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"Do or do not" Doesn't Work

Student and teacher from Star Wars Rebels
Season 1, Episode 3, Rise of the Old Masters

Yoda gave the worst advice. Even if you have not seen the Star Wars movies, you probably heard about the little green Jedi Master and his advice to Luke Skywalker. You probably heard it in your most recent company pep rally or from the motivational speaker that just ran laps around the conference room while whipping everyone into a frenzy with the "Rocky" theme song.

On the off chance you have not seen the movie, here is the quick recap of the most famous scene that launched a thousand motivational speaker careers. Luke is going through his first Jedi training sessions with Yoda. He doubts himself and the task ahead of lifting his crashed X-Wing out of the swamp and says, "I'll try." To that, Yoda says, "Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try." From that moment on, all manner of executives, management consultants, and motivational speakers have gotten head nods, amens, and checks in bank with a faulty interpretation of this advice.

But, Yoda's advice is actually the worst way to get results and can be very demotivating. That's why I love that Disney's new television series, "Star Wars Rebels," dug deeper into that advice to present something much more useful and inspiring.

Have we not all also heard, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." How can we reconcile Yoda's advice with the other advice we have gotten about embracing failure and learning from it? Into that debate comes Star Wars Rebels hero Ezra Bridger and his much more helpful teacher Kanan Jarrus.

Season 1 Episode 3, of Rebels, properly titled, "Rise of the Old Masters," starts out with Kanan training Ezra, who is having the same lack of success Luke was having in his training. Kanan finds the opportunity to act like he thinks Jedi Masters are supposed to act and gives Ezra the old "do or do not" line. Surprisingly, and wisely, Ezra responds, "What does that even mean? How can I do something if I don't try to do it?"

Did the student just become the teacher? For once in the Star Wars universe it seems, a young Padawan stumps the Master at his own sound bite game. Kanan pauses and then says, "Well, see, actually, that one always confused me too, but Master Yoda sure used to say it a lot." Is that not a great example of how the best teachers actually learn with their students?

By the end of the episode, after lots self-doubts and self-reflections by both student and teacher, and learning moments in between light saber duels with bad guys, Ezra realizes how wise Kanan is, and Kanan finds his own capabilities as a teacher. Together they uncover the buried truth in Master Yoda's original advice. Doing does not mean succeeding, even when your life depends on it. Believing in yourself and taking action is what matters. We should take that chance to do something any time we can, as many times as we can. One day, it may be our last chance, but even then, whether we succeed or not, we acted.

Kanan says to his new student, "I'm not going to TRY to teach you anymore. If all I do is try, that means I don't truly believe I can succeed. So from now on I will teach you. I may fail, you may fail, but there is no try."

For so long we have focused on the middle part of Yoda's advice. "Do or do not." We have taken it to mean there are no alternatives, and that if we do not succeed, we have failed. It is advice that is up there with the related quip, "failure is not an option." Failure is always an option whether you like it or not. We have forgotten that the first part of Yoda's advice was simply, "Try not." Meaning, as Kanan pointed out, "trying" is "doing" without believing in yourself. You must have intention behind your action. You may fail, but take action anyway. It may take more than once, but you will succeed, or "die trying" as they say, which would be a life well lived.

We may just need to go back to asking for the traditional "do over" instead of asking to "try again." Either way, "I may fail. You may fail. But, there is no try," is much better advice than, "do, or do not."

May the Force be with you.

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