‘One of the aspects of self-discovery is to come out of someone’s shadow. I hope the emulators and imitators reclaim their own identity this spring.’
Sweta Shrivastava Vikram
People who don’t know what they need in life, often reinvent themselves based on whoever they see as successful. I can’t believe it’s easy not owning a sense of individuality. Spring is upon us, and it is the season of renewal, rebirth, re-prioritization, and reawakening—discovering yourself and reconnecting with the real you.
One of the aspects of self-discovery is to come out of someone’s shadow. I hope the emulators and imitators reclaim their own identity this spring. I believe that if they tried, the copycats are sure to find hidden aspects of their personality that they admire. If they connect with their inner voice instead of blindly imitating others, they will uncover opportunities for growth. Because you can imitate all you want, but there is no growth in it. After a point, the mindless chase will exhaust you.
We are where we need to be. We don’t need to become somebody else to win other people’s approval and acceptance. We are all amazing just the way we are.
I didn’t expect to feel rotten on the inside all weekend. My husband realized that I hadn’t uttered a word over our morning chai. The tea burned my tongue even though I like my food and beverages steaming hot. I didn’t realize people’s actions could burn as much—like someone had cut open a wound and peppered it with red chili flakes and lemon.
A friend had texted me at crack-of-dawn, “This time, she used your pictures and shared them as her own on social media.” I felt a lump in my throat. “It doesn’t end there; she is proclaiming to do exactly what you do for a living.” I felt my pity for this copier turn into disappointment and slowly morph into annoyance even though I understood that a person must have really low self-esteem if they think they need to constantly emulate what others are doing or how they are living.
“If you are truly on the right path, your inspiration should come from inside of you, not outside. If you are blatantly copying people, you are on the wrong path,” my friend and health coach Anna Almiroudis comforted me when I told her about my copycat.
With her slyness hidden behind her contact lens, my impersonator would scan me every time that we met. She scrutinized what I wore, ate, read, used, and said. She replicated every ounce of what I shared, be it on social media or in the offline world—be it the gadgets I used, pictures I shared, the words I wrote, the career path I chose, the hobbies and passion I followed to unashamedly befriending every connection in my network who she could benefit from. She lived in my shadow for years.
Here is what I have learned from this situation:
1. Words hold weight: There is a fine line between flattery and what feels like stalking. Young girls are often told, “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” Or the classic, “Ignore them and they will go away.” The one that gets my goat as an adult, “There is only one you. No one can do you like you.” Many humor me. “You are a public figure and people are mesmerized by you. Take it as a compliment when someone wants to be like you.” In theory, all of these motivational words sound supportive but are they really? Instead of assuming how imitation or stalking or emulation make a woman feel, can we ask them instead of sharing loaded advice based on our assumptions? One experiences a range of emotions when you find out that someone you know has violated your trust and repurposed your life and content as their own. From grief to anger to guilt to remorse to sadness…the spectrum of emotions engulfs you. But how can a woman or a girl speak up if there is no room for conversations about their feelings?
2. Social media makes us vulnerable: I love social media and the good it has brought in my life. But I am cognizant of how it has diluted boundaries. The world of social media has changed the social dynamics and how we interact with the world. We don’t really know who is seeing our stuff as we put it out in the Internet ether. People share aspects of their lives that they want us to see. Is it authentic or all made-up, we don’t know? We can’t tell genuine people from the fake ones. There is no way to monitor how people view your success and life. There is very little accountability for the proclamations people make online. My friend, Laura Mignott, CEO of DFlash and host of The Reset Podcast, who had also dealt with a copycat in the past, advised, “You do amazing work. Success is dangerous because it makes you attractive to even the vile variety. They don’t see any of your hard work, but they want what you have. Many people feel entitled and this is what births imitators.”
3. Not everyone is an authentic connection: I am a friendly person who goes heart first into relationships. I never used a filter around most people, including my impersonator. Maybe that’s not the smartest way to navigate the world. Sure, it’s important to trust and empower others. Equally important to lift people. But you cannot overlook the responsibility of protecting yourself, given the times we live in. My gut told me that there was no transparency in who my copycat pretended to be and who she ultimately was at her core. Her sob story changed depending on who she was talking to. In her opportunistic mind, it was acceptable to ride my coattails. But I so badly wanted to believe that a woman wouldn’t hurt another woman out of competition that I stuck around.
4. Listen to your instincts: The strong, feminine voice that told me repeatedly, “Walk away,” I stifled her. I chose to overlook my instincts. Because in the South Asian culture, women are rarely taught to be discerning. We rush into professional and personal relationships with the same vigor. We dive into the depths without any anchor or prior knowledge. We are never taught to build boundaries against toxicity or anyone who makes us uncomfortable. In our core, we are trained to be nice. “Let it go” and “sab chalta hai,” becomes the driving mantra. So, we accommodate all kinds of people because being the gatekeeper of other people’s happiness is deeply engrained in us. Being a good human being is your responsibility, but others’ happiness isn’t. You are not samosaor gulab jamun.
5. Pay attention to the signs: I noticed how my impersonator manipulated her brokenness to her advantage. I had never seen her marvel over anyone or anything. I don’t remember her saying anything constructive or positive about other women, writers, entrepreneurs, wellness practitioners, or human beings in general. According to her, if a woman was successful, it was because she had married rich. If a woman had a cozy life, it was because she was generous to her husband in bed. There was always jealousy and snark attached to defining another females’ success. There was always the “I have been deprived and others are successful because…” undertone attached to her words. Despite so many red flags, I allowed her into my life. And that’s on me.
I am aware that I don’t own writing, coaching, public speaking, Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, fight against domestic violence or any of this stuff. Truth is that we are all inspired by someone. I am influenced by my teachers, world leaders, thought experts, peers, colleagues, networks, family, and friends. And I am so grateful for so many people who have left a mark on my thinking. But the difference is that being motivated by someone is very different from stealing from them on the sly and thinking you’d never get caught.
I have interviewed several women and found out that impersonators are more common than we’d like to believe. When I had the opportunity to speak with UK-based cognitive therapist and acupuncturist, Mita Mistry, she said, “Copycats are really insecure and basically struggle to find their niche. It could be they lacking imagination, so they use someone’s success to fuel their own. You need to put a boundary and share less of your stuff with them and even maybe distance from them for a while until they find themselves.”
As the seasons change, I am trying to change my mindset too. Becoming discerning about building healthy boundaries without losing touch with benevolence and the real me. I am hoping that the impersonators in our lives too learn to restore themselves this spring by building confidence, uncovering their needs, and learning to love themselves. I truly hope they embrace who they are with full compassion.
Anybody who is imitating somebody else, no matter who it us, is heading in the wrong direction. It is impossible to become like somebody else. Your only hope is to become more fully yourself. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Sweta Shrivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an Ayurveda & mindset coach, international speaker, and best-selling author of 12 books, including, the recent Louisiana Catch. She is a five-times Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in The New York Times, amongst other publications, across nine countries on three continents. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, and wellness. Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. Winner of the “Voices of the Year Award,” (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton and founders of the #MeToo movement) in her spare time, Sweta uses mindfulness, Ayurveda, and yoga to empower female survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. A graduate of Columbia University, she lives in NYC with her husband and works with clients globally. Find her on: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.