Everything has been done. Give up now.

The list for what has never been done is very short.

If you’re looking for something new before you even begin, you may as well abandon the quest. You will probably fail.

Everyone has a voice now. Everyone has a camera, too. Every picture at every monument has been taken better by someone with better equipment. You’re screwed.

The picture itself is no longer interesting, because it has been taken already. Objectivity is not useful.

I just recently came face to face with the fact that almost everything I’ve ever done has been done better, before me, by someone else. Has this happened to you yet? If you ever do anything interesting, it will.

When it does, you will be faced with a moment of doubt that may crush you and prevent you from continuing– unless you have faced it before and seen that you can win.

But this fight is one that you can subvert and avoid entirely if you realize that the information is not what is interesting to most people— the story is.

The story is something that people can relate to. The subjective and personal is human. Human is relatable. Information is not.

The best storytellers are translators of information. They take an experience and create layers on top of it, like an onion, that get peeled and reveal deeper insight.

But the depths, of course, are dark. They are hard to map. They contain secret tunnels. They don’t reveal themselves to you instantly. They need time.

But time is not what most people have. They want quick and immediate insight. They want the information so they can move on.

Avoid the temptation to talk about information. Information is the realm in which the how-to rests, and the place where machines can easily replace humans.

If you want to stay valuable, you cannot stay where machines can replace you. The experience you provide has to be uniquely human.

But do you even know how to do that? If not, how will you learn?






36 responses to “Everything has been done. Give up now.”

  1. Matt Avatar

    You already told a better story than me. I’m screwed.

    1. Jackie Shelley (@jackinessity) Avatar

      Yeah, Matt. Obviously we should just give up now. Right?

  2. Ryan RIehl Avatar

    I just picked up Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces from the library. I’m aiming to better understand human narratives and plot structures.

  3. Jackie Shelley (@jackinessity) Avatar

    Just finished an incredible book, _The Devil in the White City_ by Erik Larson, which tells the story of the Chicago World’s Fair. Masterful storytelling is indeed wonderful.

    Julien, you are superb in the catchy title department, I must say. You get me every time.


    1. Julien Avatar

      Thanks Jackie. Just call me Mr Hyperbole. 🙂

    2. Nicholas Young Avatar

      Off topic: I’ve heard wonderful things about that book – and I live in Chicago. I should go read it.

  4. Crizere Avatar

    This is what I experienced today- the thought that I have to walk away from the “how-to” realm. It may seem small to you, but reading this post confirms my thoughts and I’m looking to it as a sign.

    You are right when you say that the thought of what has been done before, and better, can cause us to give up. It happened to me once, but I refuse to let it happen between my music. The story is what makes us human, approachable, successful and timeless. Like you said- it’s the foundation that the robot does not have.

    Thanks for posting this!

  5. Tomas Avatar

    I think that the best way to escape the trap of ‘how-to’ is the listening to next to you (the recognition of oneself in other) That guards us from attempts to improve other and results in pure sharing of the love.
    Unfortunately the above looks like one more ‘how-to’… I think that only the ABSTRACT painting is free from that ambiguity – from the cunning self-promotion…
    Thank you for the help to grasp what is what.
    Tomas Karkalas

  6. Holly Avatar

    Become a teacher. Every experience and every story is vastly different from the next. Every child is different and each one comes with their own challenges. While most of my friends are also teachers we have varied experiences depending on who and where we teach! I could tell you a story or two!

  7. Steve Garfield Avatar

    Nice post.

    I like this:
    “Avoid the temptation to talk about information. Information is the realm in which the how-to rests, and the place where machines can easily replace humans.”

    I bet someone has already written this better:

    “Every picture at every monument has been taken better by someone with better equipment.”


    Why We Make Pictures…
    by Tom Persinger

  8. Jeremy Meyers Avatar

    “How” can be done by computer

    “Why” cannot, especially if the “why” is “why is this so important to me”

    That’s why listicles are fucking lazy.

    I’ve finally decided to go all-in and build something that enables me to capture the ‘why is this so important to me’ professionally, and frame it in a compelling way. Why? Because I’m a curious-minded individual, and love to learn. Because I believe that human connection leads to a better planet, and want to facilitate as much connection as possible. Because this is the real stuff, that is impervious to Klout or +1 or SEO’s influence.

    There’s your context.

    Go, do, create.

  9. Michael Margolis Avatar

    Amen Julien. Storytelling the human experience is all we have left…(and what we’ve always had all along). Exciting times to be a alive. Would love to catch up sometime soon.

  10. seanrox Avatar

    Indeed. Insert Special Sauce here…

  11. KA Avatar

    Lately I’ve also been thinking about the fact that maybe not everything we do has to be important or interesting to everyone around us, if it informs and enriches our own experience.

    To a certain degree and in certain pursuits, I mean.

  12. saltnsugarstars Avatar

    When did we become so overly concentrated on ‘having’ to become the best at our creative enterprises? There is no ‘best’ book, movie, song, painting etc. Of course there are the greats of human achievement but as you said the experiences of those creators are fascinating.
    Just because you are doomed to not become the best and fail doesn’t mean it’s not a very valuable experience. Failure makes us who we are (watch Little Miss Sunshine for that reference).
    I do my best to improve at what I do and while there are people who will always be better than me (which can be a bitter pill to swallow) I still love doing it because I love that sense of self accomplishment of knowing I improved myself for myself.

  13. Sara Avatar

    This is post on my desk/cubicle worthy. Thanks!

  14. Ed Avatar

    Completely awesome, love it.


  15. Sue Avatar

    Great post. I’m so bored by the amazing amount of crap I read online that mistakes the content for the form, as if the container itself is what’s interesting. Reading that kind of stuff about information is awfully tiresome, dreary, boring, and can turn the most fascinating subject into tedium.

