The Difference: Copying Your Mentors vs. Becoming Your Best Self

I’ve often advocated learning from other successful people in your field/niche as a way to become successful yourself. No doubt, I’ve learned a ton from and owe a lot of my success from observing people like Chris Guillebeau, Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Leo Babauta and many more.

Watching how your online “heroes” operate is a fantastic learning tool. Dissecting how they communicate, build an audience, create compelling content, etc. is a great way to become a better leader and entrepreneur yourself.

But, there’s a potentially huge pitfall to avoid here too.

I can tell you from my own experience that I spent a lot of time in my early months as a blogger mimicking some of my unknowing mentors. My sites didn’t really start to grow until I stopped mimicking and started becoming myself.

That’s the danger. Learning from mentors is encouraged. Trying to become them instead of yourself is counterproductive and will keep you from breaking out.

Here’s how to tell whether you’re mimicking or learning from your mentors, and some things I’ve learned about becoming yourself.

Becoming Yourself

Note I’ve intentionally used the term “becoming yourself” as opposed to “being yourself.” Your goal online (especially if you’re a blogger) isn’t to be your real self, it’s to be your best self.

There’s a difference between useful transparency and transparency for it’s own sake. If you were completely transparent, you’d share every detail of your real self. That probably includes a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t necessarily put you in the best light, and that doesn’t serve any purpose to you or your audience. It’s simply T.M.I. People don’t need to know about your fetishes unless you’re a fetish blogger.

Your goal might be that you want everyone in the world to know everything about you, but I doubt it. Your goals are probably more along the lines of helping people out, being respected for what you do and creating a sustainable business that supports your ideal lifestyle. At least those are my goals.

Transparency can help you reach these goals, but you have to have a strategy. Being real and honest is important, but again, you want to reveal your best self, the inspiring leader within who can help your audience achieve the change you’re advocating. Again, think about transparency with a purpose, not transparency for it’s own sake.

You, your “real” self already exists. It’s who you are. Your “best” self, on the other hand, is a work in progress. When building successful online business or blog, discovering and shaping that best self will be a journey. It’s about finding your voice and learning what to share and what to keep on the inside.

The authenticity you should strive for won’t see the light of day if you’re simply mimicking other successful people and acting like you think you should act. Readers and potential customers will sense that person you’ve constructed is fraudulent and you’ll have a hell of a time getting traction.

Magic will happen only when you decide to start leading and stop copying.

Some people have figured out this secret from the moment they launched their sites (for example Pat Flynn, Adam Baker, Danielle LaPorte, Karol Gajda and Tyler Tervooren to name a few). Other people take time getting there.

Don’t worry about what you’ve been doing, just commit to being yourself from this point forward. That simple commitment will lead to a major breakthrough. I promise. If a breakthrough doesn’t happen I’ll gladly refund the price of this blog post. ;)

5 Signs You’re Trying to Be Someone Else

Not sure if you’re really being yourself or still copying the people you look up to? Here are 5 signs you’re still trying to be someone else:

  1. Every time you need to make a decision about your business, you first check to see how your mentor or favorite example does it.

    Here’s something that will free you to make your own decisions. There is no “right” way to do anything online. Seriously, you can find counter-examples to just about every success story online. The only constants are hard work and caring about your customers or readers.

  2. When your friends observe your work or read what you write, they comment that it doesn’t really seem like you.

    People close to you can be a great indicator of how much you’re simply copying others. If you haven’t gotten feedback from friends and family, try asking “does this seem like me?”

  3. You have a hard time coming up with original content ideas.

    If you haven’t found your own groove yet, you won’t trust your own instincts or allow yourself to be truly creative. Watch out if you feel like you have to constantly look to other sites for content ideas.

  4. You feel big emotional ups and downs based on validation (or lack of) from others.

    When you really embrace being yourself, you worry less and less about what other peers and experts think about what you’re doing and more about what your customers or readers think. Even negative customer opinions will affect you less when you’re doing your best and being honest about who you are.

