A Note on Originality

I have a sticky note placed right in front of me on the wall above my desk that reads, ‘No ideas are original’. It works as a reminder every single time I sit down to write, paint or create something. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be original and today I want to share my struggles and thoughts on originality with you in a hope to free you from this unsaid invisible yet always present trap that might be standing in the way of you creating your best work and sharing it with the world.

Even though I have a degree in creativity, a degree that not only validates me as a creative and confirms that I’m capable of creating art it also states that I graduated with honors. I never anticipated how much of a pressure that would be in my creative career. It somehow made me put my creative self on a self-claimed pedestal and anything that had a hint of someone else’s work or idea that I can relate it to, I had to let it go. I had to separate myself from it and forget about its existence as it definitely wasn’t mine to claim in the first place. I had to paint all over it. Anything and any work that was less than 100% entirely me only wasn’t acceptable. And we all can guess how that would’ve worked out. I ended up not creating, writing and sharing anything at all. For some reason, I thought I had to be original only to be a worthy artist and being original meant doing something entirely unique and new, something that no one has ever done before.

While studying my Product Design degree I picked up a habit of researching. For every problem that we were given to find a solution for, we were supposed to research first and figure out what solutions have already been advised and which ones are and aren’t working and then figure out better solutions. Part of that market research was to make sure not ending up finding already tried, failed or partially working solutions but to take next steps on their work and build on what’s already been built before.

After graduation when my ‘real’ work started I couldn’t let go of this habit of market researching everything before even trying to start coming up solutions for the given problem. After all these years only now I can say either we were taught wrong or I got it all wrong and I plan to write in much more detail about this in an upcoming blog post but for now, I believe when we start working on anything by looking what’s already been done before we somehow put ourselves in boxes. By allowing ourselves to find a solution to the given problem first by ourselves we can allow the possibility to look at the problem in an entirely different light which someone else might have not yet tried. By no means, I am suggesting this way we’ll end up being more original. All I am suggesting is that maybe this way we’ll be able to try on new perspectives and new possibilities with more ease without any external pressure or expectation to make it better than anything that ever existed before. I will expand on that in the future.

We are all product of our collective evolution. Our thoughts, experiences, ideas, and stories are all bits and pieces that we collected along the way from everything we ever came in contact with. I remember a friend once describing herself something like this, I am a collection of all the people I have ever met. Aren’t we all? I’d say we are all the collection of the people we’ve met, the places we’ve been to and the experiences that we’ve had.

When we obsess over the idea of staying original and when we believe there is something like being original we do ourselves a huge disservice. Instead, when we allow ourselves to authentically share what’s inspiring us and playing a part in our story and how we are interacting with it – we allow magic to happen and magic happens down that lane. When I obsessed about being original I wasn’t able to create anything for a long time and I started resenting myself for not being creative enough to come up with any original ideas. I even started believing that maybe what I have to say and share doesn’t matter at all as there wasn’t anything new or unique about it. I missed out on creating my best kind of work for so many years before realizing that what makes my work original is me.

It is my story, my truth, my idea, my experience and I am going to share it in my way. It’s my story and I have lived it and that’s what makes it enough to be shared. When we share our stories, our truths, and our ideas however unpleasant, raw and unedited they might be, we end up making connections, finding our people and recognizing ourselves in one another and that’s what makes us feel less alone and more human.

When we accept that everything has already been done before, we take that pressure off ourselves and our work. We let it breathe and allow it to come to life through us and evolve over time. We don’t waste our time and our energies on trying to be different than everyone else and on being original instead we focus our time and energies on being more ourselves and creating the work we want to create and sharing our version of whatever we are experiencing, going through and learning.

As Brene Brown said,
‘The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.’

I’d like to bring your attention to a book that changed the way I used to approach originality in my creative work, Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon. In his TED talk, he says,

‘I know something that a lot of artists know but few will admit to, ‘nothing is completely original’. All creative work is built on what came before. every new idea is just a remix or mash-up of the one or two previous ideas’.

Another change in perspective and mindset that has helped me in overcoming the aftermath of the originality trap was that there is space for everyone. In the aftermath, I started believing its all been done before and I won’t be adding any value by sharing it instead I might end up adding to the noise. Believing that there really is space for everyone, for every story and for every idea no matter how many times it has been done before became a lifesaver for me and my art. I recognized that we are all on different points on our journey and someone needs to hear what you have to say to make that journey easier and worth traveling for them. You never know who is listening, reading and getting inspired by. We all need to hear different voices sometimes saying the same just in different ways and you never know which way resonates with them the most, makes them stop and rethink.

Lastly, I think being original is overrated. It is okay to not be original. It is okay to feel the same emotions that another person is feeling and share your side of the story. Your work doesn’t have to be extraordinary and original to matter. It is exhausting and overwhelming to keep trying to be original. It is okay to only want to be creating because you want to create, help, share and simply just connect.

My encouragement to you: Don’t let this idea keep you away from creating and sharing your best work. More than anything, I hope that you realize and accept that it is original enough when it is coming from you with your tint. Maybe just maybe forget about being original altogether as it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters the most is you being creative in an honest and authentic way and showing up and sharing your work.

To finish,

‘Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all’.
– Abraham Lincoln

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  • I am guilty of all this and am working on accepting the truth – that nothing is original. I studied this in my English linguistics degree where we looked at creativity in language. If we have something to say,write, create, we should go ahead. Even if a version of it has been done before, it has not come from you. The way you present something may resonate with someone who may appreciate your unique version. You have put all this so well 😊

  • This is beautiful and aptly put! I struggled with the same idea which led me to stop writing, but then i reached the same conclusion, as long as it comes with your tint, you are good to put it out there. Thank you for this!

  • I love this entire blog post. I also picked up a research habit somewhere along the way – also because I didn’t want to accidentally plagiarise, but I agree it immediately puts you into a box. I think managing to think for yourself FIRST and then go do the research is probably the best combination of the two? As often there are great ideas for solving a problem – but equally in the creative world this isn’t maybe necessarily a necessity! We’re not consultants here. We’re making.