This article won’t be for everyone. It’s for those of you whose Resistance keeps you quiet when you ought to raise your voice and let out a battle cry.
Everyone has come across those quotes that insist that nothing is original and everything novel has already been said or done. At some point in my life I managed to internalize this and take it a step further. I was crushed by thinking, “Nothing I think really matters.”
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in drawing this conclusion. And yet despite this hopeless thought, some of us are eager and hold on, searching for a moment when we’ll finally have a novel idea to express. Others surge into the swamp of self-doubt. But regardless of which group we find ourselves in, this is silly. Be they novel or not, popular or unpopular, our thoughts should be expressed loudly and shamelessly. Originality isn’t the goal: the expression of the unexpressed is.
We’re constantly engaged in discrediting people for their presumed novelty. And I get it. We should give credit where credit is due, and admittedly there is something truly exciting about looking at Niel Armstrong and realizing he was the first person to step foot on the moon. But we spend so much time trying to determine who did what first that we aren’t acknowledging the passion and energy and efforts of the people that come after the Originals. What about Anna Fisher? Or Jerry Ross? Both of those astronauts exhibited similar if not equal passion and skills as Armstrong, and yet we don’t pay attention to them.
My point isn’t that we should necessarily pay a lot of attention to every astronaut that launches into space, but that we have an obsession with the Firsts and the Originals. And by extension of the fact that we don’t notice anybody who comes after an Original, we can often fail to acknowledge our own passion and energy and efforts. Never forget to recognize that you do good work, you think good thoughts, and you have good ideas.
Expressing yourself is a process, and imitation is part of that process. Like the dorky teenager in your beloved, guilty-pleasure Hollywood film, you have to go through the process of wondering if you’re a cheerleader or a jock or a nerd or a Magic the Gathering geek. You have to look at those tribes, try to be one of those people before you come to the conclusion that I am myself. Neil Gaiman pretty much summed it up by saying, “Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.”
Why express your unoriginal thoughts?
Expressing your thoughts is incredibly helpful for your personal development. It feels good to “think out loud” to a friend, doesn’t it? Frequently after rambling for a good while, we suddenly have insight into our situations or problems. So do it more and more and more! Write to your friends, talk to your family, journal your thoughts, blog your ideas. The more you think and the more time you spend in that flow, the more clarity you’ll find.
Looking smart, composed, knowledgeable or what-have-you on the outside is just that: it’s on the outside. It’s a facade. When you feel like an idiot for spouting out an (apparently) unpopular political opinion, or mix up Ghana and Guyana, or commit a social faux pas like wearing socks with sandals, let it go. And then promptly put yourself in a position to make a similar, embarrassing mistake. The more you embarrass yourself in public, the less you’ll care. Own it. Learn from it if you can, let it shape you how it will. Be yourself. In the process, you’ll become a stronger person. Your flimsy facade of being smart and composed and knowledgeable will have come down, and in its place will be a palace of personal authenticity. The process of the facade coming down is stressful because there will be a time when you’ll have nothing to shield you. You’ll be fully exposed to the world. But don’t get discouraged. Keep making yourself uncomfortable and really embrace your ignorance as you attempt to replace it with understanding. As you do this, you’ll be setting the foundation for your palace.
Expressing your ideas gives you clarity. It helps establish yourself and your personality, but it also makes you articulate. Practice increases skill. Everyone knows that. So if you spend time thoughtfully writing your heart out, you’ll get good at writing, especially self-expression in writing. If you prefer to speak out loud, you’ll get better at speaking and spontaneously formulating your thoughts through speech. There’s something truly remarkable about letting go of your doubts and fears and giving in to unfiltered personal expression. Research shows that freestyle rapping and music improv is the result of mastery of personal expression. When you give in to expression, you end up with something beautiful and real. You just have to jump in and get started. There’s no warm-up needed, just lots and lots of practice. So get out there and write, speak, express yourself!
Your ideas and thoughts help give the movement a push
I talk a lot with one of my friends about education. We both have some strong opinions about what education is and should be, and often times our views align very nicely. When he started writing an article about it all to publish online, I found myself not just nodding along and giving him a thumbs-up of approval, but also thinking, “Hmm. Well we basically have the same view on this. So I guess there’s no point in writing an essay on education myself. He’s said all that needs to be said.” There’ve been other times where I watch a TED Talk or read a blog post that I fully agree with. I’ve felt extremely satisfied and excited that someone else is taking the time and exerting the energy to actually express their ideas so clearly and persuasively. But it’s the kind of satisfaction that stirs up the Resistance within me to not bother restating whatever has been said so articulately by someone else. Not only was the idea already expressed, but it was done in a skilled manner. So really, why bother “reinventing the wheel?”
It’s actually quite simple. Because by expressing your thoughts, even if they just seem like a blurry reflection of something already said, you’re adding to the wave of innovation and progress of society. You’re potentially contributing to a new movement, a possible paradigm shift. One rock thrown at the fortress of conventional tradition might not do much, but a thousand can do a lot. One hand extended to a man dangling over the edge can provide support, but ten hands will overwhelm him with comfort and security. Contribute to society by expressing your thoughts, regardless of whether they’ve already been said or not. Throw your stone. Offer your hand.
So yeah, I’m not original.
I don’t care about being original anymore. I would rather focus on kindling and cultivating the “stale” ideas I already have and learning to articulate those ideas with finesse. I want to become a master of expression, and I would like to encourage everyone I come across to do the same. It’s important to express yourself for both your personal development, as well as the progression of society. And I firmly believe that only when you’re truly authentic will you find your tribe.
Personal expression is hard. It’s really hard. You face a lot of obstacles, but most of those obstacles are actually 100% internal. Self-doubt, humiliation (which Steven Pressfield defines as “the external reflection of internal Resistance”), criticism, fear of looking stupid, uncertainty of success or failure… All of these gnaw at you and your budding expression. But as you learn to believe in yourself, your ideas, and your convictions, the banter and jeering of the crowd will grow quieter. Because all that truly matters is you and the creations that come out of your unfiltered expression.