Creative Rock Stars Reinvent Themselves

This post is part of the Creative Rock Stars series.

Coloured mask among grey masks

Photo by exfordy

When Bowie sang ‘Who Can I Be Now?’ it wasn’t a hypothetical question. The Chameleon of Rock achieved fame by playing a series of alter egos, including Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke. He took things to extremes, but in a sense all stars are their own creation. They project a persona that may or may not resemble their private personality. They are also free to express themselves by making original or even eccentric choices about where to live, what to wear, how to amuse themselves, and especially how, when and where to work.

Looking at these freedoms, we can probably relate to the fan who asked Robert Smith ‘Why can’t I be you?’. Now for practical reasons we can’t all be Robert Smith or David Bowie, but many of us now have options for reinventing our identity and lifestyle that used to be the preserve of rock singers like them. And no, I’m not talking about Second Life.

At the shallow end of these options are the flexible schedules, relaxed dress-codes, Playstations and pool tables that are found in modern workplaces designed to foster creativity. Many of us no longer have to don the corporate uniform – instead, we are encouraged to be ourselves and express ourselves at work. If it helps our talent flourish we can work at home, in the park, in sandals or in the middle of the night.

Moving in a little deeper, we can set up creative side-projects or part-time businesses, to express sides of us that don’t appear in our day jobs. Like Jack’s blog. Or we can work for ourselves and arrange our time as we please. We can create alter egos or avatars for ourselves, like Maki, the Manolo, Badbanana or (ahem) Copyblogger.

Towards the deep end, we can create careers or businesses that enable us to travel the world, working as much or as little as we choose, even if it’s only four hours a week. Tim Ferriss calls this ‘lifestyle design’, emphasizing the aesthetic character of this approach to life. The growing popularity of lifestyle design can be seen in the proliferation of blogs devoted to the mobile life, such as Anywired, My Tropical Escape, Finance Your Freedom and Digital Nomads.

Out in uncharted waters is the British artist Banksy, famous for being anonymous. In his case the pseudonym is a tactical necessity given that most of his work involves breaking the law – painting graffiti on public walls or hanging his own subversive works in public galleries including Tate Britain in London and the Louvre in France. There have been several attempts to unmask him, but no one has conclusively proved his identity. His outlaw status and the biting anti-capitalist satire in many of his works make him an artistic V for Vendetta or Tyler Durden.

Mark with Banksy graffiti

Banksy would never call himself an entrepreneur – his work is a one-man campaign against business as usual. But he does sell his work – in 2007 his piece ‘Space Girl & Bird’, the artwork for Blur’s Think Tank album, fetched £288,000 at auction. And he’s even helping to shore up the faltering British housing market. Have a look at the photo. When my wife and I went to see this Banksy, shortly after it was painted onto the wall of a north London chemist, we found that the building’s owner had covered it up with Perspex to stop over-zealous council workers cleaning it off. Having an original Banksy on the wall can add thousands of pounds to the value of a property. The irony is not lost on the artist:

I love the way capitalism finds a place – even for its enemies. It’s definitely boom time in the discontent industry.

Another of Banksy’s pithy remarks was that no one cared who he was until he became anonymous. In a sense it doesn’t matter who the ‘real’ Banksy is — the fictional character is much more interesting. Like Ziggy Stardust, the alter ego allowed its creator to express a side of himself that might not otherwise have seen the light. As John Keats put it more poetically, ‘That which is creative must create itself’.

We are like Harry in Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, who sat down to play a marvellous chess game in which the pieces were the many different facets of his personality. An enigmatic chess master explained the game to him:

It is known to you that man consists of a multitude of souls, of numerous selves… We demonstrate to anyone whose soul has fallen to pieces that he can rearrange these pieces of a previous self in what order he pleases, and so to attain to an endless multiplicity of moves in the game of life. As the playwright shapes a drama from a handful of characters, so do we from the pieces of the disintegrated self build up ever new groups, with ever new interplay and suspense, and new situations that are eternally inexhaustible. Look!

Your move.

Who Can You Be Now?

Who are your creative heroes?

Who are your favourite fictional characters? In books, films, comics, songs?

What is it about them you admire?

What would they do in your shoes?

Who are you outside of work? Outside the person your family and friends know?

