Years ago, I made a friend of mine make me a promise.
The promise was that if something were to happen to me, she had to make sure “I did it my way” by Frank Sinatra was played at my funeral.
This morning, I’m browsing Seth Godin’s blog, I’m browsing Ramit Sethi’s blog and I’m browsing Noah Kagan’s blog. I’m thinking to myself that I should start doing things the way they do them. I’m thinking I should create daily, short blogs like Seth Godin. I’m thinking I should create very long form articles like Ramit Sethi. I’m thinking I should incorporate podcasts and videos into my blogs like Noah Kagan.
I’m thinking that maybe everyone else is doing things better than I am. Then I remember…
Being different is better than being better
The reason why I have always been able to succeed with my work (more specifically my writing) is because it has always been uniquely me.
The blogs I write are written by me, every word. I make spelling mistakes but I try my best to find them all. I make grammar mistakes all the time and I don’t think I will ever grow out of that. I write about lessons I’ve learned or experiences I’ve had. I do my best to be vulnerable so that I can be authentic.
The most common compliment I receive is that “I love how you are so honest.” It’s not a marketing technique, I just don’t know how to be any other way.
In the past, I’ve tried to write in a way that didn’t feel authentic. I’ve tried to present myself as more professional or I’ve tried to be funny and I’ve tried to sound really smart. It hasn’t worked.
The point I am trying to make is that there are lots of people out there who are “better writers than me.” I know many of them. In fact, a few of them work for me. But I have allowed myself to write in a way that is uniquely me. That is why I have succeeded.
Stealing for the fun of it
Yesterday, I was at Michael’s arts and crafts. Juliana and were looking for some fabrics to make our own curtains for our bedroom. While she was speed walking around Michael’s (she walks really fast) I decided to take a breather by the book shelf.
I came across this cool book called Steal Like an Artist. Basically, the book says that ideas aren’t original but rather all ideas are manifestations of other ideas that we have expanded on. The book does clearly make the distinction between theft and inspiration, but you get the idea.
So this got me thinking. Would it always be easier to steal other people’s styles? Am I better off finding a system that has already been proven to work and then duplicating that system for myself?
I honestly don’t know. I am sure there are plenty of success stories that were built on this tactic. I am sure many people know in their hearts that their “brilliant idea” was really a knockoff they saw somewhere else.
I suppose I could work that way, but I don’t want to.
I want to do it my way. I want to leave a fingerprint on the world that is mine and mine alone. Most of all, I want to be able to go to bed at night with an understanding of myself.
The problem with being a writer is that writing requires the unraveling of one’s self. Lying to a blank page is basically impossible. If anything, the page only compounds the truth and makes it more obvious, no matter how much I try to turn a blind eye.
When I get caught lying to myself, it will keep me up for days. So I find that stealing inspiration from someone else is perfectly fine, but after I am done with it, I put it back where I found it.
We all know in our hearts if what we are doing feels right or feels wrong. Having the courage to listen to that inner voice is the difference between good and great.
Finding your voice
Finally, this brings me to the real challenge, to the meat and potatoes, to the root of it all.
You’re saying “ok Tim I understand, but how exactly do I find my own unique style?”
My answer is not very profound but it is the only answer that matters. The way for self discovery is through action. You just do it. You work through it. You create stuff you hate, you write stuff that sucks and you make videos that are terrible. You bake cakes that fall apart. You paint paintings that you throw out and you build tables that fall apart. You try a new yoga pose and you fall over and you look around you smack yourself in the face because you went into this yoga class thinking to yourself “how hard could it really be?”
But eventually you just might create something and say to yourself “damn, that’s pretty good. I did a good job.”
It’s a messy, painful and ugly process. Most likely, you won’t feel good about it. Finding yourself is full of uncomfortable moments and awkwardness and moments that you look back at and cringe. But eventually, you will find your way.
Having your own voice is a privaledge for those willing to make that arduous trek that earn the right to understand themselves.
The moments in between
Just in case you are wondering, this process never ends. Every day, I am still agonizing at the work I create. It’s never quite right, and that’s the beauty of it.
Some days I feel really good about what I’ve done. I feel like I shot a bulls-eye. Other days I write and I write and I delete everything because of how bad it is and how much I hate it. But it is the moments in between the successes and the failures that matter most.
It is the moments when no one is looking and you are slowly working on your craft. When you are doing it for free and your reward is only the knowledge of knowing that you did so.
Those moments are the ones that add up to a life well lived.