As a child I was extremely fond of reading proverbs and popular sayings. They are perfect fodder for inspiration and self-fulfillment. But sayings have an inherent weakness; they often suffer from oversimplification. Maybe they should come with a list of exception clauses like “If…Else” Statements that computer programmers embed in their code to account for all situations?
Take for example the famous saying “Try, Try again…” Anybody who is over the age of ten has probably heard that saying. It has become the mantra of as many successful people as it has for unsuccessful people around the world. So deep rooted is it in our minds that we accept it unquestioningly and accept that the secret to success is to try, try again. But is that always the case?
Penned by Thomas H. Palmer in his “Teacher’s Manual”, this saying was made popular by W.E. Hickson in around 1840-1852. In its unaltered form it goes:
‘Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try, try again.
My issue with this saying is not that it suggests trying your best in accomplishing a task, or never giving up. My issue with it is that it does not offer a stop-loss order or that it does not take other factors into account that also contribute to success.
Know when to stop and cut your losses: In the investment world a stop-loss order is designed to limit an investor’s loss on a security position. It is a safety net to save the investor and the market from incurring limitless losses. Likewise, in life too, it is important for any person to realize when he hits that stop-loss order before spending the rest of his life on a doomed project.
The question is: “Try, Try again” but until when? According to this old adage, the answer is: Never. Is that truly a reasonable advice? What if the failure ends up hurting yourself and those around you? How far do you go on a failed project before you realize it is time to cut your losses?
For instance how long would you pursue an abusive relationship? Is it fair to say if your husband beats you, you may be able to change him by continuing to live with him and sustaining abuse? Should you continue living with him until he realizes he should not beat you? Clearly, that is not the case. Trying to persevere in this case would only be suicidal to your physical and mental well-being.
Unfortunately, Success in life cannot be guaranteed simply by trying. When we fail repeatedly or get hurt trying, it may be a good warning sign for us to stop and rethink our strategy.
Have realistic goals: The secret of being successful is not just to keep doing whatever you are doing, but to make smart, well informed decisions about what it is you will persevere to do in the first place. For instance, I am a very bad singer…I am practically tone deaf. Ask my husband he has had to endure my vocal talents or lack thereof! If I decided to become the best singer in the nation despite the fact that I have no natural talent for singing, could I do it? What if I persevered to devote my whole life to improving my vocal talents? I know even then, at best I could become a mediocre singer. But would I ever become the best singer? That is an unrealistic goal to start with and no measure of attempts would change the fact that I do not have any talent for singing. Instead my time may be better invested in something I was more suited for.
Don’t go against nature: What happens when a swimmer swims against the ocean currents? Try as he may, he will eventually get defeated by the powerful oceanic currents. It is in his favor to try to swim with the currents not against them. Sometimes when you endeavor to go against the fabric of nature you are bound to experience failure.
Is it not childish to think you will succeed at a task, just by virtue of doing the same thing over and over again? A child standing at the shores of an ocean may think he may be able to plug the ocean if only he threw enough pebbles into it… but what a waste of time and energy that would be?
Know when circumstances are against you:
When I was a child my mother used to tell me the story of the frog that jumped into a pail of milk, which was too high for it to jump out of. So the frog tried hard to swim out, and all his kicking ended up turning the milk into butter. The frog was eventually able to jump over the butter and out of the pail. This is an excellent story designed to bring the point: repetitive hard work will yield results. But will it always?
Let’s consider for a moment the frog had instead jumped into quicksand instead of milk. Would all the fighting and kicking have yielded similar results?
When circumstances are against you and you are caught in a vicious cycle of failures then it is important to know when to call quits and break the cycle before it breaks you.
In conclusion: My point is simple. In order to succeed you need a lot more than careless, unplanned, unfocused effort. I want to bring the point home, with one last story written by Acharya Mahapragya.
It is about a man who needed to make an urgent trip to a neighboring village. In his hurry he grabbed a lamp and left in the thick of the night. When he reached the forest on his way he realized to his dismay that the lamp was broken and would not light up, hard as he tried. He was tired, frustrated and annoyed with the lamp and so he cursed it all along the way. By the time he reached his destination he was tired and severely bruised (having fallen over stones and shrubs). The next morning found him in great shock when he finally realized that he had reached the wrong village and that his lamp was not a lamp after all.
It was an empty bird cage! In the heat of the moment he had picked up an empty bird cage lying in his home and walked off. While the story sounds funny and silly it is not completely untrue. Haven’t we all been that man at some point in our lives? Haven’t we all embarked on a journey of sorts with unrealistic expectations? The man expected a bird cage to shed light, and try as he did it was unable to offer any light, since it is not in the nature of a birdcage to offer light.
Try, try again is an acceptable mantra only as long as you know when to stop and try something else! Otherwise it will guide you to a life of bottomless failure.