Trying hard – the key to our success or part of our demise?

Does trying hard in education really pay off as much as we think?

Trying hard – the key to our success or part of our demise?

When considering the concept of ‘trying’, we can actually start to realise what a huge part of our lives and culture revolves around doing exactly that … trying.

As children we are taught by parents and teachers to ‘try your best’, and as the saying goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’. There is the general idea that if we find something challenging or difficult to do, then we can just try a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more to achieve it.

So how could this possibly have a negative effect on our society? Surely without trying many of us wouldn’t have passed the exams we needed, got the jobs we wanted, or succeeded in the many areas of life that we wanted to succeed in. But how much does the drive behind the trying actually cost us?

In many respects trying is a natural and healthy way of exploring what is and isn’t possible. When we first encounter a new skill, it’s only normal to give it a ‘try’ or have a go at it, as this is absolutely part of the learning process. When a child first learns to do anything, there is an innocent curiosity that leads them to trying something in different ways, which allows them to learn of their own accord.

However, this is very different to the darker side of trying, which is when there is a drive or a force that pushes us to accomplish something, stemming from a belief that we are not enough and that we are lacking in some way. This does not come from the natural light curiosity that we all have as children when we are allowed to joyfully learn something new, but from a heavy wanting or needing to achieve something to prove ourselves. The reason behind the force that drives this kind of trying could be a disconnection from ourselves, resulting in insecurity and the constant looking outside of ourselves for validation and recognition; ensuring the need for gaining so-called security and accolades in life. This also feeds into creating the competition that our society is built on.

The drive ‘to try’ can be seen in all areas of life, however it is clear how the way our education systems are set up is a huge part of instilling this behaviour into us. Because the current system comes from the premise that children are empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge and skills – as opposed to understanding that children already have an innate wisdom – we set ourselves up to be in a constant struggle of forever having to prove ourselves.

Because of the lack of confirmation of our innate wisdom from very early on, we are encouraged to try hard, put in as much effort as possible and do our best, reinforcing the search for validation and recognition. If we aren’t very strong in a subject, then there is often the advice to try a bit harder. However, could it be that it would be more beneficial to accept that most of us naturally do not excel in all subjects, which in actual fact is a reality and not such a bad thing when it encourages us to work together. Then there are all the many tests, exams and qualifications that need to be obtained, which further pushes us to try even more.

Could it be that taking this attitude in school and further on in life has an impact on our mental and physical health?

Consider the nervous tension and anxiety that we have in our bodies when we are trying with push and drive – the effect that this can have on the digestive system and the exhaustion that this can also cause. Not to mention the negative feelings that crop up when the trying does not have a successful outcome, or when we compare ourselves to others who are seemingly doing better than us.

Is it also possible that the drive to try more is continually feeding a lack of self-acceptance when coming from a belief that we need to achieve to be a better person, prove ourselves, or to have a better status in life?

When this is the case, it’s coming from a place of being less, instead of a simple confirmation of the amazing potential that all have access to in our various ways.

All too often in the way that we approach educating ourselves and others there is little appreciation of what is already there by putting the focus on what is lacking and what more can be done. Imagine, if instead the platform that we were working from was one of already acknowledging and appreciating the fact that we all have a grandness inside of us and a multi-dimensional potential that goes way beyond the exam result or qualification. If education came from this viewpoint, our grades and results would be further confirmation of ourselves instead of trophies propping up the lack of self-worth that could be the driving force behind the trying.

There is nothing wrong with trying when it comes from a place of appreciation, acceptance and celebration of ourselves.

However, when it gets out of control, which it so easily does in a world that is constantly striving for more, we need to question how far all this trying has actually got us. And when looking at the bigger picture of the rates of illness, disease and disharmony in our society, it is questionable that it has actually got us very far at all. Therefore, maybe it is time to go back to that beautifully light and playful way of learning that we all went through in those first few years of life, and give that another ‘try’.

Filed under


  • By Eleanor Cooper, BA (Hons), PGDip teaching English language, English Co-ordinator and Tutor

    As a teacher of English as a foreign language, I love connecting to people from around the world. I’m also interested in education and well-being, and enjoy writing, cooking and socialising.

  • Photography: Matt Paul