Take “Trying” Out of Your Vocabulary

My oldest son is on a local, traveling swim team. After one of the meets where he didn’t do that well, he was noticeably upset about his performance. When we were in the car on the way out, I asked him why he was acting the way he was. He told me he was mad about his performance at the meet. I told him it was important not to let his emotions determine his behavior, to which he responded that he was trying not to let that happen.


Seeing an opportunity for a teaching moment, I told him to try to roll down the window next to him. Predictably, he reached over and pushed the button to let the window down. With some shock in my voice, I hollered out to him, “What are you doing?” He told me he rolled down the window. When I asked him why he did that, he told me, “Because you told me to.”

That’s when I slowed down the conversation, gave him a few seconds of silence, and told him that I hadn’t told him to roll it down; I told him that his instructions were to try, not actually do it.

The lights going on for him as his “aha” moment struck could have lit the evening sky. He realized that when he was trying he wasn’t doing what he should have done. We talked about it, and we determined that when we say we are trying to do something we are acting differently from when we are actually doing it.

  1. When we are trying to do something, we give it some effort, but our intent isn’t to accomplish. Yes, there are going to be times when you are legitimately trying to do something. The point here is that you can either determine to get it done and do it, or you can keep using “trying” as your excuse for not getting it done.
  1. Trying lacks thought. When you say you “tried,” you are resigning yourself to accept failure as an acceptable conclusion. You tried and just weren’t good enough/able to do it. You’ve accepted that failure is the result without determining what caused that result. Did you not do it correctly? Was the other person better? Are you competing in a category that isn’t your best? Are you climbing a corporate ladder you’re not equipped to climb?
  1. Trying is the consolation. You tried. You gave it a shot. Good job. Right? No! Just because you tried doesn’t mean you did enough. You keep going. You don’t give up. You do it until it gets done. “I tried” is not just an excuse, it’s also how you console yourself.
  1. Doing doesn’t mean winning. My son could have done his back stroke better. His form was lacking. He didn’t keep his arms straight; he didn’t keep his chin up; he didn’t keep his head back. If he had done everything he was supposed to do, he still may not have won his heat, but he would have actually done his best. He would have done what he set out to do.


Question: What am I missing in this conversation? What’s the difference between trying and doing in your world, at your job, in your hobbies? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


I am an author, speaker, and leader with a passion for developing people into practical leaders who put their principles into practice. I am the co-author of the acclaimed book Faith Acts with best-selling author Dillon Burroughs, the Chief Operations Officer at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and an independent leadership consultant to up and coming leaders and start up nonprofit organizations. My greatest joy, however, is serving Christ and his Church. I am the proud husband of Shay and father of two great boys. We live in Chattanooga, TN. #NoogaStrong

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or downright annoying.

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2 thoughts on “Take “Trying” Out of Your Vocabulary

  1. I always saw “trying” as seeking to accomplish something but not sure how to do it. Using the example of “trying” to roll down the window. Say you told someone who has never seen powered windows to try and roll them down. They look at the door expecting a rotating lever and instead they see buttons and it takes them a second to decide what the symbols mean. You get impatient and repeat the request and they say they are trying but they aren’t sure how to do it. Then you tell them how then they “do” it. I’ve always used the term “trying” for when I know what the result should be but I’m not sure how to get there or if I will. I do think people can use the term as a cop out but not always does it mean that.

    • Jessie, that is great insight. Obviously, the context of the situation demonstrates the appropriateness of how the term is used. Maybe you want to write a guest post with a different perspective?