Friday, February 14, 2014

There Is No Try

"No. Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try." -- Yoda

Yoda’s instructions to Luke from The Empire Strikes Back are words several generations of nerds, including myself, have aspired to live by. And by “aspired,” I mean “tried.” Thus begins the pseudo-philosophical sticky wicket.

Over the last month, I've had a number of opportunities to take pride in my daughters by way of performance. One daughter sang in a talent show. The other has begun another season of select soccer. Recently, both daughters danced in an event for parents and the student body. An intimidating number of kind friends and acquaintances have gushed to me about how amazing my daughters are, how proud I must be, how much potential they have. They are, in the best way, being kind.

Witnessing my daughters on a stage, in the spotlight, on a playing field, creates an entirely different set of reactions inside me, physiologically and psychologically, than when I am the one performing. That annoying paternal protective instinct is so powerful, everything in you wants to stand up and shield your child from any criticism or failure, yet we just sit there and try to enjoy the experience and focus on all the positives instead of the negatives.

We pretend we don't fear for them. It's funny to watch parents trying not to act scared. The pain of personal failure holds no candle to the fear of the failure of your child.

Realistically, neither of my daughters has much future as a professional dancer, but one has a much greater chance than the other. She has more fluidity, more grace in her moves. Her body is a unified creation while dancing, while the other jerks, stops and starts, misses the occasional beat. One daughter feels the music, and the other daughter tries to follow the moves.

The amount of pride I felt in the more awkwardly dancing daughter cannot be adequately described. Likewise, as proud as everyone (including myself) was when the other daughter won a prize in the talent show, it paled in comparison to how I felt watching her audition to earn that chance two weeks earlier.

It is in their trying that my daughters win my greatest admiration. Which brings us back to Yoda. Because doesn't he condemn "try"?

I’ve realized I slightly misinterpreted his wisdom. Proverbs and the like have a history with this problem. I used to misinterpret Yoda’s words as this: “Succeed, or fail. There is no try.” Shame on me.

Yoda is worries not about outcome. Worry about attitude and belief does he. All of the best and most important battles are fought from within. Yoda isn’t against trying new things, and he isn’t opposed to failure. His disgust with Luke is about Luke’s attitude. When Luke says, when preparing to use his burgeoning abilities to lift the X-Wing from the swamp, “I’ll try,” what he actually means is, “There’s no way in hell this is going to happen. Whatever efforts I put forth are futile in the face of this challenge, but I’ll do it just to shut you up, Little Green Grover.”

In Luke’s case, he has conceded an outcome before he tried.

When my children “try,” and I find myself moved by their efforts, I am not failing to heed Yoda’s words. I don’t have to believe they will be The Best at something, that they will become professionals. When they are “trying,” they are in fact “doing.”

When I think back to my own adolescence, the potential of failure sat on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot, my own supernatural familiar. Even today, that Luke fatalistic attitude lingers with me as often as not. It can indeed be crippling.

I’m pleased with my kids because, at least so far, they have not allowed thoughts of the negative to hinder their efforts, to stop them from trying and doing so wholeheartedly. Their sincere effort defines success, not in the quality of the outcome. The more untethered their efforts are from thoughts of failure, because they put their hearts into their performances.

I’m no fan of the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality of competition or achievement, but last place, if achieved with the utmost effort and heart, is measured a victory. A trophy should be irrelevant. Screw the trophy.

I’ve felt this belief and pride in the audience and in the stands as a parent, and I’ve felt it for other parents as I watched their children give their all. Seeing them get some kind of symbolic honor or undeserved token of achievement would kill the feeling. That feeling is worth more than 50 trophies.

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