  5. You feel like you need permission before attempting anything different from your peers or social norms.

    When you march to your own internal drummer, you’ll gain the confidence to do things that differentiate your business and lead to more major breakthroughs.

Another Danger Worth Noting

One other thing I should mention about observing/copying people you look up to (or even peers). Constantly comparing yourself to others can also be dangerous from a psychological perspective.

When you pay too much attention to what other people are doing (and compare how you’re doing) you set yourself up for failure. You’ll never measure up to someone else’s achievements exactly. Instead, try focusing on being the best at what you do and start feeling better about what you’re achieving.

What’s your strategy? How do you make the most of learning from people you look up to while avoiding copying or holding yourself to an unfair standard?

Let’s discuss in the comments!

photo by cybele malinowski

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  • Jia Jun

    Agree with you Corbett.
    Sometimes if we’re too dependent on other people, when they hit on a mistake, you’ll also following. Like a parasite, when the big tree grow old and die, at the end, the parasite lost it’s life as well. A leader always be in front of follower, thus he earn the most.

    • Corbett Barr

      I hadn’t thought of it from the “when the leader makes a mistake” perspective, but interesting thought Jia. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sherryl Perry

    Corbett, When I was new to blogging, I started following some of the more popular bloggers and diligently took notes and listened to them. Many of them were instrumental in helping me get my site launched and in working order. While I was following and listening to these people, some of them resonated with me and the tone and voice of a few made me feel uncomfortable. One of the women I used to follow swears a lot. Now, she’s a very intelligent and successful woman with a huge following but her style is not my style.

    There were other bloggers who talked about finding your own voice and your circle of friends. That’s when I realized that the best approach for me was to look at blogging as an extension of my “real life” networking. I’m just taking it virtually. So, my basic strategy now is to blog as if we’re having a “virtual” cup of coffee together. Would you like cream and sugar? :)

    • Corbett Barr

      That’s cool Sherryl. I like your “cup of coffee” mental model. Whatever helps you feel more comfortable and natural is great.

  • Chase Night

    Great advice, Corbett! As someone just starting out with a blog I this really hit home for me!

    • Corbett Barr

      Cool Chase, best of luck with the new site!

  • Ryan Renfrew @LifestyleDesign

    Hey Corbett,

    This resonates deeply within me. I find that when I “be my best self” I am a lot more creative and expressive, especially in my writing. When copying someone else I feel very confined and that I am doing somthing wrong. The key to finding your best self is to take a lot of ideas from your mentors throw them into a big melting pot swirl them around for a bit then add your own secret ingrdient to it.


    • Brian Driggs

      “bLAZE yOUR tRAIL”

      That really jumped off the screen at me, Ryan, and I really like your melting pot metaphor too. It’s easy, given all the SEO-friendly how-tos and lists, to get caught up in a desire to somehow duplicate others’ recipes. Following recipes leads to more of the same. By adapting the knowledge gained from these mentors, we can whip up a little casserole magic and make something completely different.

      From a gearhead perspective, mentors provide tools and insight into their use. If you want to rent out tools, fine, but if you want to build something, you need to seek out a variety of tools and DO something with them.

      After all, to the man with the hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    • Corbett Barr

      Right Ryan, everything is derivative in some way. The trick is to add your own unique perspective. Thanks for the comment.

  • Eric

    Man Corbett did I fall into this trap- super big time.

    I finally got real and started to blog exactly HOW I WANTED TOO and I tell you what, it feels awesome!

    No more governing my words, emotions and beliefs simply to appeal a bigger audience.

    Being yourself is huge!

    Oh and thanks for sharing this so late too- gosh could have used this like yesterday;-)!

    Later dude,


    • Corbett Barr

      Awesome, Eric. I love watching you grow more into your own every day. Keep up the transformation.

