May 24, 2020

Different Vs Better

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what an artist sees vs what an audience sees stick people admiring painting

Have you ever felt that sinking feeling?

The one you get when you discover the thing you want to create, already exists. Brought to life by someone more established than you.

They've got the big, loyal fan base, the fancy credentials, the pristine branding. 

And... not only have they snatched your idea, they've executed it beautifully.


So now your idea's tainted. 

Soiled by it's lack of originality, you see no value in creating your own version. It feels second-rate. A little bit copycat-ish. And you don't want to be seen as some wannabe imitator. 

You decide to let that idea go. 

I can't tell you how many times I've experienced that sinking feeling. 

In fact, I've had a few moments like that this week.

And, in the interest of transparency, this piece I'm writing now, isn't the piece I was going to write. 

Because THAT idea had already been written. Several times over by smart, articulate folks who knew how to write well.

For a moment I felt deflated.

But the fighter in me wasn't in the mood for a pity party. I started thinking up all the ways I could make my article better. I could make mine longer, add cool graphics, ham up the playfulness.

And then I remembered. 

A few days earlier, I was on the phone with a friend discussing the work of another creator, and I'd said these words:

"It's not that my stuff is better than hers, it's just... different."

When confronted with the reality that our ideas are not original, we have three options:

1. Give up on the idea and try to find something else to create. Something more... original.

2. Go ahead and create the thing anyway, but go all out on making your version better.

3. Go ahead and create the thing, but make it DIFFERENT.

Hint: Go with number 3. 

Because, giving up isn't an option if you're serious about your craft. And striving to be better... well that's just a mug's game.  

If you look at the synonyms for the word 'better' you'll find a list like this:

  • surpass
  • outdo
  • rise above
  • beat
  • outshine
  • overtake

Trying to surpass, outdo, rise above, beat, outshine or overtake someone else seems like a lot of wasted energy. Energy that could be used on more meaningful pursuits, like creating something of value in the world, and being of service

Notice how those words aren't on that list?

Being better is not a measure of success. It's an opportunity to let comparison and judgement slide into your mental DMs.

The better-than-you trap is a slippery path to take. 

It means constantly having your eye on the 'competition'. Watching their every move. Like a novice Chess player relying on tactics to outsmart their opponent, completely ignoring any long term strategy.

We end up defining our goals and levels of success by other people's standards.

And those standards can either limit our potential, or break us.

Limit us - because if the goal is to be a better writer than the next guy or gal, we'll do just enough to beat them. The focus then becomes less about delighting the reader, and more about outshining someone else.

Break us - because we're trying to compete head-on with an established artist who's just so good. In a league-of-their-own good. We end up running ourselves ragged with anxiety striving to be the next Leonardo da Vinci. It's not going to happen.

Don't compete with someone else's originality.

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote:

"Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours."

Being different is where the magic happens. 

You bring your quirks, personality, style, flair, voice, humour and story. Inject those traits into old ideas, and bam - you have your own originality. 

No one else can recreate you.

So, don't aim to be better. Aim to be different.

As for the people who sucker punched me out of my original idea, I thank them. They helped give birth to this one. 

And when I'm ready to write about that other topic, it'll be different, not better.

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