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How much is trying worth?

Have you ever had that feeling where you seem to have some sort of background process going on, something is bothering you, but you just can’t seem to quite put your finger on what it is?  Lately I’ve been coming across situations where I get that feeling and I am convinced something is just not right but if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to express it.  Well, finally I have figured it out and I can actually put it into words.  I’d like to share it with you to get your take on this…

I have always been very much of a black or white type person.  People have often described me as such and I’ve been told over and again throughout my life just how frustrating it is that I don’t seem to allow for any “gray zones”.  If I ask you if you want to do such and such and you answer me with “Sure!”, that means absolutely nothing to me and I will press you for either a “Yes” or a “No”.  Nevermind this wishy washy “Sure” kind of answer.  And you’ll look at me and wonder what the hell is wrong with me, after all, it’s very clear that “Sure!” means “Yes!”.  What more do I want eh?  I want yes or no, on or off, black or white.  I’m not interested in anything in between…it’s far too vague and non-commital.

So, I’ve heard you out, my family, friends and many others along the way, and have worked long and hard to make the necessary adjustments so that I can accept a few shades of gray.  I’m doing much better.  But I admit to still driving people around the bend.

Me:  “Do you like it?”

You: “Ummm, well so-so.”

Me:  “So what does that mean?  Yes, or no?”

You: “Grrrrrr!!!!”

I’m working on it, I promise!!  I am grateful that for all these years everyone has nevertheless accepted those parts of me that frustrate them…and I have heard the kind nudges along the way.  So what is it all about?  Well it has to do with commitment and taking responsibility.  I have this issue with the response that goes, “I’ll try!”.  Oh my god, if you answer me with “I’ll try!”, I start to get that uncomfortable feeling inside and I realize now that it’s because it means absolutely nothing to me.  “I’ll try” is simply not making a commitment, one way or the other, to do it or not do it.  I cannot count on “I’ll try”.  To me, it means that perhaps you will, perhaps you won’t and so I cannot walk away with that feeling that I know what the outcome will be.  I’m left dangling and the only way out of that feeling is to dismiss that response and log it as a “No”.  Then I feel better because I’m back in the driver’s seat of my own life since I’m no longer in waiting and wondering mode.  Do you see what I’m saying?

I’ve been wondering what “I’ll try” really means.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that it is essentially a cop out and that it has no value.  You see, we are so afraid to FAIL.  There it is, that big word that drives a lot of our actions and most of our inaction!  If you were to commit and say, “I will”, you have essentially taken on responsibility for your actions.  People will depend on you once you give them the assurance of a firm commitment.  How scary is that?  Conversely, if you clearly state “I will not”, then people know very clearly that you have turned down taking responsibility for whatever it was they asked of you.  And that works too.  But we are so afraid to actually let people down (that is how we perceive responding with a “No thank you”) that instead of clearly saying “No”, instead we say, “I’ll try”.

So what does “I’ll try” really mean?  It means that you hereby waive all responsibilty for the result of your actions with respect to whatever you didn’t really commit to do.  In other words, if you merely said that you’d try, and in the end you never got around to it, or you started and didn’t finish, or you tried and apparently failed, well…you are not responsible because all you committed to was trying.  Are you really truly committed when you will only go so far as promising to try?  It’s just far too easy to turn around and say, “Well I tried but I didn’t have what I needed”, or “I tried but I didn’t have the time”, or “I tried but other things came up”, or simply, “I tried”.  Yes, trying is not worth anything because it has no weight.  There is no commitment and we absolve ourselves of any responsibility when we merely offer to try.  Have you ever considered that by not making a clear commitment, you are also actually negating your own self worth?  I’d love to hear what you think of that idea…

