‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – Charles Caleb Colton (1780–1832)
It’s easy to let the success of others get in your way, to feel you’ll never be able to achieve the same yourself. Like jealousy, its cousin, self-doubt, is a powerful thing, and can often be paralyzing, turning you into a victim.
There have been many times where I have felt stuck, unable to see a way out of an unpleasant situation, be it work or personal. I have often felt that situations have gotten in the way of my ability to move forward. At other times, people create an impasse, oftentimes purposefully, be it bosses, peers, or friends. It’s hurtful to realize that not only does a person you trusted not want you to succeed, but has tried to bring you down.
In these instances, I feel I have been a victim. Being a victim is unpleasant on multiple fronts. There’s a strange sense of shame wrapped up in the powerlessness and frustration. At the same time, it’s tempting to stay in that place, to feel there are no good choices, and you must accept it. No one wants to be pitied, but dwelling on a wrong is like swimming in acid.
We all know that feeling of stirring in our own angry juices, until suddenly you feel nauseous, as if you had drunk this toxic marinade. This simile has good foundation in modern neuroscience. The brain and gut have a profound connection, one influencing the other.
Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, whose research on the enteric nervous system has garnered international attention, has found people suffering with IBS or other gastrointestinal problems are at higher risk for developing depression and anxiety. Similarly, worry or stress on a lasting basis, can cause a number of negative physical manifestations, including gastric upset.
“The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.”
So, this all sounds rather unhealthy. But, it’s next to impossible to simply tell yourself to quit worrying.
However, when I force myself to take a closer look, I realize the only thing I am a victim of, is my own assumptions, allowing time and place to hold me back from all I might be. Power is a funny thing. It’s amazing how flipping the perspective can alter a situation. I want to recognize that my reaction is something I can choose. I can choose not to stay mired in doubt or uncertainty, and instead to let the situation fuel me.
Perhaps I can achieve the same thing as the next person, once I get out of my way, and get going. It’s exciting to think that you never know what will happen next, or what wonderful things you can do. Potential, like hope, is a gift, one to be taken advantage of, again and again.
Sometimes I think our aptitude is limited only by our belief in ourselves. No dream is foolish, and many of the most seemingly unattainable, may in fact come true.
I recall digging in the dirt one summer at Girl Scout camp. We had caught a glimmer of something shining golden in the sunlight. After some rather careful, but frantic scraping, we had unearthed a golden rock. It was beautiful. It shone all the more brilliantly for its irregular shape, light glinting off the cleaved edges. We proudly showed our treasure to our counselor, who promptly said, that’s just fool’s good. It’s all around here. My friend dropped the rock, and walked away looking dejected, but I picked it up, and put it in my pocket. Imitation or not, I still valued it.
I often find it daunting or discouraging that there really are no unique thoughts. All of our attitudes and beliefs are formed from bits of things we have experienced personally, and observed from others. Some may feel imitating another is silly, that it’s better to be your own person. It’s natural to be skeptical, that perhaps the other person may recognize the imitation, and resent it, or ridicule you.
But, surely, legions of others before have had similar quandaries. Shakespeare covered the majority of the unique plots; everything seems a subtle tweak on one of these. It’s likely that he too felt that Plato and Aristotle had already used up most of the original material. Somehow knowing others struggled with this as well, doesn’t seem much of a help.
‘The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow.’ – William Forrester
We may be damned to struggle in the same way as our predecessors, seldom taking comfort in their learnings. Still, I don’t think this means we shouldn’t try to achieve whatever it is we feel called to do. My advice to myself:
Go ahead, copy the best of what you see. Make it your own if you can. It will be unique simply by virtue of your having done it. The point of it is not the finished product, but the learning and joy in creating along the way.