Everything I Need To Know About Productivity I Learned On Dagobah

by | Process


I’m convinced that many of my generation’s life philosophies were informed not so much by great books, strong role models or sharp education, but by – yep, for better or worse – movies. While generations past may have sat around quoting from literature and offering up witty political retorts in conversation, my generation is more likely to toss out a famous film quote or reference an awkward coming-of-age flick moment as a point of reference.

Obvious Karate Kid deference aside, the single film moment that goes through my head the most these days is from The Empire Strikes Back. (Whiny) Luke is standing on the edge of a swamp as his X-wing fighter sinks ever deeper into the muck. Yoda encourages Luke to use the Force to lift the ship out of the swamp, but Luke is nonplussed. He weakly offers back, “OK…I’ll give it a try.”

Yoda responds sternly:

“NO! Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try!”

Luke fails. Yoda proves him wrong. In the end (of the next movie) they blow up the unfinished Death Star (which still – for some reason – has a fatal flaw in its design that allows a single shot to generate a chain reaction that will destroy it.)

There have been moments in my life when I – like Luke – was standing on the edge of the swamp offering up a wimpy, “OK…I’ll give it a try.” In many ways these moments were more about self-protection than about accomplishment. I wanted to ensure that if I failed I had an insurance policy. An escape clause.

“Try” was my escape clause.

If I “try” something and fail, it wasn’t really my fault. Maybe the project was too big, maybe it wasn’t really “my thing” or maybe there were other factors conspiring against me.

But if I attempt to do something with all I have and I fail, then there is a good chance that I’ll have to stare at my own limitations and deal with my mortality. I’ll have to face the fact that I’m not as capable as I wish or imagine I am.

Our feigned attempts at work are often the result of the self-protective instinct. We don’t want to have to deal with our limitations any more than we want to think about the possibility of death. So we shrink back, offer up semi-true attempts, and keep our finger on the eject button.

Today, this week, this moment, if you’re wrestling with something that seems too difficult or that challenges your sense of purpose or ability, remember the eternal words of Master Yoda, “Try not! Do, or do not. There is no try!”

(And please, for the love, never kiss your sister.)

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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