If you’ve ever been burglarized, you know that gut-twisting feeling of having your space, stuff and privacy violated by some creep (or gang of creeps) willing to break a window, bust a lock or hack into a database just to take what’s yours.
You’re not only upset about what’s been stolen – your grandmother’s ring, your Nikon camera, your laptop – you’re sickened by the fact that someone rummaged around your house, tossed your clothes out of drawers, knocked things over and destroyed the safety you once felt in your own home.
For days, even weeks afterwards, you’re anxious, mad, frustrated and even a little scared. Because if they did it once, they can do it again.
If you’ve ever had your words stolen, then you know the feelings are very much the same. Or even more exaggerated. Because if you’re anything like me, you worked hard and long to create those words. For sat and stewed and wrote and rewrote and edited for days. And with one 5-second cut-and-paste, someone swiped those words and used them as their own.
The sad thing is… this happens all the time.
In this crazy online world we live in, your words, your copy, your story, even your photo is up for grabs. You never know when someone might pilfer them to use as they wish. Sometimes you can catch them, confront them and make them remove the stolen copy from their blog or site. But most of the time, you don’t even know it’s happened.
I once found my friend’s photo on a sales page for some kind of information product. Whoever had created the page had swiped my friend’s photo from his website and used it as his own personal “this is me” photo.
The other day, a client of mine messaged me, demanding to talk to me immediately, because one of her competitors had stolen her message. This competitor had written a Facebook post that described her mission/purpose in almost exactly the same words my client uses when she describes her mission/purpose.
After calming my client down, I went and took a look at the offending post, and sure enough. A lot of the language was almost identical to my client’s. But she hadn’t stolen her exact words and phrasing. She hadn’t gone to her About Page and copy-and-pasted the same word-for-word message. She’d simply described her purpose in words that were “almost” identical to my client’s.
My client kept saying, “She stole my message! She stole my message!”
But she hadn’t “stolen” her message. She’d created a message that was incredibly similar to my client’s. And it made sense. Because this competitor did the same kind of work for the same kind of people. Her mission was almost identical. It would have been hard for her to write a message that didn’t use a lot of the same words in a very similar way.
Look… sometimes people do steal your message. Word for word. Or they borrow the essence of it, change it around a bit, and use it as their own. But sometimes, their message is simply a lot like yours. And sometimes… it’s hard to know the difference.
When I think of all the life coaches out there using messages about “live your passion!” “do the work you love!” “create the life of your dreams,” I always wish they would work a little harder and come up with something more original. But I don’t think they’re all copying each other’s messages. They simply have the same message and haven’t come up with a better way to express it.
One time, I was stunned and hurt and really mad when one of my mentors “stole” a headline I’d written and used it as a title for one of her blog posts. This was a woman I admired. Someone to whom I’d paid a lot of money. And now she was stealing my copy!
But once I calmed down, I realized, she didn’t steal it. She most likely regurgitated it. She’d probably read my headline when I first wrote it, liked it, and then forgot about it. Until she was looking for a title for her blog post one day, and bam! My headline appeared in her mind as if it were her own original thought.
At least, that’s what I’d like to believe. Because we’re all so bombarded with so many messages, day after day, that it’s easy to absorb phrases, titles, turns of phrase, and not even know we’ve done it.
Here’s the deal.
Unless you have clients that no one else works with or you do work no one else does, there are going to be times when you feel as if your own words are staring back at you from someone else’s website, or you’ll read something you wish you’d written yourself… and you’ll morph it into something you can use.
Either way, it’s okay. I know it hurts when you see copy that’s so incredibly similar to your own. Like my client did. I know it’s frustrating and maddening. Because it’s not just about the words; it feels as if someone stole your voice.
But they didn’t. They can’t. Nor can they steal or imitate the passion, heart, soul and energy that fuels your voice and your words. Nor can they steal your experience, your skills, your innate talents, your abilities and capacities.
They can’t steal you.
And when you feel as if someone stole your message, stop. Breathe. And ask yourself:
Did they steal my exact words? Or just the meaning of those words?
Did they do a cut-n-paste on this? Or are they doing their best to create their own message using words I often use as well?
If it’s the latter, let it go! It doesn’t matter if someone uses similar words in a similar way to convey a similar message. What matters is your own alignment with your message. What matters is that your message, the one you created, communicates who you are, what you do, what you stand for, in your own voice and in a way that feels 100% true to you.
How many times have you heard the phrase “attract more clients?” I’m thinking I’ve heard, read, said or even written it over a million times. No one owns that phrase. Anyone can use it. And thousands of people do! But I often wonder, who was the first person to write that? And how does that person feel right now?
I’m pretty sure he or she is over it by now. In fact, he or she is probably doing something entirely different with his or her life and could care less.
Because this is what I know for sure. Your message? It’s going to change. The one you have now most likely won’t be the one you have a year from now. Because you’ll evolve and change, and you’ll outgrow it.
So, don’t get too protective or possessive of your message. Instead, focus on living your message to the fullest. Be that message. Share it and make good on the promise of that message by doing great work in the world.
Then, it doesn’t matter who borrows or even steals your words. Because you’ll be the real deal. And no one can rob you of that.