Sometimes understanding flashes into your mind in a second.
In one my favorite moments from The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is learning the ways of the Jedi from his Lilliputian master, Yoda. The venerable instructor is an expert at using the Force and is guiding his charge towards the realization of his potential.
As most teachers will tell you, there comes a time when you must push the student beyond their perceived limits, like a mother bird kicking a baby from the nest so it will learn to fly. In this scene, Yoda has asked young Skywalker to lift his aircraft from the muck he crash landed in.
When he fails, Skywalker turns in frustration to Yoda and asserts moving the ship is “totally different” than picking up some rocks and floating them from one place to another.
Yoda calmly tells Skywalker it’s “only different in your mind.”
Filled with doubt, the young man shrugs and says, “All right. I’ll give it a try.”
“No! Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
Yoda’s stern reprimand is repeated often. Gurus of all kinds spout the mantra as if eleven words from a puppet could provide the impetus necessary for you to rise up from the mire and strike out with renewed vigor in pursuit of your dream. The contention is simple: acting produces results…but no one ever tells you why.
As is often the case, the statement is given little consideration beyond superficial profundity.
“Ah,” the disciples nod, “that is wisdom. You can see it, plain as day.” Many go on without a second thought, blindly accepting what they’re told as they are herded to the next lesson. They have given authority to the leader because of wealth, health or stealth. Some, though, are left with unasked questions or unsatisfying answers.
What makes “trying” so different from “doing?”
The words are brief, yet tell opposing stories. One is shaky, the other firm. The first is worried, the second focused.
They are separated by expectation.
“Doing” imparts confidence. It is faithful to the result, determined to finish the job regardless of how many times it takes. It is awaiting a known outcome.
Trying is uncertain. It anticipates failure as much as success, if not more so. It finds the insurmountable challenges instead of believing in possibility.
As the scene comes to a close, Skywalker tells his master “You want the impossible” icily and walks off to slouch in defeat a few yards away.
Yoda quietly hunkers down and raises the ship from the depths of the swamp. The lesson is punctuated by a simple exchange:
Luke: “I don’t…I don’t believe it.”
Yoda: “That is why you fail.”