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Corbett,

    Money post here.

    #3 and #4 resonate with me. When ideas don’t seem to flow we are out of our individual flow, and the root cause is usually trying to tailor our ideas rather than simply speaking from our authentic heart.

    #4 was by far the biggest stumbling block for me to conquer. I formed a wicked attachment to validation on my blog, social networking sites, etc. If people didn’t respond I wasn’t good enough. Or more specifically, me being me wasn’t good enough. When I dissolved this attachment and began to act from my heart a cool thing happened: like-minded people seemed to find me.

    Competition is a curse. Creative thinkers rise above the field of competition, and when you seek to be your best self and leave all thoughts of competition behind you will enter a select group of human beings who have the most powerful influence on earth.

    Thanks for sharing Corbett. Have a powerful day!


    • Corbett Barr

      Competition can absolutely be a curse. It’s a motivating factor in some ways, but only when you’re competing as you. If you try to compete as someone else you can never really win.

  • Mark | Wealthy Affiliate Revolution

    Good post. Really hits home. I couldn’t agree more with this statement:

    “You’ll never measure up to someone else’s achievements exactly. Instead, try focusing on being the best at what you do and start feeling better about what you’re achieving.”

    It’s easy to get caught-up in what others are doing and lose focus on what you do. Thanks for putting things into perspective. As usual. :)


  • Chris C. Ducker

    Fantastic post…

    I am with you 100% – to imitate is just not cool. Plus, lets face it – its just plain boring…

    I love coming up with my own biz ideas and ideas and concepts for expanding my businesses. Sure, some of them might be inspired by what other people that I look up to are doing – but, they are not carbon copies of them – EVER!

    I literally just posted a couple of days ago, an article that goes into How to Become a Thought Leader in your Niche. And, not copying and coming up with original ideas was right in there.

    Thanks for the nice piece, bud.


    • Corbett Barr

      That’s a great way of summing up the whole article, Chris. Imitation is boring. You’re absolutely right.

  • Quiet Entertainer (Greg)

    I like this post. I definitely have my online heroes and my filter has whittled down to just a few sites.

    I guess the problem is trying to not care what other people think while also checking with your friends to see if it’s really “me.” I don’t know if anyone can really know who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish. Maybe checking with our peers isn’t really the way. Although, it can be a good red flag if you’ve made a post that didn’t work.

    Sounds like a good case for more trial and error, without really asking permission. Good thoughts. Good post. Thanks again.

  • Andy Fossett

    I love the distinction between ‘being’ yourself and ‘becoming’ yourself. I’ve never seen it put just that way, but it really makes sense since nobody starts out with a fully formed self online. We have to shape our online selves just as our offline selves were shaped by our experiences.

    Excellent point for people anyone who isn’t sure where to draw the line between learning from a mentor and being just another copycat.

    • Corbett Barr

      Cool Andy, glad you liked the distinction. Thanks for reading.

    • barb smith

      A great scene from Garden State … Natalie Portman’s character is talking about ‘being original’ … :)

  • Cara Stein

    Wow, this is exactly what I’ve been banging my head against for the past week!

    I think for me the problem is a lack of confidence. I’m new to blogging, or at least to blogging with the intent of gathering readers (as opposed to just babbling about yarn and cats and not caring if anyone reads it), so I keep reading all this stuff about how to do it. There’s a lot of conflicting advice, and even some of the things that everyone seems to agree on sometimes contain a conflict (ex. be yourself, be useful–I can see how to be myself, and I can see how to be useful, but combining the two is harder).

    I think if I knew what I was doing, I wouldn’t feel so dependent on all the advice out there. Meanwhile, I’m trying so hard to be the self I want to become, I can hardly do anything or see what my self might look like–real self, best self, any self. Maybe I just need to relax and quit trying so hard.

    There is no “right” way to do anything online.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for pointing this out!

    • Corbett Barr

      Wait, who doesn’t love yarn and cats?

