Gustafson: It’s OK to reinvent the wheel

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

With a smile in my heart, I can recall sitting down for breakfast across from my little sister, primped and brooding in my “whatever” phase of tweenie-ness while prepping for another brutal day of middle school drama. Without missing a beat, she jumped up, raced upstairs and came bouncing back down moments later, hair in a side-ponytail like mine and purple earrings like mine. She had stretched the neckline of her yellow sweatshirt so she could squeeze her tiny shoulder out of the neck-hole the way my slouchy off-shoulder cream-colored sweatshirt fit me. And she resumed her place at the table sheepishly grinning at me with both admiration and unease, outfitted as best she could in an effort to mirror her older sister.

I’m not sure if it was pre-teen angst, the “copycatting,” or if it was because the close, but-not-quite-there ensemble made my own garb seem silly too but I was visibly annoyed. Some cereal was flung and a feud began that wasn’t resolved for years. Now, looking back, I sincerely love that we were so connected. Trying to copy my look was genuinely cute and sweet, so no wonder my mother had also been annoyed at me for my reaction, which had landed me on “the bench” (our timeout location.)

In many ways, I wish my little sisters still adored me enough to admire anything that I do in such an unreserved way. In fact, more often than not, I now look up to them.

Fortunately, for many of us, sibling rivalry seems to fade as we tackle the true-life struggles of adulthood. And for me, being auntie to my nieces and nephews, whom I adore, is a role that forms an even deeper bond, and sheds away the final remnants of those childish misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

In reflecting, and now as a parent, I understand that copying is natural for small children who are still developing their own identities, even if it is hard for those being followed to recognize that admiration is taking place. What I find curious though, is when it prevails beyond childhood.

In reflecting, and now as a parent, I understand that copying is natural for small children who are still developing their own identities, even if it is hard for those being followed to recognize that admiration is taking place. What I find curious though is when it prevails beyond childhood.

Perhaps, as they say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Still when it comes to having your self-expression infringed upon, as an adult, it often feels just like it did on the playground, more like an affront to personal creativity. It’s sometimes hard to handle a childish situation like an adult. You can’t simply say, “Quit copying me!” without risking being considered a raving narcissist.

According to psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, an outspoken expert in the field of copycat culture, there is cause for concern when imitation goes too far, because as she explains, although initially flattering, being regularly imitated can feel aggressive. “If you scratch the surface, it feels like an insidious kind of envy; especially in the worst case scenario: That the other person not only wants to imitate you, but replace you, too.”

Sure, we all subtly copy one another; it’s human nature to see how someone is succeeding in what they are doing and to use their knowledge and experience to build upon and improve our own lives. Hello, Pinterest. We may emulate our parents, teachers, coaches, heroes, artists, athletes and celebrities. We also may look to historical and religious figures, and dare I say some political leaders (with a huge-emphasis on “some”), and we learn from their genius, and from those who, having shaped our world, are equally responsible for the ways in which we model our lives.

Role models, by definition, are (or should be) considered highly respectable resources — though that certainly isn’t always their true identity. And often, if it should happen, their downfall can be a fascinating, albeit identity crisis inducing spectacle.

We all like to feel the illusion of individuality, and while it is nice to be admired particularly by those we love, being outright copied can feel different, more like identity theft or a sense of having what makes us feel unique, stolen from us. And, while recently mulling over the concept of why we, as individuals strive to feel a sense of distinctive character in our own lives, I’ve started thinking of how our town can retain its identity while enhancing our relationship with our world famous older sibling.

As Snowmass Village is coming-of-age, we are granted the opportunity to solidify our own identity, holding on to the characteristics that make us distinct. While we can recognize our close relationship with Aspen, and the fraternal bond that exists between us, we also realize that it is certainly not a competition, as we continue to rely on each other. We cannot, nor would we want to replicate Aspen, that is not our intention or of concern. I caution Snowmass against inadvertently becoming another haughty high-end ski resort knockoff. We certainly don’t want to try to copy Vail, Beaver Creek, Deer Valley, etc. — though each may have their attributes. And yet, though we say we are different and we talk all about our character, I’m still unsure of whether or not we are trending in the direction of my little sister’s faux attire.

It seems to me that in order to discover one’s true identity, the exploration must go beyond the periphery. We can’t simply look from left to right at the people and places around us to uncover our true character. Coming up with a new or original approach or idea, requires both hindsight and foresight. History, coupled with innovation, determines the new paths on which we will someday find ourselves.

My little sister, who once admired me, simultaneously developed her own sense of identity. And now we respect and enjoy each other’s similarities and differences, and rely on each other’s strengths during our own times of weakness.

I do not have a problem with collaboration or admiration that leads to inspiration, but I caution against living a false narrative, and question those who would judge others while concurrently trying to emulate a lifestyle that is not uniquely distinct.

I just don’t think we can copy our way into a good idea or a satisfactory identity. Perhaps to avoid infringing on the copyrights of another’s character or personal identity, there needs to be something that is more like a natural remix. After all, though we couldn’t have started from scratch, we did need to reinvent the wheel in order to fly.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind, after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at