard reality that they couldn’t finish the job in time.

  16. Hi Katha!
    Right! Bad timing it is!
    Yes, “trying” is the consolation prize of losing. Your classmates would be so much better served if they would say, “I didn’t get it done” instead of “I tried” because they are being more honest with their life stake and can work to better improve next time by accomplishing the task at hand.

  17. You know what; this is some kind of a vicious cycle.
    They deny the fact of not getting the job done in time by hiding behind this ‘’I tried’’ …….and this ‘’I tried’’ concept gives them a moral boost that they at least ‘’tried’’ and makes them oblivious of the destination – I don’t know if I got that right! And, don’t know what to do about it either!

  18. In our culture of instant gratification, I feel like many people have forgotten that success requires work. In most fields, success does not occur overnight but is the result of a defined vision and a determined effort to achieve success even in the face of temporary failure or setbacks. Where would be if our greatest thinkers had given up, giving their life’s work only their ‘best effort’? Our society is built on the backs and minds of people who were willing to go the distance, to put in the long nights, to be determined and persistent in the face of failure. There is no button to push, or software to download that will show you the easy path. Luck certainly helps, though in many cases luck is made by being acutely aware of when the optimal time and place to act are.
    The hyperattention placed on getting an “A” is due in part to grade-inflation, which skews the grade distribution away from a Guassian centered about a “C”. Parents of students at top-tier universities expect these grades and exert pressure on both students and the universities to provide them even when the work clearly does not merit elevated grades. In upper-division classes at many top-tier universities a “C” is seen as an “F” because students know that to receive a “C” means that they are likely in the bottom quartile of the class. As a student, I frequently encountered other students who were soley focused on ‘getting the grade’ rather than taking away meaningul content from a class. How do we change the focus back to learning and away from the grade obsession currently afflicating students?

  19. Hi Jonathan!
    You make excellent points about the history of our nation being built by winners who accomplished the job, did not take the easy route, and fought to do the right thing.
    Today, too many young people believe those accomplishments were pre-destined and forgiven against faraway mercy when they were actually won against hard and distant odds.
    Grade inflation is a big issue and I addressed the problem in a couple of previous posts you might enjoy:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/08/21/why-adjuncts-matter/
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/05/30/phd-grade-inflation/

  20. Life is like a 1/4 mile, it doesn’t matter if you lost by an inch or a mile, you lost. I think the term “try” is a strange word. I think it’s okay when used for something that is a work in progress. Such as, I’m currently trying to blog. It’s not a situation of did I succeed or fail as it’s still something I’m working on and making progress. But I don’t think the word should be used to try and smooth over failure. I remember being highly annoyed in one of my classes in school because I’d worked for a month on my project, it was about ancient cultures, and I’d even gone so far as to present it as a scroll all finished off with an authentic wax seal. I was so proud of myself when I received top marks for it. I’d worked very hard, the calligraphy had taken me weeks to write myself. I could have taken the easy way out and asked my Mum to do it seems shes amazing with calligraphy, but I didn’t. My smile quickly deteriorated when I realised someone else had gotten top marks too. Now it wasn’t that I was jealous of his work. I was bloody annoyed. He had taken all of 20mins to print off what was in the Britannica, he’d never even bothered to not print the “click here” buttons. He’d been given an A for effort, and I was ignored when I pressed the teacher about plagiarism. I believe that if schools continue to allow such antics then all their succeeding in doing is teaching younger generations that theft and laziness pays.

  21. krome.obsession —
    I like your racing analogy though I would argue your hard point a bit by saying if the race is completed success has been found. Finishing the job does not always mean winning. Starting a race without crossing the end line, however, is the same as failing to thrive by trying.
    I’m sorry to hear about your story and something like that would never happen in my classroom. It is the job of the instructor to sniff out the excellent students and then support them forever.
    I’m sure you know it cannot matter to you what others do around you because you know your talent and your worth and the value of your effort to get the job done. You can only control your own behavior so don’t let others interfere with the mission of finishing your life in the most important possible manner.
    Do not let the imbalances in life upset your hardy goal to prove yourself beyond the established proofs you’ve already met. If you worry about the injustices against your spirit you will never be free to look forward beyond your horizons.
    Here are a couple of other posts that might help drill down our discussion:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/12/06/tearing-down-goodness/
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/09/25/concerted-cultivation/

  22. Your very right, it depends upon what the goal is. Some races, such as drifting (which I don’t believe is a recognised sport yet in America, bugger), the goal is to get as sideways and as close to the other driver as possible. It’s like watching two cars dance. It’s not actually about who crosses the line first, but about who makes it their in style .. and without destroying their car. I like to think of myself more as a drifter, it’s not about getting their first, it’s about getting their in style, and alive. Life is a race, it just depends on which race it is you’ve chosen to be apart of.
    As for my car rambles, yes, I’m obsessed with custom cars (thus my nick name). But there is some truth in it, it’s just all about perspective, timing, and not loosing your nerve.

  23. Yes, you are making right sense. That information makes the title even more special.
    The story is very visual. It’s like I’m right there next to you two the whole time.
    You should make this into one of thoese little movies you do.