I’m inspired by so much awesomeness in the world: Danielle LaPorte’s blog, Mindy Kaling’s everything, the clothes Angelina Jolie wore in The Tourist, Taylor Swift’s ability to shake things off, the righteous mac ‘n cheese I ate yesterday.
But there’s a big difference between being inspired by someone to get your inner juju and creative juices flowing, and flat-out copying someone’s shizz.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes people are just biters. Or worse—living examples of Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” And being on the receiving end of this so-called “sincerest form of flattery” may not always bring out the best in us.
Take a former co-worker of mine. When she met me on her first day, she commented on my haircut. Within 24 hours, she had transformed her long, orange-hued hair into a mid-length, black-haired style with bangs—my look at the time.
When I first saw her, I was shocked. I was able to squeak out, “Nice haircut.” She replied, “Oh, thanks. I guess we have similar hair now.” If “similar” means “EXACT SAME,” then, yes. Yes, we do. (Can you imagine how Jennifer Aniston felt in the ‘90s?).
Then there was Melanie. Melanie is a former friend of mine. Prior to our breakup, she ragged on me for my lifestyle. She felt that we didn’t have much in common: she wasn’t a writer, she didn’t like to drink, she didn’t like Toronto, she didn’t like tattoos. Basically, whatever I liked, she didn’t. A couple of years ago, I found Melanie on Twitter and discovered that, apparently, she now sung a very different tune. She posted about drinking (even her Twitter background featured bottles of booze), she tweeted that she loved Toronto, she talked about how excited she was to get her first tattoo, and the kicker? She said she was writing a book! Who was this person? It didn’t sound like the Melanie I knew—but it did sound a lot like me.
Here’s why these instances bothered me: they felt like identity theft. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all trying to matter in this big ol’ world of ours. For the most part, we all want to leave our own, wonderfully unique mark. I know I do. So when it seems like someone is creating a forgery of your work/life/look rather than making her own masterpiece, it feels intrusive and majorly yucky.
At the same time, I get it. When I’ve felt lost or bored, I would look to that friend in my life—the one who seemed to be having the most fun, the one who was laughing the most, living the most—see what was working for them, and then try to emulate her special thang.
I didn’t approach those women about their copy-catting ways, but here’s what I would suggest if you encounter something similar:
- Take a Breath and Assess the Situation: First, was your work plagiarized? If so, shoot them an email about contacting your attorney (even if you don’t have one, the threat should scare them off). If the only crime your copycat committed was buying the same Urban Outfitters dress as you and professing she’s a vegetarian just like you are, then you might just inspire her. It may feel annoying, but it also means she’s obviously buying what you’re selling and that can be a pretty empowering thing. No one copies the losers, right?
- Vent it Out: Right after I encountered the haircut fiasco, I immediately hashed it out with friends and co-workers. It’s good to have that support system around to help remind yourself that you’re still you and you’re awesome. But don’t let the gabbing go on too long. Being hung up on a copycat is just as destructive as being one. Vent it out, then let it go.
- Confront the Copy Cat – Sometimes talking to the copycat is necessary. If she’s a friend, then she might be feeling insecure and not trusting herself or her own instincts. Addressing the issue might be helpful to you both because, really, the copycat is only doing a disservice to herself. By copying you, she won’t nearly be as successful, or happy, as she would if she would listen to her own voice and follow her own greatness.
I believe we all have something to offer that’s distinctive and delicious and that there’s room for all of us at the table. But just because something tastes good to someone else doesn’t mean it’ll taste as good, or the same, to you. Take a bite and decide for yourself. Dare to try something different. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to share the good stuff. And if someone brings the same dish to the pot luck, remember, it won’t have the exact same flavor.
We’re all awesome.
(Also: now I’m hungry.)