It’s almost the end of October, so now is a good time to pause and reflect on the month. This October has been particularly meaningful to me because I re-focused on my personal goals and admitted some personal truths to myself. It was a month where I was more conscious of my jerkbrain (the part of my brain that’s terribly mean to me and tells me I can’t do things) and the various ways that I (used to) set myself up to fail. One of the most insidious ways is how I used the word “try.”
I imagine this is how pretty much all of us are raised. I use it liberally, sprinkled into the promises I make myself and the promises I make other people. And it seems like such a small, harmless little word. So easily inserted into something to prove how earnest you are. We’re all taught not to make powerful statements for fear of falling short, so we add in this small verbal tic to make things sound sweeter and more gentle.
How little we realize that we are semantically encoding failure into our thought processes.
I watched I Love You, Man the other day. Which is largely neither here nor there except that Jason Segel’s character says the following:
“Trying” is having the intention to fail. You got to scrap that word from your vocab. Say you’re gonna do it. And you will.
– Sydney Fife, I Love You, Man
And that in a nutshell was what I had come to realize I was doing. I was sabotaging myself by saying that I would try things that I had huge mental resistance to or that I was afraid of doing (or rather, afraid of failing at). Why? Because it was an easy way to give myself an out when I inevitably failed (the perennial expectation of my jerkbrain). I was cushioning the anticipated blow, assuaging my not-yet-but-likely-to-be-wounded ego. That way, when I failed (as I always would), I could easily write it off and forgive myself because, after all, I had tried, right? “Try” was taught to me as a method of self-defense, but it was so easily weaponized by my doubt and insecurity for use against myself.
This is how I was raised to speak. I was taught that “I will” was too much of a declaration by itself – it’s edge is honed by accountability – and so I kept rounding out its sharpness with the word “try.” I didn’t even realize that I was re-aiming my intent, giving up before anything had even begun.
Words have power. Even the little ones.
So now, when I hear it slipping in through the cracks in my conviction, I stop and correct myself. Just like how “Yes” and “No” are complete sentences, so are “I will,” “I do,” “I can.” It’s liberating, and more than that, it’s honest. It forces you to look at your intentions and your priorities, so that you can’t get away with any more non-answers that sag beneath a mountain of qualifiers and built-in excuses. It means you have to answer whatever calls to you (Inktober, NaNoWriMo, exercise regimens, learning new things, friend commitments, whatever it is) full-faced and straight-on, looking it dead in the eyes with stark, sharp-edged honesty. Will you or won’t you? It won’t protect you from failure, which can of course still happen. But it gives you the opportunity to figure out what failure means to you and how you can learn from it rather than accepting it as the expected outcome.
And if Sydney Fife doesn’t convince you, then remember that even the master himself says
Do. Or do not. There is no try.
– Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back