I’ve read over the years how the brain doesn’t fully mature until age 21 or 22. I also read a Quora response from someone (I’ve lost the reference, unfortunately) who said that he had reached his dream (house, car, wife, kids, dog) by age 39 and only then realized he was living the immature dreams of a teenager.
As teenagers, we try on different identities, experiment with things we shouldn’t be experimenting with, and, of course, swear to God that we know everything while ignoring the advice of usually well-meaning adults.
Many of us exit this phase with some level of maturity. But one trait mysteriously remains: we still believe that copying others means we’ll have the same effect on people as those others.
For a writer, that’s a pretty clumsy sentence. Let me explain what I mean.
We look at a celebrity’s hairstyle, love it, and then want it for ourselves, even though we don’t have her face, cranium shape, or body type. We also don’t have a hairstylist backstage all day to fix it for us or two hours each morning to do it.
Many women love elegant shoes, which usually involves a high heel. They find a pair of these elegant shoes, put them on, and then forget to dress to match. Or worse, they don’t know how to walk to match and unfortunately look rather clumsy.
There’s also the stereotype of the middle-aged man who’s suddenly worried about his hairline and pot belly and makes weird attempts at turning back the biological clock.
What Do You Bring to the Table?
I think we’re going about this all the wrong way. Copying others and trying out different identities is what we did as teens. (Or, if you were like me, what you shied away from as a teen, too scared to take the risk of connecting with your deeper self, which, by the way, wasn’t the angsty, wish-you’d-get-kissed-by-a-vampire self.)
Several years ago, I came across this saying: Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. When I heard it, I lost an invisible skin I didn’t know I had, the one I grew in my teen years but couldn’t shed after they passed, the one that quietly urged me to try and be like others, even well into adulthood. I consciously fought this skin, but it hung on like a hangnail: you pick at it, and it hurts a little, but true to its name, it hangs on.
Shedding that skin didn’t cause my personality to flip around. I didn’t turn into a party animal or suddenly take up smoking, but rather, I became much more comfortable with myself. In other words, I finally began to understand the context that made up Lori. This moment of enlightenment came with an added bonus: I began to see other people in their contexts. (Well, as best as I could: what I know about even those closest to me is only a fraction of what makes up the whole person.)
Context: It’s Not Me, But It’s So You
Coming back to my initial thought, I think when we copy others, we’re missing part of the context that makes each of us an individual. Many writers know this, for example: there are, really, no new stories. What makes stories appear new, though, is the context the writer brings to it.
A skilled writer infuses the milestones of an age-old story with their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A story about a family torn apart by the matriarch’s death, in which the protagonist searches for the meaning of her own life, finds love, and then comes to a realization she didn’t expect, will be one story in the hands of the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a much different one in the hands of a woman who had spent 20 years in prison.
Now Ask the Right Questions
So what does this mean for the haircut we want or the house we so desire? Don’t ask yourself how you can look like that or how you can earn like crazy to have a house like that. Instead, look at the feeling your object of inspiration has awoken in you. Is the celebrity haircut new and fresh, and you’ve had the same one for five years? In the hands of the right stylist, the request “I’m tired of my old haircut, and I’d like something new that brightens my face more” will have the same effect as the celebrity haircut has on that celebrity.
Just the same way, a talented interior designer can probably give your home the same feel as a mansion for a fraction of what it would cost to move to a new, much larger home. (It’ll still cost you something, but it should be much less.)
Do be inspired by the things and people around you! But if you’re looking to have that same effect on others, you won’t achieve it by being like the objects of your inspiration; I believe you’ll achieve it by using the context that makes up you in a way that achieves that same feeling. It’s how celebrities get the attention they do, how writers create new stories from old, and how that charming little home down the street looks just as perfect as the mansions on the other side of the tracks.
It all comes down to you.