Never Tell Me the Odds

Aristotle and Nietzsche and their philosophizing compadres are great as far as they go, but there are no philosophers like Star Wars characters to put us right in our daily battles. Between “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” from Yoda, “Your focus determines your reality,” from Qui Gon Jinn, and my personal favorite from Princess Leia, “Somebody has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, flyboy;” there is a Star Wars quote for every modern dilemma.


In the fifth movie, mercenary and sometime Rebel fighter Han Solo navigates his ship into a deadly asteroid field to get away from Imperial TIE Fighters. When droid sidekick C3PO tells him the odds of survival are 3,720 to one, Han replies, “Never tell me the odds,” and fearlessly beats them.


While flying through an asteroid field doesn’t usually crop up on the average to-do list, most people have tough goals or big dreams where the odds of succeeding are slim. Research has shown that a combination of dreaming big and persevering with passion are a winning combination for beating the odds and achieving what seems impossible.


Dream big


Self-efficacy is belief in one’s own power to achieve. People with high self-efficacy achieve more, setting high goals because they believe they can reach them. This belief tends to be unrelated to skill or ability. In fact, many with high self-efficacy overestimate their own capabilities, but they still achieve more because they aspire to more. (1) Need examples? JFK shot for the moon and got there. Bill Gates envisioned a personal computer in every home at a time when computers had limited use. The Wright brothers believed that people could fly. Shooting for the moon, regardless of the odds, leads to great achievement as long as it is mixed with perseverance. This leads us to the second part of the success equation: grit.


True Grit


Grit is perseverance with passion in the pursuit of a goal. It has been found to better predict success in achieving a goal than talent or intelligence. In one study, medical school students with similar preparation and ability got disappointing grades. Some got discouraged; others got gritty and dug in to do better. Predictably, those who showed grit succeeded in their classes. (2)


West Point has a rigorous acceptance process: a congressional nomination is required, along with a high Whole Candidate Score, which considers SAT scores, class rank, leadership experience and physical ability. Even from the cream of the crop who are accepted, one in twenty drops out during intensive summer training. A study by University of Pennsylvania researchers showed that grit was a greater predictor of retention — sticking around despite the brutal summer program — than intelligence or self-control. (3)


Studies of school children bear out the notion that grit is more helpful than intelligence where achievement is concerned. Elementary-aged children with high scores on a moderately-tough math test were praised either for their smarts or their hard work. They were subsequently administered a very tough math test on which everyone did poorly, and later completed a follow up test similar in difficulty to the first. Those praised for intelligence did worse on the third test than the first. Those praised for the process — their perseverance and work ethic — had significantly better scores on the third test. (2) This encouragement of grit made for higher achievement.


Whether it’s asteroid fields, marathon training or career advancement you face today, get gritty, dream big and persevere with passion to achieve against the odds.


TED talk on grit


More Star Wars quotes


May the Fourth




  1. Bandura A. Self-efficacy. In V.S. Ramachaudran (Ed.) Encyclopedia of human behavior. 1994;4:71-81.
  2. Parker CB. Perseverance key to children’s intellectual growth, Stanford scholar says. Stanford News. April 29, 2015. Accessed April 27, 2017.
  3. Duckworth AL, Peterson C, Matthews MD, Kelly DR. Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2007;92(6):1087-1101.
Dana Vaughan

About Dana Vaughan

Dana completed a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a Master of Social Work (MSW) at San Diego State University, and has worked in family planning education, prenatal counseling, and child development. She loves her mountain bike, her husband, her kids, and her faith—although possibly not in that order.

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