mitchell vitez

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Fear of Repackaging

In sixth and seventh grade, I had a fantastic teacher who would ask us all sorts of interesting questions and put the class in different scenarios. Once, he told us a specific fact about history, and then asked the class to answer a simple question about that exact same fact a few minutes later. Nobody wanted to respond, even though everybody obviously knew the answer.

I think this is probably because nobody wanted to look like a parrot. Everyone wants to think that their ideas spring from within and are unique. This is absurd, of course. Very few of the ideas any of us hold are entirely our own.

We didn’t invent language or the alphabet. We didn’t invent science or mathematics or history. Most people won’t have a chance to invent any significantly new idea since that really only comes on the frontiers of research. The rest of us are all just remixing.

This is perfectly fine, of course. Our creative output is still our own. I definitely haven’t invented the idea that “everyone is just reusing ideas” but here I am talking about it.

It seems to me this sort of anxiety about not being original falls under a broad umbrella with things like imposter syndrome, or simply unease due to the idea that you aren’t yet where you want to be in life. Some of this can be healthy—it’s probably better for you to set big goals and not quite reach them than to rest on your laurels and assume you’ve already figured everything out.

This is a little bit different than the fear of “putting yourself out there”. The fear of not being original can keep us from being productive even when we know nobody else is watching. This is a problem because the main way to get better at something is to practice it, and so fear of non-originality keeps us from working at the things we’d like to become better at. Perhaps given enough work, eventually we’ll be able to start having original ideas about a subject, but until then parroting the ideas and at least working with them at all is a great start.

I’m sort of being a proponent of exactly what I’m doing right now—fumbling around with an idea and trying to make sense. Even if I make no sense at all, I’m practicing the fumbling part and perhaps picking up a few subtleties of how to better make sense of an issue later. Even though this topic has been written about many times before, my own writing about it is going to help me in the future, probably more so than merely reading all those other writings about the topic.

Getting really good at something requires understanding, not just a surface level take on a subject. If understanding requires familiarity, and you gain familiarity through practice, then quantity of work produced is actually a decent proxy for getting better at something.

This is a defense of just creating, regardless of the quality. The practice itself is what’s important, and the quality can improve on its own time. I don’t expect to be great immediately. I expect to slowly work towards that, and if I have to present my fumblings instead of some highly-polished piece that takes much longer to create, then so be it. Readers can always choose not to read more, but I don’t want to give myself a reason not to write more.