Trying too hard

I am very well acquainted with this phrase: Trying too hard. I’ve had it used on me quite a bit by reporters, directors, fans and critics.

It’s a common enough phrase. Even I have used it on other people. People who “try too hard” come across as irritating and fake and you just want to slap them and tell them to just be themselves.

But have you ever considered it from another perspective?

What is so wrong with “trying too hard”? Doesn’t everyone preach the maxim: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? Everyone knows that there’s virtue in trying. Your parents, if they’re good parents, should have instilled that lesson into you since you were a kid. You’ve read stories about people who fail and fail but they eventually succeed because they never gave up.

So what is this nonsense about trying too hard? Can one try too hard?

If your child is slow and keeps getting lousy grades and one day decides that she’s sick of it and wants to spend six hours a day after school to just study and study so she can get better grades, will you scold her for “trying too hard”? Will you tell her, “Relax, my dear. All your classmates only study two hours a day and get good marks. You should be like them. Don’t try too hard and you’ll pass with flying colours.”?

Would you say that?

I don’t think so.

If you have an actress who is not naturally good at acting, so she puts a lot of effot into improving and works hard every way she can to find success, should you say to her, “Relax. Don’t try so hard. If it’s yours, it’s yours. Just be yourself and success will come to you.”?

I don’t think life happens that way. Not everyone is born a natural. Some people have to try harder than others to achieve the same level of success. You shouldn’t give up just because you weren’t born smart, or pretty, or fast, or talented. You find ways to make up for that lack.

Don’t you admire people who laugh at failure in the face and just keep on trying? So how in the world is it possible for anyone to “try too hard”?

Isn’t it a much greater crime not to try at all?

Sometimes, people can be so blind and stupid.

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20 thoughts on “Trying too hard

  1. Don’t tell you, lol. :P If I tell you I’d have to kill you. :P :P
    You’re up awfully late, though. Insomniac like me? Tsk tsk…

  2. People who use the phrase “trying too hard” to criticize someone who is striving for something with extra effort, totally miss the subtle nuance of that phrase.

    In essence, they are misusing the phrase.

    It only applies when one’s efforts go beyond the norm and become unbalanced, twisted or perverted; then one is trying too hard, and usually to the detriment of the desired goal.

    The executive who works extra hours to finish a project is trying hard; if that same executive starts to forego food and sleep, or hires a private detective to dig up dirt on his colleagues, then he is trying too hard. And it will eventually lead to bad career consequences, such as poor health and bad rep.

    The student who forgoes TV and leisure time to study for a subject they are weak in is trying very hard; if that same student doesn’t sleep, takes drugs to stay alert, or tries to buy exam questions, then she is trying too hard.

    The more nuanced usage of the phrase should be reserved for more subtle activities, such as acting, singing, art, or craftsmanship. Activities involving manual dexterity, physical agility or artistic grace. In these cases, focusing too much on the desired result can cause a poor outcome, or even failure.

  3. Wen: Go and study, stop reading blogs!! :D

    Mince Pye: Wheee! Essay from Mr Wiki! Woot! *clap clap* How’s work? The load easing up a bit?

  4. Just to add, if you try very hard to improve yourself, that is a worthwhile goal, whether it is acting, driving, studying, writing, communicating, skydiving, etc.

    In this case, the activity refered to is not “acting”, but rather “improving oneself”. And it’s pretty difficult to “try too hard”, unless you go to the extreme like taking drugs, developing an obsession, or killing off the competition. :P

    When actually acting, however, one can quite easily “try too hard”, if one fails to understand the subtlety of the emotions required, for eg.

  5. You’re right, of course. But sometimes people use the phrase scornfully, totally neglecting the fact that it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation for people who are not talented in a particular area.

    For example, people might say Willaim Hung tries too hard, that’s why he appears all weird and stiff. But they don’t realise that he’s born like that, and he’ll give that kind of performance whether he tries or not. But if he keeps on trying and learning the right way, he will improve.

    So I don’t even like the phrase, whether it’s used correctly or not, because when people use that phrase on performers, they don’t realise that they’re picking on something as unchangeable as a birth wart on the butt, or something like that. So, instead of picking, they should just shut up or give constructive advice or encouragement.

  6. Monster,

    Are you discouraged? I always believe that if you want something, you need to work hard at it. So what’s the deal with try too hard? How much is too hard? How to do define it? So when I look at myself, have i tried hard enough to make sure that I’m successful at what I’m doing? To me, it’s still not enough. I’m still not good at doing what I’m doing and I’m just going to learn and try harder!

    People who use the phrase try too hard on others are losers in my opinion. Who the hell are they to make such statements? If you don’t try hard enough, when are you going to succeed? You right in using the student analogy. Practise makes perfect!

    So, what I’m trying to say, Monster, is I love you and I think you’re such a great actress. Each time I catch I Not Stupid 2 in HK, I tend to watch it to the end, just to watch you over and over again!

    Cheer up! Let the losers beat themselves in their own game! Love you!!!

  7. Oh.. so secretive… oh well

    I am late, not becos can’t sleep
    becos I am based halfway around the other end of the world..
    but still, i can’t resist reading your blog every now and then :P

  8. Monster: Nah, I’m not discouraged, but thanks for caring! And I think what you said makes a lot of sense. You always know exactly what to say and what to do! Anyway, I was planning to blog something totally different and then I don’t know why I suddenly thought of this topic and the post just formed in my head so I had to type it out. It’s one of those things that annoy me in life when I thnk about it, but I don’t really let it get to me. :)

    Wind: Oh….. where are you?

  9. I think there is a confusion between “trying harder” and “trying too hard”.

    However, as different as they are, they too have a common denominator which you have already mentioned.

    i.e. a person not being him/herself.

    The latter is ngeh ngeh do something that is beyond the person’s capability e.g. puffing up and acting rich in order to impress some girl when in actual fact he is not.

    Hence, he is not being himself.

    An example of the prior is like you have a project that you are not taking seriously and as expected, the results turned out less than satisfactory.

    This is also a case of not being oneself. Had you put in a bit more effort and do the project to what you are truly capable of, you would have gotten a better result.

    Know what I am trying to say?

  10. Wind: Oh, cool. :) Having fun there, I hope!

    Fish: Yeah, yeah. I know. Your favourite phrase! :P

    JayWalk: Yeah, I know what you saying and the distinction between the two. But I think I didn’t write my post well enough because I was rushing it and didn’t explain clearly what I was trying to say. I belong to the “ngeh ngeh” category so sometimes people say I “try too hard” with good cause. And all I’m saying is that people are mean to say that because they don’t know the whole story behind why people “try too hard” and it hurts our feelings. :P

    Ruok: lol… ok I can empathise. *pat pat*

  11. “Trying too hard” is such a snide remark. I hate it when people pick on you that way. Making such remarks do them no good at all – unless being nasty to folks gives them a high :p

    I’m glad you’re not letting it get to you. Coz it only reflects badly on them – and not you :)

    I’m also in the “ngeh ngeh” category – super stubborn lah, me. And I don’t care if folks think I’m “trying too hard’ because I HAPPY CAN ALREADY!!

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