Tell me, how do you feel when you invite someone to a big party you’re planning?  You are all excited and want to put on a fantastic spread and share some fun times with people close to you.  You make your list of invites and start calling up 20 friends.  Ten of them tell you, “Yes, I WILL be there!!”, three of them tell you outright, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t make it”, and seven of them answer with “I’ll try to make it!”.  Okay, so do you set the table for 10 or for 17 or do you do some sort of calculation of averages and end up setting the table for 14 or what?  What do you do about those seven people who gave you an “I’ll try to make it” answer?  Well, I’m done with those people.  “I’ll try!” is simply not good enough because I can’t work with that.  So, I’m very sorry but I need to dismiss you.  I can’t count on you with an answer like that.  I don’t know if you will or you won’t and you are leaving me dangling…waiting to see what will happen.  How can I have any control of my life if I’m going to go around dancing around a bunch of wishy washy “I’ll try” type answers?

There you go, I have finally figured out what that background process has been that’s been nagging me.  Simply put, “I’ll try” frustrates me.  But, I don’t have to “try” to deal with it, I can opt to simply negate it.  There you go, yes or no.  No, I will no longer work around “I’ll try!”.  And when I catch myself copping out with such an answer, I’ll bear in mind that I will be negated as well.

My suspicion is that such a non-commital response comes from an inherent fear of failure.  We are so afraid to fail, in whatever terms we describe failure, that we refuse to make a commitment.  And then, what happens?  We wonder why we never get anywhere, why we somehow got overlooked when the party invites went out, why we’re not being asked to participate, why we get passed over for that promotion, and so on.  Well, we are all sitting around waiting and hoping to be able to cash in on any one of those wishy washy attempts to get something done or go somewhere or whatever.  There we wait, like Godot, for someone to take the reins and “Do it!”.  And while we’re sitting there, we whine and wonder why our lives are out of control…  Why not take up the challenge!!  So what if it doesn’t work out exactly as you’d planned…at least you took control and made a decision.  Doesn’t that feel better?

Now that I’ve said all that, I want to consider the other side of the coin for a minute.  You see, I have this theory that we would all feel so much freer if we got rid of this concept of merely trying.  I’ve just gone on about how it feels to be on the receiving end of “I’ll try” and I’m admitting that personally, I feel so much better and more in control of my life having decided to no longer be led around by “I’ll try”.  But what of the one who is giving such a non-commital answer?  How do you actually feel when you say “I’ll try”?  Does it not nag you the whole time?  Would it not have been so much better to simply commit one way or the other?  Would you not feel more free to answer with a clear “Yes” or “No’?  Either you decide to take it on or you completely relieve yourself of the commitment and everyone is clear on your position.  There is noone left dangling and you are not walking around with the burden of basically having never answered the question.  Would you not feel so much more free and in control of your life if you removed the vagueries of non-commitment?  I’m suggesting that it feels better to take on a commitment and take responsibility for our actions than it does to allow all those things that could possibly happen, that we don’t even know about until they do, to cloud everything and control our lives.

Thank you for reading!  Please let me know how you see it…  You don’t have to agree with me, all I ask is that you commit, one way or the other.  Let’s see what happens…  I think it will be fun!  Meanwhile, I’m going to go make a list of all the things I’m “trying” to do and make a commitment one way or the other for each thing on that list.  Oh boy, scary….now I’m going to be accountable…but maybe, I’ll also end up being counted!


Now, she has made a commitment!  Come hell or highwater, she is going to get that damn gift unwrapped!!!  Let me assure you, merely trying would not have gotten her the prize…


  1. Well I have to say you have given me a lot to think of. I have always been very accepting of the grey areas in life. Not that I would reply to an invitation with “I’ll try”, I believe that is inconsiderate and rude.
    I have always thought that “trying” (for some people) as big step and I respected that. I had never looked at it from the perspective of not committing and most certainly not from the perspective of setting themselves up for failure. Now that changes everything and I must say it is leaving my head a little confused.
    On the other hand if there were not people in this world who just “tried” would you be working so hard on your own personal growth in an area that maybe (just maybe) could use a little change? See everyone has a purpose. These “I’ll try” people are responsible for something even if they didn’t plan it.

