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In Defense of… TRY

The idea for this piece began when I saw the movie Kung Fu Panda recently.

A number of my Clearing clients recommended I see this movie because I would love it. They were right! The movie contains a great deal of wisdom about Life, presented in a humorous way.

Here’s a glimpse – the movie trailer:

I loved the entire movie but there is just one part I’d like to focus on now.

In the movie Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman lends his voice to the character “Shifu,” a master of the Chinese martial art Kung Fu.

There is another character named Oogway, an old master who asks Shifu to do something very important, to which Shifu replies, “I will try.”

TRY?! At that point I was expecting Oogway to pounce on Shifu for using the word “try.”

After all, I remember the very famous line in the 1980 Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back in which Yoda says to Luke Skywalker, “No! Try not. Do. Or not do. There is no try.”

Here’s Yoda…


I participated in the est training in 1976, and in that seminar they did a great job of demonstrating the concept “try.”

First the est Trainer put a huge dictionary, weighing about 10 pounds, on a table in front of the seminar room. Next, a participant was asked to come up to the front of the room.

It went like this:

est Trainer: TRY to pick up the book.

Participant: OK, he says, and reaches out with both hands and picks up the book.

est Trainer: No! TRY to pick up the book!

Participant: OK, he says, and reaches out with both hands and picks up the book.

est Trainer: No! TRY to pick up the book!!

As you’ve already realized, the only way the participant could successfully follow the order to “Try to pick up the book” was to reach for it, place both hands on it and show an effort to pick it up but not actually pick it up. Trying to pick up the book meant the book stayed on the table!

So the line from Yoda goes right along with this. You either do it or you don’t.

Yoda’s line “There is no try” became wildly popular, and 28 years later the concept is still thriving. And that is why I was utterly amazed that in the Kung Fu Panda movie, when Shifu said to Oogway “I’ll try,” the wise old Master Oogway said nothing about trying or not trying.

He didn’t say, “You’ll try??! There is no try!” Oogway simply accepted Shifu’s commitment, his intention to do his best to fulfill the request. To tell you the truth, it was quite a relief!


There IS a valid point to be made about use of the word “try.” Sometimes people speak in code, couching their words, and being vague or ambiguous.

People who talk in code say “I’ll try,” and what they really mean is: “I’m not really committed. There’s doubt. Maybe I’ll do it, maybe not. I’m telling you yes but I probably mean no.” In cases like that, questioning the person about the conviction behind their intention seems appropriate.

However, other people, the straight talkers, say “I’ll try,” and what they really mean is: “I intend to do it and you can count on me to do my best. I will give it my best shot. I have every faith that it will get done.” If you can feel that conviction underneath, that’s what counts.

This is not about whether it’s right or wrong to use the word try. The point is that there is no right or wrong to it at all. Ideally, you have CHOICE. The question is, does your intention back up your words?


Case in Point:

Last night during the Olympics coverage there was an interview with Chris Paul, one of the USA basketball players.

That basketball team is known as “The Redeem Team.” Why?

Because the USA Basketball Team known as “The Dream Team” failed miserably at the 2002 Olympics and fared far below expectations at the 2004 Olympics, despite the fact that the team is always composed of the current top NBA players. The USA Olympic Basketball Team’s reputation was in shambles; hence, the 2008 USA Olympic basketball team acquired the nickname, “The Redeem Team.”

Back to the interview with Chris Paul, who said, “We’re here to try and win the Gold.” He said “try.”

But clearly he and the entire team mean business, and they intend to win! So far The Redeem Team has won 4 games, lost 0, beating their opponents by an average of 28 points.

Check out this interview with other members of The Redeem Team…


Does using the word “try” automatically mean you’re not committed?

Post your comment and let us know what you think!

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12 Responses

  1. I’m glad ‘Try’ has finally been defended! It’s been made to be the bad guy in the lexicon of personal growth for too long. Clearly the the power of intent restores the three innocent letters to be useful when you need them!
    Thanks Jayne.

  2. i have to wait for Kung Fu panda to come out on DVD at this point… Jack Black is classic for sure, he’ll be forever famous for his work in School of Rock

  3. Thank you, Jane. This post has given me something to think about, especially as I have judged others in the past for using the word “try”. I have one person in particular that uses the word try very other when requested to do something. Then my response or reactions is always negative because I felt the person was avoiding making a decision. But, now as I think about it, the person could really have been offering their best effort.

