It's a pattern as old as civilization: an amateur, unsure of themselves, will obsess over what their heroes might think or say or do in a given situation, rather than simply hunkering down and doing the work for themselves. It's a perfectly human behavior, and something I've certainly been guilty of in the past.
Some even take it a step further, attempting to re-create whatever it was that made their heroes successful.
“I did what most writers do at their beginnings: emulated my elders, imitated my peers, thus turning away from any possibility of discovering truths beneath my skin and behind my eyes.”
– Ray Bradbury
Over the years though, I've reached the same conclusion that so many others surely have throughout history: there is no shortcut, no secret sauce, no magic bullet, that will make your work great. Emulating your heroes can undoubtedly be a useful learning method in the short term, but in the long term it's no more effective than being that kid in middle school who cheats on tests and never learns anything.
Eventually, you must find your own voice. Nobody's going to do it for you, especially not your idols. I guarantee you they had to go through the same process themselves when they first started pursuing their passions, and they'd tell you the same exact thing I am now.
Here are a few tenets I encourage you to keep in mind:
- If you do great work, it will speak for itself.
- If you are passionate about what you do, then you are sure to do great work.
- Don't be too concerned with your skill level in the beginning. You might not be very good at first (and truthfully, almost nobody is), but with time your skills will grow. Just put something, anything out into the world, and the rest will come.
- Don't be desperate for attention. Aspire to reach a level where your heroes will want to work with you as peers, not just notice you from afar.
- Lastly, don't fawn over your heroes. I'm 100% serious because I know how easy it is to fall into this trap. You'll either creep them out or they'll ignore you the same way they ignore all the other gushers out there. It's okay to point out something awesome they've done, but keep it professional.
I'll leave you with a quote by Josh Long that gets right to the heart of what I'm talking about:
“The people that we look up to are no different than we are. They still wake every morning with their own routine and their own ambitions for the day. They have the same fears, challenges, set backs, and epiphanies.
The difference is that they ship.”