  • Tyler Tervooren

    I’m really glad you used “become yourself” instead of just “be yourself” because, honestly, for as much flack as being a copycat gets (with good reason) there’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning from the greatest and modeling success.

    The problem, of course, is that you have to realize that doing that works to learn the basics and after that, it’s time to be original and find your own success because 1) you can’t beat the best at their own game and 2) if you try, their success will only become your ceiling – you can’t reach your full potential if all your actions are modeled after someone else.

    • Corbett Barr

      And I’d argue that your ceiling will be much lower than your mentor’s success because your attempt to copy will never measure up to the original.

  • Brankica

    Hey Corbett,
    I have never thought about this aspect but nice that you brought all this up. You are completely right about all the points you are stating.
    One more thing I can think of is: You keep copying what your favorite role model does. Let’s say you are a blogger and your idol is a “big name” blogger. One day that person runs into your blog and notices what you are doing. You will never gain respect from that person.
    I had the luck to be noticed by my favorite blogger and got some nice comments and RTs from her. If I just copied what she did, that would have never happened.

    • Corbett Barr

      Great point, Brankica, a genuine relationship with your mentor can’t happen if you’re stealing all of his or her best ideas.

  • Danielle

    I think that a big part of it is that when you read another persons thoughts and they are so completely similar to your own (but you just didn’t know how to word it before), suddenly you feel EXCITED! Someone understands what I’m feeling! It is far too easy to start writing the way that the other person wrote.
    To feel that you are understood is a super powerful feeling. It is a relief.
    I’ve been following blogs such as yours for quite some time now and have finally started my own writing. It’s exciting, but it’s scary because I worry that I’m just not being original. The more I think about it though, the more I realize that it isn’t copying — it is original. I’m committing no act of plagiarism! I’m building on ideas that were presented to me. I’m expanding on them and expressing them in ways that are relevant to me and my life. These ideas have moved me. They have inspired me. As a result of them I’ve decided to live a different and better (for me) way and that is a beautiful thing. I want others to experience it too and so I love spreading these messages! I am, as said above, learning the basics.
    However, I am also building my own way – a way that differs from others, and a way that hopefully will inspire others.

    Thanks for this great post.

    • Corbett Barr

      Hey Danielle, congrats on starting your own writing. It can be really fun, can’t it?

      I think you have the right idea. You’re part of a conversation online, and your job is to expand that conversation by adding your perspective. Take what you read and add to it. Rinse and repeat.

      Best of luck with the new site. Definitely let me know how the journey goes for you.

      • marianney

        ahhh thank you for saying this, both of you! as a newbie blogger, i have been struggling with this as well. writing the same stuff everyone else is, how to differentiate yourself without just copying others? and putting your own spin on it, is just what we are all doing. i thought i was just copying…thanks for the perspective :)

  • Barron Cuadro

    Great points! I’ve fallen into this trap before but have kept myself in check whenever I end up going this direction. It’s mostly a mental thing and you get into this tunnel vision of “what works” vs what works for you, as an individual.

    I think a good method of keeping oneself in check is realizing when you are producing content or making moves that don’t resonate with you from your most core, base level. Like if I started writing about minimalism because it seems there are a lot of successful minimalists, but really I’m not a minimalist at heart.

    It takes a lot to be honest with yourself but once you come to grips with that, it’s easier to discover what your own unique point of view might be, or what you can provide to the world instead of simply emulating a mentor.

    • Corbett Barr

      Great example, Barron. That could have been another point in the list above. Being opportunistic or jumping on a bandwagon that doesn’t really fit with who you are is a definite sign you’re not being your best self.

  • Jenny

    This is a great post. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers copy everything that other successful bloggers are doing, but think that it will only get you so far. It’s the personality, authenticness, branding, and unique differences that really set you apart from everyone else. If you are writing the same thing as everyone else, you’ll just blend in, never setting yourself apart. I think the A-list bloggers that are most successful are ones that put their authentic selfs out there.

