Image from Gratisography.

Image from Gratisography.

“I’m sorry, you can’t do that. That’s my thing.”

Sound familiar?

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to territorial disputes in high school. You’re either getting called out for copying someone else OR you’re feeling extremely frustrated because you think someone else is copying you. So, how do you more forward from both situations?

First, be aware that in high school, everyone’s so concerned about making their identities known to the people around them. This is so inevitable to the extent that people can become overly protective of who they are and what they like by lashing out at people who, let’s say, dress the same way or have the same music taste. People tend to feel threatened or insecure when they think that other people might be cottoning on to the parts of themselves that they work so hard to cultivate and bring out into the world.

For the first situation, let’s pretend you have a friend named Juno. Juno loves to dress in all white, has a penchant for vinyl records, and has been very vocal about her love for the Backstreet Boys for as long as you’ve known her. One day, you’re both sitting on a school bench talking about your weekend, and you tell Juno that you checked out a record store and loved the records so much that you decided to buy a few albums (one of them by the Backstreet Boys) as well as your own record player. You start to notice that Juno’s mood changes as she becomes more distant in the conversation until it’s finally time to leave.

The next day, you show up to school in a white dress given to you by your cousin without even thinking about Juno’s all-white dress code. You see Juno again, and upon seeing your outfit she asks, “Wait, so you wear white now?”

The first thing to do in these situations is to understand that your friend is very likely to be very protective of who she is and what she feels sets her apart from everyone else. However, when your friend starts to give you the impression that you can’t demonstrate interest in something (including subjects or extracurriculars) because it’s “not your thing,” it’s also important to remember that YOU are in charge of your  life and that nobody can ever tell you what to do simply because they’re feeling insecure. If you want to try out for that sports team, do it! Start that club you always wanted to start and take that class you’ve always wanted to take! It makes absolutely no sense to hinder your own progress just because you’re afraid of feeding another person’s insecurities. If your friends were real friends, they wouldn’t be so selfish as to translate everything you’re doing into a reflection of who THEY are rather than as a reflection of how YOU might want to expand the scope of your personality, interests, and capabilities in high school. You are always susceptible to change, and it’s NEVER up to other people to dictate what you should or should not commit to and keep interest in over the years.

Now, let’s use your imaginary friend Mike for the second situation. Like Juno, you’ve always been very vocal about your love for music from the 60s and 70s: think Bob Dylan, the Doors, the Beatles, and the Grateful Dead. You know that Mike never once demonstrated any interest in classic rock in the years that you’ve known him. After a while, Mike starts to listen to the same music and says, “Wow, this is totally my music” whenever it plays in front of other people. At first, you feel annoyed but you don’t say anything because you’re thinking maybe it’s stupid to claim ownership over something that’s been around for the last 50-6o years. Aside from being very vocal about your music, you also love photography and regularly update your Instagram account. Suddenly, Mike makes an Instagram too and begins posting the same type of pictures as you with EXACTLY THE SAME editing. Mike even begins to dress like you in some of his pictures, and you start getting annoyed because you don’t like the idea of someone else cultivating the same identity as yours. See how it makes sense to be on both sides of the spectrum? So, now what do you do?

If you consider Mike to be one of your closest friends, the most important thing to do is to be honest about how you’re bothered and feel as if he’s been copying you. Mike will probably own up to it OR tell you that he’s grown to appreciate your interests so much to the extent that he developed an interest in them too. The next thing to do is to just LET IT GO. You can’t control what other people do. No matter how much you love the things you love, you have no right to tell other people that they can’t cultivate your interests simply because you got to those interests first. If you think people are copying you directly, the best thing to do is to just be flattered that you’re THAT much of an inspiration to them! And always remember that people can never fully be you, no matter how hard they try. They can draw inspiration from you, but when it comes to cultivating all of your values and being vocal about all the reasons why they like what they like or do what they do, they’ll never be able to match up to you if their “inspiration” isn’t coming from a genuine place.

So if someone else feels like you’re copying them, or if you feel like someone else is copying you, just deal with it accordingly and make sure that all of your intentions are coming from a good and genuine place. In the end, nobody can really control what anyone else does, and so the best thing to do is just work on bettering yourself rather than focusing on what other people do.

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