    • Hi Sue…yes, you hit the nail on the head…this is indeed prompting me to seriously consider change. It took me a while to figure out what was nagging me and then I got frustrated about it. Now, as you suggest, it is definitely time for me to work harder on some personal changes. And I will! Thanks for nudging me. Is your head still confused? I hope somehow there is a bit of clarity coming back in… 😉 I agree with you, everyone has a purpose and even though sometimes it seems hard to swallow, those little nudges and kicks in the butt can be something we eventually become quite thankful for. I got angry about it all but it felt better writing it out…it started to make more sense. I think.

      • You are not alone and everyone needs a nudge. Yes, here I am going out on a limb “trying to be a photographer”, thanks to you and your encouragement (nudge). In this instance there is plenty of gray area and that is the fun part. When I have to deal with the black and white areas of becoming a photographer, it looses the feeling of art So hats off to the gray areas of life.

        • Oh great point Sue! I hadn’t considered the gray areas that way. Again, you’ve brought forward another very interesting perspective to ponder…and maybe even work it into a new way of thinking for me. Keep on nudging me Sue!!!

  2. Great article Kharim! Wow! I’m scratching my head…. Hmm…. Reading the article I caught myself with a thought that most of the time instead of saying “I’ll try” I say “Let me see what I can do for you”. To me it’s a commitment that I’ll put a 100% of my efforts to make it (whatever it is I was asked) happen. And I call it trying, trying hard. Yes, I might complete let say only 20% a task. And then what? What if need a team to get something done? In this case, you just look for people like you, like-minded people. Who will opt for a challenge regardless, who will be there for you, who WILL try! At the end the choice is yours, isn’t it?! It’s true it took me awhile, well, years, to learn hot to say a solid “YES” or “NO” instead of “I’ll try” and later come up with bs excuses… And, let me tell you, life has gotten much easier! :-)
    “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
    Dale Carnegie

    • Thank you Helen! Great quote and I like how you’re describing the difference between trying and committing. If I’m reading you right, you’re saying that trying is not actually committing to taking up the challenge whereas outright saying “Yes, I will” is taking up the challenge? How about this…by committing to something, we are actually believing in ourselves. By changing the wording to what I am suggesting is a non-committal response, that of trying…we are not putting much faith in ourselves right from the outset. How does that sound?

      Of course, it all depends on how you perceive the meaning of the words in the end…yes? :)

  3. What’s a grey area?

    I do believe that there is a time for trying.

    With my kids, as well as at work, trying can be the request. Can you try x or y? (Yes or No) or in the form of I’ll try my best, with the commitment that they will actively attempt the task set to them.

    When it comes in the form of an answer, most often I will either take it as a no, or throw it back.

    I need something. Answer with I’ll try, and I’ll make alternate plans.

    BBQ this weekend? Answer with I’ll try and my answer is simple. Ok, if you can make it, great. Hopefully there will be enough left when you get here.

    Although I am a black/white person as well, I can only focus upon myself for this, without expecting the same in return and to roll with the punches as it were. After all, there are times when a non-committal “I’ll Try” is fully acceptable.

    Ok. That last paragraph isn’t fully accurate except for the black/white part. But my wife does keep reminding that I should try to be less rigid. But more often then not, all I can answer is “I know, I’m trying” 

    • This is fun Sean! I decided that I would pay more attention to when I say “I’ll try” and see if I can replace it with a firm commitment. I’m fascinated at how easy it is to just throw out an “I’ll try” and how much scarier it is to stop myself and replace that with a firm commitment. There is definitely room for trying but perhaps it is just too comfortable when it is the norm instead of the exception? Hmmm, still thinking out loud…

  4. What a thought-provoking article, Kharim.

    I do agree that answering an invitation with “I’ll try to make it” is rude and inconsiderate. However, as a more general concept, I view trying as the essence of creativity. It’s attempting something new, or at least that you’ve never done before. It’s taking the risk that it’s going to take you to a place that you had not anticipated. I’ts wanting to see what you are capable of achieving (or not). It’s putting yourself out there and measuring your capabilities. I’ts pushing your limits. When I say “I’ll try”, I do feel scared, but not necessarily of failing. I’m rather scared of the unknown and how I’m going to react to it.

