That’s what I said: “Stop trying.” Right now. Just quit.
You may not realize it, but Trying is the enemy of Doing. As Accomplishment’s evil step-brother, Trying will get you to the church on time, fill the pews, pump the ginormous pipe organ, and leave you jilted at the altar. Trying is a wily suitor.
I watch the line of middle schoolers present their field study journals to the trio of teachers ready to give them the reprieve of a free night to frolic with their friends. I’m one of a few dozen parent chaperones on a week-long tour of the Central Oregon fossil lands. Think Outdoor School combined with Outward Bound and an archeology dig in the Outback, and add 75 hormone-pumped teenagers, 40 sleep-deprived adults and two scenic-cruiser buses. After an exhausting day of hikes, Forest Service guides and geological statistics, the only thing standing between me and a hot shower is to get my four adolescent charges through the gauntlet of teachers there to ensure that each kid keeps-up with his field work.
The kids know what’s expected–a water-colored pencil sketch and accompanying fact statement for each landmark visited today. They also know that once their work is complete they are free to enjoy two hours of socializing or sports before it’s lights-out in tent-town.
So I am astounded when one of my charges, a savvy 8th grader, shuffles to the front of the line and hands in his journal, despite not having completed two of the water color scenes. When the teacher matter-of-factly points out the omission, reminding him that he must keep up with the assignments if he wants evening free time, the kid whines, “I’m trying.” Without missing a beat the teacher retorts, “Trying isn’t working. You’ll have to do something else. Until you’re finished, your team will not be allowed to attend the free activities.”
How many times has the pubescent voice in my own head whined, “I’m trying,” right before disaster strikes. It doesn’t matter whether I’m embellishing a blog post, editing a manuscript on deadline or crafting a spinach frittata, I’ve learned to pay close attention when that phrase enters my mind. Why? Because I am keenly attuned to the tone of impending failure embedded in that short declarative sentence.
You see, although the verb “to try” may have once meant “an earnest and conscientious activity intended to do or accomplish something,” anymore it simply stands for the Hail Mary three-point shot at the buzzer that goes wide its mark or the half-hearted attempt at KP duty that leaves dirty dishes in the sink. It just doesn’t cut it. In fact most of us uttering the phrase, “I tried,” whether in our heads or aloud, honestly mean “I failed.” Otherwise, wouldn’t we rather say “I’ve done my best!” and leave it at that?
Indeed, like the weary field study teacher, if I were reigning monarch, I would banish the phrase, “I’m trying!” Imagine “trying to eat breakfast” instead of chewing and swallowing your oatmeal; “trying to walk” instead of rising up out of your chair and moving your limbs; or “trying to relax” instead of releasing a long, slow deep exhale, and you soon see where I am going with this.
The Trying is the obstacle. It’s like walking with your shoelaces tied together. Far from labeling a state of reaching for perfection, Trying has become a phrase to white-wash our own personal sense of failure. By focusing on the mental activity of effort, we rob the present moment of any possible engagement in what we are actually intending to do. We stay trapped in our heads alongside concretized notions of unattainable perfection. Meanwhile we waste the utter wisdom of the present moment itself.
Give up Trying. Embrace doing. Accept mistakes. Release excuses.