Do or Do Not

June 20, 2023 4 min read

Advice that’s helped me in times of yikes.

I thrive on little nuggets of wisdom I can recite in my head to guide me through life’s parade of seasons and challenges.

I’m limited to what I can understand and remember, so often my response to new insight is to boil it down into a mantra. I collect these and have a little toolbox I can dig through when cough I’m mindful of what I’m going through.

My most precious mantra is not for everyone. The one thing that’s always a rock for me, a handle in the dark, is simple:

No matter what, everyone dies.

This snaps me into the present, which is the only real moment where I exist and have the power to do anything.

No matter what I’ve done or will do, it will all end. It’s the same for every single human being that’s ever existed. It’s simultaneously funny and deadly serious to me in a way that’s calming and liberating; it reaches my bones.

A few people I’ve shared this with have been horrified at such a morbid idea, but shadows mean there’s light; knowing everything will be lost helps me rediscover what I have. Relationships. Time. Health. Finite, priceless things to recognize and appreciate and nurture. I don’t want to argue with someone in a dark place that’s not helped by this sentiment, nor assume that something I treasure will be as helpful to someone else.

There are other things, too.

I can be a small and judgmental person, most severely inward. Some advice from a family member was critical at one point and still helps from time to time: other people will decide what you are; don’t worry about that, decide what choices you’re going to make.

In other words: how you’re perceived isn’t ultimately up to you, but you have complete control over each choice you make for yourself. Focusing on your choices is a more productive endeavor.

And then there’s Yoda.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

I struggled with this for a long time, because failure is real and sometimes trying is the best I’ve got. Being haunted by the words of a puppet is also tough.

But Yoda may be right anyway. He’s saying shit or get off the pot. Don’t waffle or wallow. Hamilton and Eminem and Yoda all agree you’ve got to take your shot and ignore the sweater spaghetti.

Two opposing bits of wisdom underscore that many things can be true and listening to yourself is an art.

The first is from Teddy Roosevelt, who apparently struggled with depression and famously resolved to “get action!” to keep from settling into darkness:

“Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.”

Or if you prefer Dory:

“Just keep swimming.”

Doesn’t matter what you do, just act.

I got the opposing quote from a book called The Obstacle is The Way:

“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

This is a reversal of the common “don’t just stand there, do something!” (Similar to Roosevelt’s “get action!” which wins for brevity.)

Sometimes I need to stop the mental gymnastics and go do something, but other times it’s important to put everything down and be still—without any plan or expectation. Just breathing, probably staring at trees, and letting my mind boil and swirl and slosh around until it’s quiet. Occasionally it comes with a simple realization that had been hard to see through the turbulence. Like I need to remember to buy more hand soap, or apologize to someone, or break out of a pattern I’ve kept myself in.

I don’t know what to tell you because I often don’t know what to tell myself.

I know all these things are true, though:

No matter what, everyone dies.

Sometimes I need to stop thinking and get action.

Other times I need to be still.

I don’t know whether you need to do something or stand there, but I bet you do! Be kind to yourself and make one choice at a time.