Something’s been bugging me over the last six months or so.
At first, I didn’t really feel it, or maybe it’s that I chose to ignore it again - it’s something that’s always been there, since the dawn of “creativity”. But in looking back on the year that was, perhaps now of all times, I’m the most sensitive to it that I’ve ever been.
What I’m talking about is other creatives copying each other ad nauseam with little to no actual creative thought put into it.
People just straight ripping off each other’s works in the chase of the next round of likes and comments.
And I get it; I mean, I see social media as a business rather than just a fun plaything, so I’ll be the last to say that engagement doesn’t matter - it most certainly does, at least, to me and the success of my business.
But as someone who believes so strongly in the equal and harmonious marriage of creativity and popularity, what I’ve seen over the last year actually makes me kind of sick.
Photographers doing cheesy Tik Tok tutorials on cheap tricks that promise to make you a better photographer. Instagram reels that force you to rotate your phone to make you see some kind of supposedly gorgeous vista. Short clips of people who are proud that they’re deceiving everyone with their poorly photoshopped images.
Look, I don’t mind that there are trends. I don’t mind that people hop on them and make their own versions of them. I don’t care that people do that to chase the next wave of engagement. Everyone does it to some degree, myself included.
But, there gets to be a point where it’s too much.
It gets to a point where this content is just adding to the noise; to the fluff of the world, rather than making it a better place.
What I saw in spades over the era of the Tik Tok boom and the subsequent Instagram copycat, Reels, is that people are far more willing to copy, rather than iterate, let alone innovate.
If a trend is taken, thought about, improved on, that’s great. There’s a forward momentum here.
But if a piece of content is created and offers only the same value as the next sugary piece of junk food, what good is that? It’s only making the world a more crowded, confusing, and diabetes-inducing place.
My problem is that too many people think that this is okay. The worst offenders are the “larger” accounts—the people with more significant followings that are supposed to set a good example for the “smaller” and younger creators.
Too many people are either too lazy to push themselves forward, too fearful of doing something different, or too indulgent to move from their podium of engagement.
These things stem from a lack of creative confidence - the ability to move forward and face the unknown, to create something unique or slightly different from the previous iteration in the knowledge of this unknown return.
Creative confidence is about making something that might not work. It’s about making something that doesn’t guarantee the next big hit. It’s about making something that might not get you that next wave of engagement.
And that, to some people, is scary as hell. That’s why we see thousands of “creatives” copying one other doing the same old shit time after time after time.
We need to set a better example. We need to do better, even if it’s only by a little bit.
You see, what lies on the other side of creative confidence, is uniqueness and meaning.
The flip side of making something that might not work, is that it might actually work.
It might actually pop off and go viral. It might actually deeply resonate with someone. It might actually bring someone to tears with emotion. It might actually help someone’s life in some way.
By taking a chance on our unique creativity, we’re opening ourselves to the world of opportunity that could potentially be far more rewarding than the next wave of likes.
By taking a chance on something that might not work, we’re giving way to serendipity, and the subsequent inner confidence that brings when things do work.
You gain confidence by repetition. You gain confidence by the repetition of trying new things to see what works and what doesn’t. We throw shit at the wall because some of it does stick, and when we know what works, we’re confident enough to throw more things and new things until we have a whole catalogue of different things that work.
This is called a body of work. This is called a “style”. This is how you build something that matters.
This is how you become great at your craft—you keep moving.
This is how it’s always been. The treasure goes to the ones who adventure. “Average” is for everyone else, and these people have always copied one another in the hopes of short-term gain.
But there’s no faster way to belong to the sheep of the crowd than to do the things that have always been done.
Rather, by having the creative confidence to move on, to rebel against the trends, to go against the flow, to let go of the ego—by doing what truly resonates with you—only then will you find yourself as someone who truly separates themselves from the pack and stands out.
Sure, sometimes we’ve got to come back to comfort and mingle with the rest of the crowd—we need to rest, as it’s always the leader who buffers the most amount of wind.
But to truly excel at creativity, at life, at anything, we need to be uncomfortable and face the unknown.
After all, the spoils go to the trailblazers and the trendsetters, rather than the path walkers and the trend followers.
Have the confidence to go your own way.