In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Yoda told us to “Do or do not. There is no try.” It’s a statement that resonates with me, as I think it probably does with a lot of us, but it’s also a statement that isn’t entirely true. Luke’s claim to be trying in the movie generally falls on deaf ears because he doesn’t really seem to be trying all that hard, and thus he is continually failing.
I see this a lot in my students. There are some students who are obviously trying hard, who listen to what I say and then put it into practice, and they see their grades improve substantially. Then there are those few students who are obviously and admittedly not trying. I always just love when I get an email or a phone call from a student to tell me that I need to grade easier because the class/assignment is stupid and pointless but they still need an A. However, in between these two extremes are those students who keep saying, ‘I’m trying, I’m trying!’ but show no actual improvement. When I’ve told a student a dozen times to keep their papers objective, and they still use the first person, it doesn’t seem like the student is really trying all that hard.
However, that doesn’t mean that the student isn’t trying. It just means that they are failing. I know this feeling very well. There are some things that come very easily to me, and I have a hard time understanding why other people struggle with them. Then there are some things, seemingly simple things, that are incredibly difficult for me, and no matter how much I try, I keep failing. Money is one of those things. No matter how hard I try to save money, or keep a budget, or pay off debt, life always seems to throw extra expenses at me just when I seem to be doing well, and the whole thing comes crashing down. Money isn’t the only area, but it’s one of them.
Sometimes I look at myself, at my flaws (which tend to be very evident to me), and I’m tempted to blame God, to tell him that he made me wrong and needs to fix me. This is of course ridiculous. God did not make me wrong, he made me exactly the way he wants me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way… well, most of the time. However, there are still these seemingly massive areas of failure in my life at which I try and try and fail.
Sometimes I want to say that accepting myself means ignoring those areas. Obviously since I’m not good at them they don’t matter, right? I can just ignore these areas of life and call myself a complete person. Not so much. Just because I’m not good at something doesn’t mean that it’s not important, or that I don’t need to do it. It just means that I’m probably not going to do it well, and that’s alright.
Here’s the thing we miss. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. The fact that I’m not good at something doesn’t mean that thing is worthless, or that it’s pointless, or that I can ignore it. It means that I can learn to be satisfied with doing it badly. I don’t need to be the best at everything I do, hell I don’t even need to be good at everything I do, and I never will be. I do need to do my best at everything I do, and realize that my best might not live up to someone else’s expectations.
The drive to succeed is not inherently a bad thing. However, it can lead us to a lot of bad places, and it’s something that we need to handle with care, both for our own well-being and for the well-being of others.