If At First You Don’t Succeed, Stop Trying

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Stop Trying

My friends, we’ve been hoodwinked.

For well over 160 years, we’ve been taught that “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s an adage with the best of intentions, encouraging us to not give up just because we don’t find success in something the first go ‘round. The key is persistency.

I get it. And I believed it. 

This week however, that belief was called into question when I heard a DJ on the radio talking about the word “try” and pitching the question to listeners about whether we should consider removing it from our vocabulary. 

Her reasoning, she stated, was based on commentary that the word “try implies failure, or at the very least, a lack of adequate action.” To say we are going to try and do something leaves room for a cop out. The verbiage alone subconsciously communicates to oneself that you are not fully committed to whatever it is you are trying. 

By contrast, if you say you’ll “do” something that suggests 100 percent effort. No matter what happens, you are fully committed to your actions. It’s that do or die “I’m not throwing away my shot” kind of passion sung about in Hamilton the musical.

It’s what Master Yoda said to Luke Skywalker in his Jedi training: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

It’s what the Apostle Paul said countless times in his letters of encouragement to churches and fellow believers in the Christian faith. To the Corinthian church he said, “let all you do, be done in love.” To people of Philippi, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” [emphasis mine]. 

So it seems, in the battle of trying vs. doing, the odds are in favor of the doers and not the triers. How ironic that the very catch phrase “try, try again”, which is supposed to encourage us to overcome failure, is actually keeping us trapped in its cycle. 

Kind of like when I “tried” recently to not eat desserts or sweets as part of a church-wide fast I was participating in, but then crumbled in defeat one day when I handed out the fudge-stripe cookies to my kiddos for their after-school snack. 

The temptation was fierce and I succumbed. 

“Jesus fasted for forty days with no food, was tempted by the devil himself, and still walked away victorious. And here I just lost to a cookie,” I thought to myself.

Yes, I accept responsibility for my lack of discipline. But I also believe part of my fasting failure was because I kept thinking, “try not to eat that” instead of telling myself, “don’t eat that.”

There’s an empowerment that comes with believing you can do something that you don’t get when you simply “try” to do something. The first goes all in, while the second just dips the toes in the water before fully committing.

So back to the DJ’s question: Should we remove “try” from our vocabulary? Personally, I vote yes. 

I want to stop trying to be a better wife, mom, and friend and just be one.

I want to stop trying to hit snooze on my alarm and actually get up when it tells me.

I want to stop trying to be perfect and rest in the fact that my failures, mistakes and missteps do not define me—but rather refine me and help push me toward becoming the best version of myself.

Time to get off the “try” train, ditch the excuses, and remove the self-imposed limitations I declare over myself when I say I will only try to do something.

I can do better. And you can too, friend. If at first we don’t succeed, we’ll just get up and do it again. 

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