Talent is useless.
It’s a label we slap on something beyond words that suffocates that very something. As Duke Ellington often said, it’s beyond category.
Every so often, I get an email like this:
You just rip people off until you’re so you, no one sees it as ripping people off.
Isn’t that what learning is, after all?
And, yet, instead of ripping people off until we become different, we’re taught to rip people off until we become alike. We steal for the comfort of sameness, instead of the empowerment of difference.
That’s ass backwards.
In this world, you’ll feel strongest, when you’re really at your weakest. You’ll think you’re at your very best, when you can shoot like Jose or Jonas or Fer or Jeff or Dan or Ben or Elizabeth or Susan or you name the name you want to insert here—there are plenty to choose from—when trying to shoot like someone is exactly the death knell of creativity.
Learn from everyone, but shoot like no one.
Take the bits and pieces, but leave the whole.
Steal broadly. Steal constantly. But steal to be different.
And I don’t want to hear that everything has already been done, and nothing is new. That’s garbage. Every remix isn’t something old. It’s something new. Every inflection and every nuance is a chance for change and difference. But you have to be willing to take that path.
I spent most of my life feeling like I missed the day they handed out creativity in school. No one sent me the memo.
I watched everyone better, stronger, and faster pass me by, waiting for my turn to take the stage and stake my claim.
The day never came.
And it never came, because what I was really chasing was the sameness and not the difference.
Really, screw it.
Put it up on your wall. Put up your right hand. Take the oath.
“I WILL NOT BE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE”
(Yeah, I toned that picture in VSCO. Oh, the irony…I know.)
All you’ll ever have is two choices. That’s it.
In this wild, precious life, you’re either going to decide to walk the path of good or walk the path of great. But they don’t converge.
The path of good is the blue pill. It’s the choice to live the prescribed life you’re given, following the herd, accepting their assumptions, until you’re absorbed by the massive middle.
That’s the wedding industry. Hell, that’s everything. Everywhere. All of the time.
The creed is shoot like your hero. Become your hero.
Except that’s bunk.
If you shoot like your hero, you just become like everyone else who is trying to shoot like your hero. Heroes are in short supply, but followers are not, so that’s an awfully steep curve to climb for creative territory that’s already been claimed.
The path of great is the red pill. It’s plunging straight into the heart of reality and making the differences work for you. Maybe it’s a hard pill to swallow, but if so, it’s also the path of freedom, choice, and meaning.
The thing is, good exists, but great does not.
Good is whatever is going on right now. It’s what everyone is doing, and everyone accepts as perfectly fine. When someone says “That’s good,” what we hear is “You’re awesome!” But what they’re really saying is “I’ve seen this before, so I know it fits the model of what we, as a society, consider acceptable, so I too shall consider this acceptable.”
Not exactly inspiring stuff.
Good is a lure.
It’s a security blanket to wrap yourself up in a bundle of right without the risk of wrong. It’s not so much that good feels good, so much as that good skirts the fear of feeling bad.
Great, on the other hand, breaks barriers. Great does not exist before it comes into being, because every great thing changes the world, and nothing that changes the world is the same as what’s come before. It is the ultimate form of contribution, and at the time it arrives, it’s often controversial, frequently unacceptable, and almost always terrifying.
You can never know what’s going to work, when you’re the one trying to define what’s going to work. So, yes, existing beyond category is scary stuff.
And maybe you’ll fail. But so what?
Great is a place where there is no wrong, because it’s not defined yet. Where it’s only you asking for your very best. Where you can return to the magic you found as a child with the wisdom you have as an adult, where the exploration is more important than the label.
To exist at this edge is to both give and discover the most of yourself. You have free reign to write your future without anyone telling you how to live and who to be.
You walk the path of good and you cradle your fears, festering deep, handicapped by the simple fact that good only exists once someone else clears the path for you. A path they choose. You walk the path of great and you build courage, cutting a swath through doubt and confusion, to simply love every bit of this unpredictable life you have.
Good, then, isn’t a path to great. It’s the exact opposite.
Good is the known.
Great is the unknown.
What category do you want to belong to?