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.
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!
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?