“If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all ...”
If you’ve ever listened to any of Billie Holiday’s music ("All of Me," "Lady sings the Blues," "Strange Fruit"), you’ll notice that her voice is unique. Distinctive.
Whenever a song of hers comes on the radio, I know it’s Lady Day right away. I don’t have to ask “wait, who sings this song” or figure out the artist behind the voice. This is why I love this quote by the legendary jazz singer. It’s evident she lived by this truth because it’s been more than 80 years since she made her mark on the music scene, and we have yet to come across another singer who sounds like her.
Even though I can’t sing (I mean in my head I belt out notes like Christina Aguilera but my voice doesn’t get the memo), this quote is still applicable to my own gift. Basically it comes down to why would we even want to do something like someone else? Why be another so and so? This quote doesn’t just apply to singing, especially if you’re like me and you know singing isn’t in your lane. However, as a writer, I rewrote the quote to say:
“If I’m going to write like someone else, then I don’t need to write at all.”
It's easy to get caught up in wanting to be the next _______ (fill in the blank with someone you admire in your industry), especially if we view that individual as really successful. While it's great to admire other people's gifts and talents, we also have to remember that we possess everything we need inside of us to be the best at what we do. We're not supposed to be the next Oprah, Stephen King, etc. (don't get me wrong. I'll take their pay checks though...lol!) Just saying, let's focus on blazing our own trail and leaving our own mark. The word "next" places limitations on where we can go.
You may be in a place where you are discouraged and feel you have nothing new to offer as you look around at others you view as successful. Doubts may surface, as you feel you no longer have what it takes to keep pursuing your dream. Please don’t believe that lie. Your gifts combined with your style, personal experiences and niche gives you an edge that places you in a league of your own — which makes you incomparable.
I took several fiction writing classes when I attended Columbia College in Chicago. In every class, we had to sit in a circle and read our work out loud once a week. The process was interesting. The teacher gathered all of our stories into a huge pile, and then he picked one to read, never disclosing the author of the story. He read the first page before randomly picking a student to continue, and then he/she read a few pages before the teacher passed it to another person. The story would exchange hands with two or three more students before the teacher paused and asked the class “who do you think this story belongs to?”
We would take our best guess, and then he would pass the story one final time to the student who actually wrote it so that he/she could finish reading their piece of work. It’s interesting how our guesses became spot on over time as we started to learn each other’s voice. Even in a classroom of 12-15 writers, we could identify who wrote the story. It became easier as time went on because we learned that we all had a unique writing style. Even though we all wrote fiction, we all wrote it differently.
Whether it's writing or designing, you also have your own signature style in everything you do. It’s a style that belongs only to you and one that is identifiable because it relates to the essence of who you are—personality, quirky traits, strengths, flaws and all.
We all have experienced events in our life - triumphs, milestones, successes, disappointments - that have shaped us into who we are today. Though we may go through the same situation, we still won’t have the exact same experience.
Let’s use a wedding as an example. You and I could get married on the same day, at the same time and in the same hotel with the same number of guests and menu. Although we’d definitely have similarities that we could relate to, we would still have two very different experiences to discuss because we are two different people. Now let’s say a wedding magazine asked us to write a review of our big day. If your service was amazing and my servers constantly ran behind, our reviews would look completely different.
The same scenario + two perspectives will always = different results. It’s similar to how two people can go through the same traumatic experience yet one person overcomes the tragedy and the other never bounces back.
That’s why our experiences matter so much in what we do because we carry them with us, whether we realize it or not. Our experiences, both good and bad, become an integral part of our story. If we can take what we’ve learned from our experiences and use it serve others in a positive and authentic way, what we have to offer will stand out. Our life experiences and the power behind our story can never be duplicated by anyone else.
Creatives and trendsetters can pursue many avenues. Someone gifted in singing can record songs in a studio, perform live at concerts or become a vocal coach. A writer can publish books, write magazine articles or start a blog. An event planner can organize meetings for companies or plan weddings. All of these options can be narrowed down to become even more specific. A photographer can photograph weddings. An author can write children books. An actor can act in theater versus film.
Hone your craft based on your niche. It’s not to say that you can’t expand into new territory, but mastering your niche helps you become an expert in that area. Would Billie H. have been successful if she chose rock or opera instead of jazz? I’ll go with yes because her voice is amazing. However, by choosing jazz and perfecting her gift in that genre, she really made her mark and became legendary and memorable in her niche. Not just as one of the best singers during her time (generic) but one of the best jazz singers in her genre during her time and beyond (skilled/expert).
There’s only one you and one me. Our signature styles, experiences and our niche make our gifts shine. Whether it’s singing, writing, photography, styling hair, personal training, motivating people, decorating or something else, let’s work on our craft and be the best we can be at whatever we are called to do—and that means embracing our uniqueness and doing it differently than the rest.