How 'Copycat Syndrome' Is Plaguing This Generation's Creativity

by Alice Walker

You could be anywhere when it happens — in the shower or on a walk, minding your own business. Out of the blue, a brilliant idea hits you: You’ll start a blog! Or a company! Or build a new shopping app!

Excitement builds up in your stomach and your hands start to get a little sweaty. You are "in like" with this idea — like, like even. You realize this could be the one with whom you finally settle down. You dust off your old notebook and jam out some ideas. "This could really work," a tiny, hopeful voice whispers inside of you.

Bursting with ideas and energy, you call your friend and lay out your foolproof, best-idea-ever plan: This organic cooking blog/YouTube video series is going to change the world and completely alter the way people see kale!

“Oh, a food blog? Like the one Katie Smith runs?” Suddenly, the butterflies in your stomach morph into rocks. You take to the Internet and see that, yes, Katie Smith does run a food blog, and it’s funny and perfect, and her hair is so shiny.

What were you thinking, starting your own blog? Why bother when someone you already know has already created something similar?

"It will never work," an uglier voice whispers to you. "Everyone will think you are just a copycat and a fraud." You throw your notebook under the bed and convince yourself that you didn't really want to blog that much. Who has the time? You have a lot of Netflix to catch up on, anyway.

Growing up, “copycat” is the first real insult that kids learn to hurl at each other. Using the same marker as Suzie did? Copycat. Obsessed with unicorns? You better not be since Hannah already loves unicorns.

Once you get a little older, the copying fear changes a bit, but not by much. Everyone knows you can only have one Baby Spice in a girl band. Can you image a group of friends where everyone was the Carrie? Someone has to be the Miranda, and if you have red hair, it's going to be you.

That fear of copying someone else never really fades away as we get older. In a world where everyone wants to fit in, we still fear being labeled “followers” or band-wagoners.

Sometimes, the fear comes from thinking your actions will be perceived as stepping on someone else's toes or worse, stealing their spotlight.

And, God forbid you become more successful than the person who started before you. The person and all of his or her friends will hate you. Social pariah, party of one.

What an impossible way to live your life, constantly avoiding doing anything that someone you know on Facebook has already done. How many perfectly good business ventures, inventions and novels have been scrapped in the pursuit of being polite?

This paranoia of being a copycat keeps us small and keeps us playing it safe. Sure, it might protect us from failing, but it also holds us back from living, trying and succeeding.

The great task then becomes breaking through this fear. Create what you want to create. Make it as public as you can stand. If you are still worried about shiny Katie, there is something you can do about her, too.

You can decide that even if Katie is running a similar blog as you want to, you have a different voice and perspective, and your thoughts on quinoa are just as valid and every bit as necessary in the public conversation. Stop stalking her blog; ignore it and move on. You do you.

Or, if this still eats at you, handle it directly. Reach out and tell her you love her blog and are doing something similar. Maybe you can even help support each other.

Host Katie as a guest, talk to her about your shared food passion. Turn competition into collaboration. Chances are, she won't yell at you for spotlight stealing or call you a copycat.

No matter which road you take, tell yourself it is okay. Write it down and read it out loud before bed. Forgive yourself for having a fantastic idea that kind of follows what someone else is doing.

Keep going. Keep creating. The world needs both your dreams and your actions.