When are you going to give these characters their chance?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach and co-founder of Lateral Action. Subscribe today to get free updates by email or RSS.

Table of Contents for Creative Rock Stars

  1. Creative Entrepreneurs Are the Rock Stars of the 21st Century

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

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Responses to this Post


  1. My hero is Peter Gibbons.

  2. I don’t think of myself as a rock star (I prefer superhero.) but this last post does describe the lifestyle I’ve created.
    I became a coach to help people but also because of the flexibility of the job. Thomas Leonard inspired thousands of people to become mobile coaches when he demonstrated how possible it is by traveling the US in an RV, coaching by phone the whole way.
    Nine years after I became a coach, technology has made it even easier to travel and work. (All hail Skype!)
    Last year, The Four-Hour Work Week inspired me to take the leap. I left my home and life in Boulder and came to Europe. I’ve coached from Paris, Lisbon, Berlin, and Amsterdam. I’m also blogging about my journey, sharing my experiences a la Eat, Pray, Love.
    So far I’m amazed at how easy it is to work anywhere. I love it.
    Part of my intention for this journey is to reinvent myself, so your questions are a fun way to explore who else I might be in this life. And thanks for the blogs on lifestyle design – great resources!

  3. Somehow the bliss of working here, there and everywhere is largely lost to us in small islands in the Caribbean – if we want to hop it to another island we have to apply way in advance and pay a large fee for a work permit – if we are given permission to get one.

    Only a few professions are allowed to move semi-freely within the very slowly forming single market and economy and even then you still have to go through a lot of red tape. And don’t let’s even think of working State-side or in Europe visas just don’t happen like that!

    But then there’s the internet – not bad for getting us out into the global village, even though most islands banking regs mean we have to get paid by foreign checks and wait 6 weeks for funds to clear…but we’re working on changing these things and that’s the great thing about all this, people who want things to change badly enough will find ways to get it done.

    My creative heroes – couldn’t think of one but I’d say all of those bending and breaking the status quo and building new ways to go, to get up and shine – they’d be my heroes.

  4. Thanks for the shout out! I love this site.

    As odd as it sounds, (almost) the entire basis of my designed life revolves around sleep. I want to wake up when I want, take a nap when I want, etc.

    Great article!

  5. Bucktowndusty — excuse my ignorance but who is Peter Gibbons?

    Cynthia — superheroes welcome as well as rock stars! Thanks for an inspiring story, particularly to me as a coach.

    Finola — yes, God bless the Internet!

    people who want things to change badly enough will find ways to get it done.


    Clay — you’re welcome. GTD = getting to dreams. 🙂

  6. Bucktowndusty — excuse my ignorance but who is Peter Gibbons?

    I’m sorry Mark, this is shocking… and I’m afraid I will no longer be able to work with you 😉 :

  7. Oh well it was good while it lasted. 🙂

    Looks like Fight Club isn’t the only film I have to brush up on…

  8. Clay,
    Your motivation to have your life your way cracks me up. I love it. One of the things I relish about working at home (not working in my pajamas – who wants to pad around like a schlub all day?) is the ability to take naps when I want. I learned long ago that if I don’t want to sit at the computer, a wee nap refreshes me and gives me ideas and direction for my projects. It’s much more effective than forcing myself to work.
    I think all office spaces should be equipped with a nap room.
    Waking without alarm,

  9. My husband and I were talking about the 1000 fans and figured that to qualify for earning a good living off a small fan base here in the Caribbean, you’d probably get by with just 100 true fans – I mean, get by pretty well by general standards here, so although it’s hard to find those 100 in your island, getting them with the internet (even if you have to wait 6wks+ for your money) should be so do-able. 1000 and we’d be jetpacking round the moon.

    And yes, naps are definitely a perk of working from home – and for me, a shower anytime I get too hot – course when I get my fans on-stream I’ll have AC.

  10. Finola — very true, nice Kevin Kelly/Tim Ferris mashup!

  11. Peter Gibbons, please. Listen, Jack doesn’t need to hypnotized

    Now Mike Judge, there’s lateral action.

    My hero is Marla. Mmmmm, Marla.

  12. Hallo Mark,

    thanks for pointing the out – and I can see why you did, by I’m pretty sure I’m not a rock star.

  13. Marcus – I beg to differ. 😉