One of the reasons I’m so big on living a well rounded life is that in multiple areas of life and personal growth, there is such a fine balance between extremes.
Find yourself too far on one side of the spectrum, and you could be shortchanging yourself.
One such fine line that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about recently is the balance between imitation & originality. More specifically, how can you find a balance between imitation and originality? And what are the benefits of finding balance in this area?
As kids, we learn a lot by copying. We imitate our parents, our friends at school, our older sibling or cousin. Really, anyone we are exposed to. We find it fascinating to imitate behavior — it’s how we learn. It’s how we are exposed to the world, and for a period of time in our lives, it’s all we know.
At some point, however, we have to become our own, original person. We must make our own choices, write our own stories, fight our own battles, live our own adventures, and create our own lives.
This nuance brings us each our own unique beauty.
You will never be anyone else, and no one is you. This can be a tough pill to swallow to some, who have not yet come to terms with or learned how to own what makes them unique. But it can also be incredibly empowering once you realize that no one can compete with you on being you. Who you are, how your experiences have shaped you — it all gives you such a unique power.
It gives your creativity and your ideas an edge that others can’t possibly replicate — at least, not perfectly– no matter how much they follow your example.
The need for balance
So why do you need to find a balance between imitation and originality?
When we set out to accomplish something great in our lives, we find ourselves facing a lot of similar challenges that our younger self faced.
To what extent should you imitate those around you? Copy those who have achieved the success you’re looking for? Follow the exact blueprint that helped them accomplish their goals and design the life of their dreams?
We certainly learn quicker when we can learn from others. And it saves us a lot of time, as we can avoid making the same mistakes others have already made and know how to teach you to avoid.
But if all we do is copy, we’ll only get so far. James Clear conveys this idea quite simply.
If you never copy best practices, you’ll have to repeat all the mistakes yourself. If you only copy the best practices, you’ll always be one step behind the leaders.James Clear
How to find the right balance for you
Everyone will tell you something different. Anyone you talk to might have a different take on what you should be doing, no what you need to be doing.
Not to mention, we all have different strengths that come more naturally to us. Some have pursued the more “leader” type role, while others feel less comfortable or less attracted to that route.
To what extent should you listen to others and follow their advice? And to what extent should you do what feels right to you?
Well, my answer is to find a balance between imitation and originality and to be strategic based on what you’re looking to accomplish. I see value in both sides for the exact reasons James mentions. Letting others help guide you towards your goals doesn’t mean you lack your own sense of originality. It can actually help you move in the right direction quicker.
But at the same time, you have your own unique reason and motivation for pursuing your goals. And so following someone else’s example only gets you so far.
Below are some reminders and some questions to ask yourself to gain clarity on where you stand and to help you determine the right balance for you.
Things to keep in mind:
- To be original does not mean that every idea you come up with or pursue is brand new. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel — just repurpose it.
- Most of the time, you won’t create something completely original. Just add enough originality to make it your own.
- Imitation helps you build a foundation — a starting place. It’s not a waste of time if you’re learning and growing.
- What separates the average from the great is rarely the idea –it’s the execution. Imitate the idea, execute it better and in a way that feels authentic to you.
- Keep yourself in mind. Sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to get swept into doing what others are doing without questioning if it aligns with you. Are you following someone’s example because it’s what you think you should be doing? Does it actually fit you, your life, and what you want?
Set yourself up for success by finding a balance between imitation and originality. There’s value in learning by imitating others, but that only gets you so far. You have to learn how and when to add your own original touch.
Not only does it make your ideas stand out, it also helps move you in the direction of a fulfilling life because you’re staying true to yourself rather than living by other people’s rules.
This topic has been on my mind a lot lately for the obvious reason that I create content and share it on the internet. A lot of others do this too. They’ve done it for far longer than I have, and many have found great success doing so. Since I’ve started writing and sharing content online, I have to confront myself quite often with the question — how much of what I’m doing is heavily influenced by what I see others do?
You don’t have to be a blogger to come across this in your life.
It could appear at work. Or maybe, you notice it in your interactions with friends. It could also just be the general societal influence on your life and your choices. How to go about getting promoted, coming up with the perfect idea for your assignment at school, how to decide what a successful life means to you…these are all areas where you might be able to recognize this tug of war between imitation and originality.
As is true for all things self growth related, take the ideas from this post with an open mind. See if you can find examples of it in your own life, and then keep these reminders close by to reference when navigating through it all.