We are obsessed with being original. We look at pieces of art, listen to music, and walk by architecture while marveling at their author’s ability to make something from nothing. Then we try creating something original in our own work or art and get filled with frustration at not being able to come up with something unique and original. The thing is, originality is a myth.

To explain this better, let’s look at what original means.

To be original is to be first, to be the earliest, to be the source other people copy from. Being the first to do something is so difficult we’ve come up with phrases like “there’s nothing new under the sun” and “everything that can be created has been created before”. Yet these phrases imply that someone in an age before us was original, after all, someone must have invented fire, soap, the computer and rock music. Although some inventions seem completely new, most inventions are simply the sum of ideas that existed before them. Charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter were all preexisting materials commonly used in alchemy and medicine before it was discovered that mixing them produced black powder, or gunpowder as we now know it.

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