But there’s something off about the line, something that seems incorrect about it. Nothing is as simple as a choice between failure and success, right? Anyone who’s broken a leg going off a ski jump or failed a test knows that. Isn’t Yoda, for all his fictional wisdom, totally and unequivocally wrong here?
Not exactly. What Yoda is referring to is commitment and intention: he’s telling Luke, ‘Don’t shrug your shoulders and say 'I’ll give it a shot'’, dedicate yourself fully and put everything else from your mind except for the task at hand. Yoda is pointing out that by even verbalizing the notion of trying, you’re preempting the possibility of your own failure. A terrific podcast called Story and Star Wars analyzed Yoda’s nugget of wisdom a little deeper, crystallizing why I have always loved that quote, even if I can’t explain why.
“To try is to be aware of one’s action in the moment, rather than fully committed to the action,” the podcast host, Alastair Stephens, surmises. Basically, do the thing or don’t do the thing, but don’t in the moment in-between, be diverted by your own struggle against the thing. You could even argue that Yoda is not discounting the possibility of failure, but rather saying that if you do something to the best of your abilities, that is something to take pride in no matter the outcome. It’s a simple message, but one that—perhaps for many of us—is difficult to internalize.
There’s a zen sort of state required to not be thinking ahead or behind but live completely in the moment, and it makes sense that Yoda’s most memorable quote actually sums up The Force (well, the light side anyway): to wield it, you must banish what Stephens calls, “unfocused, self-reflexive thought,” which isn’t terribly bad advice for real-life humans. Don’t dwell on the possibility of failure but instead act with purpose, clarity, and for God’s sake, stop being your own biggest critic.