    I’m usually a black and white person too. Allowing myself to go into the grey zone is actually exciting because it takes me away from my need to control – when it’s either black or white, you know exactly what you are dealing with. But when it’s grey, it’s more difficult to grasp because there are so many different shades from which to choose. You need to let go.

    What would our world look like if someone had never “tried” to fly? Or take wheat and turn it into bread? Or rubbed two stones together to make fire? The problem today is that “I’ll try” has become an easy way out and a non-commital phrase for many people. Let’s therefore commit to bringing it back to its initial call to create.

    Ultimately, for me “I’ll try” is brave.

  5. Thank you Kathleen! Now that’s a fun perspective to see “I’ll try” as being brave. I like that. I’m going to propose something…do you think that those who decided to “try” and fly actually started with wanting to try or was it actually a commitment they made to themselves? In other words, did they start with “I WILL fly one day!” and then set off to achieve their goal, whether they got there or not?

    I love your idea of committing to bring back a more positive interpretation of “I’ll try”. Personally, if I could feel more confident when I hear “I’ll try”, I would be more willing to accept it in a more positive light. Like you say, the meaning has changed. Perhaps we’ve heard it too often and been disappointed at the end after we’ve believed in it and nothing happened.

    Oh, how about this…when I hear “I will”, I feel like I’ve received a guarantee. When I hear “I’ll try”, like Sean, I find I don’t have anything to work with. Yes, I too need something to work with. At the moment I have no trouble accepting “I will” and then after a concerted effort and not fully achieving one’s goal, hearing, “At least I tried”. That I can work with. I have to keep working on dealing with an “I’ll try” from the get-go. Although, I did admit to being done with “I’ll try” altogether. Perhaps I will change my mind. I’ll try… 😉

  6. My feeling is that it is not so much that people actually mean to say “I’ll try” when they reply with such an answer, but rather that they feel pressured to provide an immediate answer. We live in a culture that requires such immediacy… we write emails we want an answer within 5 minutes, or we think we are being ignored. A fast answer is not always an efficient one, therefore, rather than saying “I’ll try” perhaps we just need to say nothing until we have an answer, or simply say “I’m not certain, I need to check my calendar”.

    While you may not have any problem with someone saying flat out “I don’t want to come to your party”, other people might find it offensive and prefer the answer “I’ll try”. Personally, I like it better when people say “let me get back to you…”.

    • Ohhh, those are interesting points. Thanks for sharing those Dominique. I hadn’t considered that issue of immediacy. Maybe that idea of thinking before we respond will indeed help…and if we could come to feel less pressure when faced with a question, surely we’d be more precise with our answers?

      Thanks for sharing this. Great stuff to add to the thinking process and discussion…

  7. I’m not commenting on the “try” aspect except to say that many people can’t handle the direct “yes or no” approach – they seem to get offended or “hurt” by the directness of the response and so I have, in an effort to control my black and white personality, used “I’ll try” in an effort to be more socially acceptable. I have to say, it doesn’t sit well with me either…..but I digress….. because I just wanted to say that I love the pic you posted. The absolute, almost aggressive determination of the child to unwrap the gift was perfectly captured.

    • Thanks Linda! I’m happy that you enjoyed the pic…that gift was definitely wrapped to survive a nuclear disaster. She got to the gift in the end though.

      I see what you’re saying about people not being able to handle the direct yes or no approach. Do you think the “I’ll try” came as a result of that or did it come first and so now we’re not used to the more direct approach?


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