    I know that having a completely different brand than the rest of the pack has really set me apart and helped people remember me.

    • Corbett Barr

      You must be doing a lot of things right Jenny, because I’ve seen you all over the place lately. Congrats on the progress and I’d love to hear more about your story sometime.

  • Murlu

    I generally try to do a “balls to the wall” approach to everything I do because I really don’t care what people think – when I first started a lot of my projects (and blogs) it was all cut of the mill crap but as I kept writing I realized that I hated how I sounded (nothing like how I speak) so I changed it up – it irked a few people but screw it – I’m going to have fun with what I do and I frankly don’t care what others are doing within the niche because I’m trying to do my own thing.

    • Corbett Barr

      “Balls to the wall” always wins as a valid approach in my book ;)

  • Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion

    The reality is that mimicking will fail as a blogging strategy because blogs only survive based on passion through realism and authenticity. Take away a piece and you’re up a creek. What I’m saying is that someone may follow the style of Chris Brogan for a time, and even experience success, but eventually they’ll just become dejected and burn out, ya know what I mean?

    Anyway, great read Corbett, you always bring it.

  • Dean Saliba

    This is the main reason I am not a big fan of John Chow. So many people copy his blog entirely and then start saying that anyone claiming to make money online is a scammer because they failed.

    • Brankica

      I must say that I am disappointed in J. Chow. I heard he was a big name but here is my experience in only two weeks:
      1. I subscribed with my e mail and started getting a bunch of e mails with sales pitches
      2. Some e-mails were written in not so good English – not acceptable for a “big name”
      3. I read several posts on his blog – one was recommending a lousy product, no big name should allow him self to be compromised just for money; one post had some “tips” that were telling you something even a beginner blogger would not write.
      So I unsubscribed and don’t think highly of people like that.

  • Tom Meitner

    Boy, Corbett, this is one of the biggest challenges of a blogger who’s trying to become an authority out there. I struggle with it a lot myself. As a writer, it takes time to really develop your “voice” and figure out exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it, instead of just saying “I want to do what Chris Guillebeau does”. Smart post, and necessary! Thanks for writing it!

  • Patrick James

    A quote I learned from Bruce Lee that I’ll never forget. He said, “Take everything you’ve learned, and make it your own”. In Martial Arts, your master builds you to be an exact replica of him/her. What separated Bruce Lee from other martial artists at the time was the fact that he stepped out of that boundary combining everything he learned and forming it into his own style.

    What I like to do when I base my work from people that have influenced and inspired me, people I look up to, is to build a foundation on things I learned about them and their work. Almost like emulating what they’ve done but then use that as a foundation as I build onto it my own creative twists. Chisel a bit here, a bit there until the piece becomes completely my own.

    Great post Corbett!

    • Corbett Barr

      Great quote, Patrick! That’s a great way to look at it.

  • IamDavid

    Newbies copy all the time because they need a path to follow.

    Intermediates copy some of the time. Other times they come up with an idea of their own.

    Leaders are creative forces who don’t follow rules, but instead make rules for the newbies to follow.

    There are a lot of copycat minimalism, PD, MMO blogs. It’s all becoming a bit too noisy, BUT no one is born a revolutionary right? Excellent post by the way.


  • Christina Crowe

    Hey Corbett,

    There are many bloggers who I admire and look up to. It’s motivating to watch their growth and progress, while also striving to reach that same growth (or even surpass it) while blogging. However, my admiration has always remained at just that for me – sources of motivation.

    I think it’s fine to follow your mentors as long as you don’t get too addicted to what they’re doing and how you can replicate their success. As you mentioned in your post, keep you intact rather than try to replace yourself with the blogger you admire.

    One way that I’ve been able to maintain my originality is by writing posts that relate to my personal experiences somehow. Little things like changes in your daily routine or how good it feels to rest your head on that nice, fluffy pillow can make good blog posts if you can get creative.