    Again, thank you. As always you have presented truth in a non-judgmental way.

  4. Ryan Matthews

    Jane – Thank you for this. I had been somewhat of a word nazi about the word “try” until I challenged a very successful man when he used the word. After he gave me a strange look, I realized his intent was to get the thing done (and he did). I am still sensitive to hearing the word “try” and very rarely use it myself. I wonder if reframing the word all together or being overly sensitive to it shuts down some possibilities?

  5. jan lopez

    I loved the blog. I have been “trying” to get a job. I am going to take the owrd out of my vocabulary. I am getting a job.

  6. Lisa Lannon


    Thank you for bringing light to the word “try”!!!!! I cut the word out of my vocabulary in January and what a difference. It makes me accountable for either doing or not doing and shows committed action! It’s been fun calling it out to those around me when they use the word!

  7. Francis Heng

    Hi Jane,

    Before I knew what trying was, trying was just trying.
    After I know what trying is, trying is more than trying.
    Now that I understand what trying is, trying is just trying.


  8. Hi Jayne

    I enjoyed your blog about TRY…

    When I use the word try it is backed with the intent to try until its done, usually I’m not sure how I will get it done or maybe I know I am missing some knowledge, but know within myself that I will gain clarity and get it done after trying what ever it takes to do it.

    my intention energises the try to a done.
    I can remember when I was playing sport and I would shoot a long shot and someone would make a comment that it was a fluke to make the shot, and I always would reply, no its not a fluke, I tried to make the shot.

    I think that people who question those who say they will try, maybe used the term try to brush someone off themselves. usually you can feel if a person is backing up their try with desire .

    thanks again,
    Kind Regards
    Jayne Mason

  9. leather

    Hi Jane
    Over the last year I have come to realise differemt energies within me show along with different language. If my victim energy or saboteur energy is present I will see myself using the “oh I’ll try” words, this has me personally playing small and holding back. When I am playing full on acting thru my empowering energy’s I would never here this word. For me it came down to understand what energy the word came associated with, for everyone obviously it will be different. For the basketball team we can see it is attached to commitment. By understanding our own language not as right or wrong but does it empower us or does it have us playing small. Then what is my commitment to play the game of my life full on.

  10. Phil Matheson

    Thanks for your insight on the word “TRY”. When I first read the article the other day I had to go away and have a think about how I use the word or interpret it when others use it. My conclusion is that it is a very “context” specific word.
    When I saw how the US Basketball team used it I took that as a humble acknowledgement that they were there to win. Given all the hype they had to contend with I also saw it as a smart PR move so as not to “distance” themselves from the other US athletes as occured at other Olympics.
    If my children use the word “try” I see that as an opportunity to let them experience something new but with the knowledge that I am there should they need assistance or reassurance.
    If an employee or co-worker uses “try” then I am usually on the lookout for an opportunity for improvement in either the process or outcome of the task.
    For me personally I very rarely use the word ‘try” as I prefer to “do”. That does not mean I get it right every time but it means I am committed.
    Thanks again for a helpful article.

  11. Thanks to all who have shared their comments on “TRY” !

    Some real thinking and examining going on out there. Great.

    So here’s to MORE! Is there any more debate on using the word “TRY” ?

    I look forward to more insights from you!

  12. Dawn Lewis

    Hi Jayne,
    Thank you for the introduction to your blog. It is awesome!

    I enjoyed “In defense of try” and the responses. It made me take a look at my precepts about try. My realizations about try are as follows:

    1. I totally agree that you have to look at the intention behind the word. The word “try” can be used as a cop out, or a sincere effort to perform, And the key is to see the intention behind what is being said to find the meaning.

    2. I also realized that “try” is about competency level. Assuming that the intention is sincere, if you are embarking on a new endeavor without prior knowledge, using the word “try” can be about courage. It can say, “This is new for me and I am going to give this my best effort to be successful. However, since it is new, I’m not sure of the result, but I will have the courage to “try”.” At this level it is a beautiful courageous move toward competency, certainty and knowledge. As you move up the competency scale, “I’ll try.” is used leas asnd the terminology moves more towards “I will!”

    Thank you for this insight.
    Dawn Lewis