Is Originality Overrated?
October 5, 2020 / Maya Nguyen
“I’m not like the others,” said everyone ever.
My first identity crisis occurred at the ripe age of seven, when my initial infatuation with the pinks and frills in my wardrobe wore thin after watching one too many Disney princess movies. In tandem with this theme of change, my family also recently moved to a new city where I became the new kid in my second-grade class, giving me a clean slate and a chance to make new first impressions. Even so, this mini identity crisis (as deep as an identity crisis can get for a recent kindergarten alum, anyways) had less to do with my new physical environment and more to do with my new post-Disney-DVDs media consumption outlet: the Internet. Here in cyberspace, while exhausting the dress-up games of every generic browser game site, I clicked over from the predominant "Magical Fairy Princess Wardrobe" genre to "Goth Style Makeover” – and that’s how the Internet shaped my first ~*style transformation*~.
Fast-forward a decade later to my current eighteen-year-old self. In the time between being a second grader and high school graduate, I'd spent most of my childhood through teenage years on social media — the defining characteristic of Generation Z, after all. Since my "Goth Style Makeover" days, the Internet added a number of intermittent, regrettable style phases to my repertoire that shall not be discussed further (hello, weird 2010s mustache "hipster" edits) -- relics of the Internet that I exported to my real-life grade school friends. The gap between my life in cyberspace and reality continued narrowing until the two were nearly indistinguishable.
In that decade, I'd also built upon my early interest in the arts to move beyond being a casual consumer of art, becoming a budding practitioner within the creative community itself. Of course, everyone consumes art/design of some form, but for those who create it (or center their identity around curating it), there's always the hidden pressure to avoid "being like the other girls." The world centers creative thinking around originality, novelty, innovation -- so every time I'm tasked with producing original content I ask myself, what happens to our understanding of creativity now that the Internet functions as a one-stop-shop for consuming and sharing content? Does the democratization of information stifle or encourage creativity?
I try to keep five words of advice in mind every time I cast any representation of myself into the world: don't shit where you eat. In a general sense, it's a warning against jeopardizing anything you depend on. In this case, the act of shitting is how I express myself (because conveniently, whatever I create is shit), whereas the digital world is where I eat, the space where I arguably spend most of my reality. In other words, in an attempt to hold onto the first pillar of creativity -- originality -- I cut out the bulk of the outside world to make sure it doesn't contaminate my identity.
I try to avoid looking and being "like the other girls" not because I dislike them, but rather due to the pressure to be unique as a job seeker and passive practitioner in the creative field (See the question: "What separates you from other candidates?") In practice, this manifests in part as imposter syndrome. Maybe you aren't as creative as you think, and, on that note, maybe you aren't as smart or innovative or unique as you want to be. From there arises a (perhaps superficial) nagging fear of embarrassment, akin to meeting a stranger wearing the exact same outfit you'd planned for days. For any self-conscious person with the lofty goal of being a pioneer, a leader, a change-maker, the symptoms caused by this ideologically hermetic mindset creates a hydra of unproductive self-doubt.
This conscious attempt to rid my identity of the Internet's influence, the pervasive ubiquity of the trends repeated across my Instagram explore feed, is a stark change from my second-grade self who scoured Google Images to guide her wardrobe choices as if her life depended on it. So what changed? Did I just become pretentious?
There's a quote from American Horror Story (which I also know by way of the Internet's influence, namely early 2010s Tumblr trends) that goes, "Everyone thinks they're funny. Everyone thinks they're stylish. Most people are neither." In the age where comparing yourself to other people requires only a few clicks, perhaps we could all benefit from embracing our similarities.■
This article was written as a part of Spark Writing’s first annual summer workshop series, Words With Friends: A Spark Writer’s Summer!
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez
Graphic By: Jennifer Jimenez