    I’m constantly finding things in my everyday lifestyle that I can then use to spice up my blog entries. Struggles and obstacles that I encounter throughout the day (if they relate the niche I’m blogging about) make especially good ones, since a lot of your readers will be interested in how to improve their lives and overcome the obstacles you’ve already experienced.

    By giving your blog posts that special touch that only you can give (by digging deep into your own thoughts, feelings, and everyday life), you can’t help but to be unique and you. You’ll also attract the right people who care what _you_ have to say. After all, that’s why they go to read your blog. :)

    Over time, as you develop more of your best self, you’ll also find your voice (if you haven’t already). Every writer has a special voice that makes them who they are. Your voice will most likely reflect your own unique personality.


  • Ogbeifun

    To generalize your whole content “Experiment” is only brings success online. I have been struggled for quite some time now to be successful with my business online. All I keep telling myself is; I actually don’t need a mentor when it comes to success on my venture. But, I see one thing in mentoring, “their determination” the zeal in them to succeed, this is only what I can emulate. The spirit to succeed.

  • Omar

    This is brilliant. I found myself trying to do what others are doing. You have to be yourself, take bits and pieces of information and add your own twist. Thanks. With my cookbook book “Mental Diet” I wanted to do my own thing. Not follow everyone else.

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  • Ogbeifun

    Since I started doing that which originally created by myself I have actually started getting positive results. It’s awesome seeing your efforts on the internet yielding results.

  • Sarah

    I’ve just commented on another of your posts but I’ve just found this blog and I love this post too! And I wanted to add something that I think is an interesting comparison (though it might just be because I do a lot of drawing…) It’s a common practise in drawing that, when you first start out, you copy other peoples work (and credit them, of course) and then start moving onto your own things once you’ve gotten the confidence.

    My personal experience was, I ended up copying peoples work so much that I got stuck in a style that wasn’t really “me” and it’s taken me a long time to unglue myself from that… Hey, I might write a post about that… Thanks for the inspiration and for the great post! :)

  • Robert Dempsey

    I’m lucky in that I spent a number of years being someone I wasn’t, and I’ve had the past 11 to really discover who I am and what I’m all about. I read a lot, watch a lot, and learn a lot.

    I look up to a number of people but not because of how they do what they do but rather for how they go about achieving what they want. I realize that how they operate won’t necessarily work for me, so I always keep it in context – take what I think will work, try it, and dump what doesn’t.

    I also find that the more I stop giving a shit about what other people think and just go off about how I feel about things the more I connect with the right people. Connecting with the right people is much more important to me than pleasing everyone – something that’s a complete waste of my time and theirs.

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  • Louisa

    Hi Corbett, Just wanted to say I found those “5 signs” really helpful. The posts I love writing the most are free from them but unfortunately they are also the majority. Thanks for the reminder!

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  • Richelle@TheCarolinaClipper

    WOW, this post hit home for me. I recently transferred my blogspot to a .com and have been so busy teaching myself the ropes and laying out my site by using others as a guide. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, FB followers, subscribers, etc. and get discouraged when you COMPARE. A few days ago I had a lightbulb moment. Each of these “numbers” is actually a person. A person I want to help. A person I want to teach. The reason I started blogging in the first place. As long as I’m true to my mission the site will be successful in it’s own way. I’m eager to find my “best self”.

    • Corbett

      Yes! Each of those numbers is definitely a person. When you realize that, it can lead to major breakthroughs. Each interaction counts. When you start connecting with individuals and try to help each person individually, you can really start to make a difference. Thanks for the comment!

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  • Shekhar

    Very correct Corbert…
    I started the same way but now Being yourself approach is also is my hot list. One definitely need to have their own path. But You will also agree that you need to follow someone( As i started with following u ) and then embark on the journey of being yourself.

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