A few weeks ago Ian and I went to see an ABBA tribute band. He was super excited because his family cut their musical teeth on ABBA back in the 70s. I was slightly less excited because I grew up on hymns and Mozart and only know of ABBA because I had to sign this agreement to like them when I married into the family. But I like Super Trouper, so off we went.
The experience was (how to put this delicately?) less than thrilling. Yes, they looked like ABBA. Yes, they played all the best known ABBA tunes, including Super Trouper. No, they did not deliver.
Afterward, we discussed what was missing and came up with this startling answer: The tribute band didn’t deliver because...they weren’t ABBA.
Although it is said that imitation is the best form of flattery, sometimes imitation is only a cop out. Sure, there are times we imitate because we admire someone else’s genuis and want to borrow it for ourselves. Pinterest, for example, allows us to imitate awesomeness and who would deny how fun that is? That’s not the kind of imitation I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the kind Dale Carnegie (of How To Win Friends and Influence People fame) says is not being true to your own God-given calling, the kind where we piggyback on someone else’s uniqueness and try to pass it off as your own. Carnegie points out that John Wayne didn’t achieve his greatest popularity until he stopped imitating others and started being himself–the drawling, gun slinging, rugged cowboy he naturally was. In fact, Carnegie himself was guilty of doing this, he admits. When he was in the process of writing his first book, he was simply taking the profound things other leaders had said and compiling these in his book. It wasn’t until he realized that he was imitating, and not bringing his own fresh voice to the page that he scrapped the first idea and went on to write his original thoughts, based on his years of experience in the business world. His books have sold millions of copies.
As a mom, I am constantly reminding my children that what the world needs is not a second rate Jackie Evanko or a third rate Miley Cyrus, but a first rate Emily or Anna or Elenia. How many of us spent our twenties trying to be something we weren’t, our thirties kicking against those unnatural goads, and our forties reclaiming our authentic selves? Maybe that’s the way it has to be, I don’t know (ask Gail Sheehy), but it seems a waste to spend twenty years like that and a good precursor to a mid-life crisis.
One of the reasons teens and people in general imitate is because it is easier to stand behind someone else than to forge ahead into unknown territory ourselves, to expose our deepest selves or desires for fear that our naked self will be rejected. But one look at those who are truly original is enough to prove the risk is worth taking: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Oprah, Regina Spektor, Iron and Wine, Lights, and U2 are the tiniest tip of the iceberg of people who were/are courageous enough to be original.
Which is why, with the exception of some savage imitating via Pintrest, I’m done being anyone other than who God created me to be. Are you?