Why “Be Unoriginal” Is Actually Great Career Advice
I moved to London in 2007 to study bass guitar at music school.
And shortly after I started my course I figured out what I wanted from my time there.
I wanted gigs and I wanted to work.
I wanted a career.
Many of my classmates shared that aspiration so it didn’t take long before we’d ask anyone we could how we could pick up gigs and start forging out a career for ourselves.
The typical response we’d get was along the lines of “be good, be dependable but try to focus on what makes you unique. There’s so much competition out there that you need to stand out from the crowd”.
To paraphrase the advice was this. If you’re not unique then you’re not valuable to the workplace. And if you’re not valuable then you won’t work.
At first, we thought this was true and that it sounded like great advice. We very much took it to heart.
If being unique is the path to success then surely we just had to figure out what hadn’t been done already and start doing that.
How That Played Out
After we adopted this strategy, my peers and I had some inevitable but optimistic discussions along the lines of “what can we do that hasn’t already been done?” or “how could we possibly do anything better than what Jaco, Paul McCartney, James Jamerson or Anthony Jackson (or any successful musician) has done already?”.
However, after months of frustration and a lack of progress and results, these conversations soon turned sour.
“Why should we even bother doing any work? We know we’re not geniuses or prodigies so we won’t ever have anything to offer” we’d ask.
I should point out that we weren’t being self-deprecating or experiencing some sort of existential crisis of the kind you see in a Netflix drama about an artist.
Many (arguably all) students at music schools the world over talk very happily and openly amongst themselves in this manner. And whilst it was very much a part of normal life for us, it weighed on…