    Who was it who said that this generation will be saved by stories or something like that? We are so starved for some sort of a narrative storyline that we lap it up when it comes 🙂 ‘Cos what are our cultural stories we get told? Shit about money and buying stuff. Yawn.

    I feel disheartened about the whole writing process at the moment. It’s so hard to break in to be published, and writing is such hard work, and it’s really easy to be convinced that you are the shittest writer that ever did delude themselves that they could write because there’s so much competition out there 🙂 But then I remind myself that if you spend the time crafting stuff, even writing about a bunch of asparagus can be writ interesting, and that inspires me again.

    Thanks for your entertaining read. Always thought-provoking 🙂 Isn’t it funny how the thought that everything has been done before can feel disheartening … but there is a big wad of liberation that comes riding on the wave afterwards. Cool 🙂

  16. Peter Paluska Avatar

    Wait a second. You’re not just using this as an excuse to pay tribute to the Barenaked Ladies, are you?


  17. Eric Prince Avatar
    Eric Prince

    I don’t understand the meaning you give to the word information in your paper. Any narrative convey many informations among which some are human informations. therefore why are you opposing both? Is it some kind of reconduction of the old familiar dualism with some new clothes on ?
    Best 😕

  18. Masa Avatar

    We could look at this situation from another angle. Everything you do is new in the sense that they have never been done by you at this specific time. To be more precise, even if actions are the same, experiences are new.

    Yes, this angle comes down to experiences as well. They are what differentiate actions that have been done (i.e. – your experiences) from actions that are new to you.

    I think the key to providing uniquely human experiences is to be aware that you can have these uniquely human experiences and they are experienced best when you try not to be someone else.

  19. Maria Guldager Avatar

    You are so right. I’m working here in Denmark, where we all in the public service are thretened by finansial problems and cut-downs. Hope to prove awesome-ness…:-)

  20. Manish Avatar

    Thanks, I finally understand the question I posed to myself many years back. Should I keep fighting or surrender when there is no chance of winning??

    The answer is clear now: Life is a journey and the experience is what I should try to get most out of the situation.. That may not be a victory…But losing hope is a sure shot defeat.

  21. John Federico Avatar

    Very inspiring. Thanks, Julien!

  22. Mandy Leith Avatar

    Great post, Julien. You have a knack for cutting straight to the heart of the matter!

    Watch (and make) documentaries! Making documentaries, requires a rigour that offers a great training ground for understanding the practice, patterns and pitfalls of telling effective, engaging stories. A good doc can transform hard facts into a compelling tale through personal stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It’s all about framing, literally and figuratively. Oh, and read anything by Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung! The archetypal patterns of core human stories repeat over and over thru time, and offer a rudder for storytelling structure.

  23. Lian Avatar

    Good one.

  24. Caz Makepeace Avatar

    The story is so important. Our motto is make your life a story to tell. We know that people follow people and their stories, not their blogs or information.
    I love this post and the reminder of how important our unique voices and stories are.

  25. NLM Avatar

    Plus, it’s good to remember that something need not be original to be worthwhile: each cheesecake I bake is delicious, even though it’s not the first and only.
    Deep breaths, everyone, lol.

  26. Alden Avatar

    Some people fail to see that it is real experience and human emotions that actually make something great. And if I were to guess, it has always been the race for money, most popular man-made thing in the world that has people blinded to the more important things in life.

    So at the end of the day, I guess it is people that are interesting since WE all can create stories. Even then, there’s like a whole bunch of nuances and subtleties to look out for 😉

  27. mark Avatar

    “The best storytellers are translators of information”–this is going on a brick in the wall on my class.

    Wikipedia and raw experience is the sandbox. The storytellers are the high architects of culture. Oh, that is, second to gardeners.

  28. PartlySunny Avatar

    Thank you for this. It’s very disheartening to see so many blogs out there that have tons of followers and terrible content. It makes me want to bang my head against…my keyboard. Anyway, on my “good” days, I’m happy to just keep doing what I do best with the hope that eventually I’ll figure it out. The bad days, not so much.

  29. Martin Avatar

    Nice insights.

    At first that can knock the wind out of someone’s sails, but at the same time, it’s true, and it takes a bit of a load off 🙂

    We just need to be ourselves!

  30. Kimberly Avatar

    I was thinking about this yesterday while taking photographs as I was sightseeing in a very well-known city. The landmarks here are beautiful and amazing, but they have been captured many times by photographers who are much more talented by myself. So why should I even bother taking a pic?

    The answer is that I have my own story about this place and what I think of it, a story that involves my own personal experience with it. I can pose in front or a landmark and get a picture taken like many other people do, or I do something like look for an interesting perspective that I personally like. I will probably upload these pictures to the web and people who are interested in me will enjoy them because they are part of my personal story. They will enjoy them much more than if I just copied and pasted photographs other people have taken because my photographs relate to my story.

    It’s another piece of the pleasure of the human experience. We are all living very similar lives, but everyone has their own unique spin on what that means. And we enjoy learning about what that means to other people we find interesting. It’s awesome 🙂

  31. ranty yustina dewi Avatar

    ..and the story come from a Point of View. everyone can do this, as long as they wanted to.

    otherwise, even history will be just repeating it self. but I believe it must not just repeated, but progressing, time after time.

    or, should I change my beliefs?

    thank you again, storyteller 🙂

  32. it doesn't matter Avatar
    it doesn’t matter

    I gave up years ago

  33. vanessa Avatar

    i dnt wanna give up,but i feel really tired to chasing something that not belongs to me .

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