It Hasn’t Been Done by You, for Us

Originality is a good goal, but no one is asking you to be original. We're asking you to be you.

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But no one is asking you to be original. We’re asking you to be generous and brave and to matter. We’re asking you to step up and take responsibility for the work you do, and to add more value than a mere cut and paste. Give credit, definitely, but reject vemödalen.

Sure, it’s been done before. But not by you. And not for us.

Seth Godin

If you’re working on something truly different, this post is not for you. I don’t want to feed your Shadow that’s telling you that you’re a weirdo or too out there. Get back to work. This is for the people thrashing because they think what they’re doing isn’t original enough to be worth doing.

Studying philosophy before you become a public writer has many virtues (and a lot of vices) but chief among them is that you’ve already experienced how impossible it is to be truly original. We’ve been writing footnotes to Plato for millennia and there’s no sign of its stopping.

Originality is a good goal, but placing too much weight on it has taken us astray. I’ve mostly seen that it’s a way for us to prove that we’re good enough, that we belong in that group of people who did something truly original. “Look at me, I’m smart and creative.”

Of course, we could flip it and instead think about what best serves our communities. Sure, if we’re in the business of delivering delights, then we need healthy doses of novelty, surprise, and stimulation, but that’s usually finding something in the last 15% rather than doing something truly original.

But notice that that’s not originality for originality’s sake – it’s originality for service’s sake.

This reminds me of George Washington Carver’s insight, “When you can do the common things in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

That you are doing it in a way that’s serving them is more important than whether what you’re doing is original. So if service is your core metric, keep your eye on the right ball.

And if originality is your core metric, who’s that really for? There’s no problem with it being for and about you, but just be honest about it.

Take a moment and think about the last two weeks of your life. How much of your time and attention has been focused on things that truly matter to you? Most people’s honest answer is, “Not enough.” Buried under busywork, responsibility, distraction, and fatigue sit the difference-making and joy-producing ideas, waiting for someday…

“Someday” can be today.

Whatever your best work is, it’s something that only you can do. Only you have the set of experiences, expertise, skills, and perspectives to do it. If this is something that resonates with you, you need a copy of Start Finishing. It’s what the whole book is about: how to get from idea to done.

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