So much of our lives are forecasted for the world to see. Whether we like or not, the majority of us have a digital footprint - a log of our thoughts, photos, aesthetic food and (sometimes) our wins and failures.
There has been a movement, to embrace this transparency and share your journey online across social media. ‘Build in public’ is a phrase that is common across the web, and it’s an accountability method. No different than someone trying to lose weight by going to a slimming club I suppose, although rather than joining people from your area in the local village hall, you gather on the internet to encourage and watch each other progress.
Whilst great for some, the public nature of being in the mandatory ‘apprentice phase’, as Robert Greene puts it in his book ‘Mastery' can be intimidating for others.
“The apprenticeship phase involves deep observation, skills acquisition, and lots of experimentation – moving from passive to practice to active mode.”
To release regular writing has been a long term goal of mine on the road to becoming a somewhat decent writer, but I have never been able to commit wholeheartedly to my apprenticeship. Writing out in the open is in particular tricky for me for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, I worry about my work being poor quality. I am scared of failing or being judged and losing credibility or ‘respect points’. I am scared of being perceived as vulnerable to the wider world. As I write this, I understand that maybe this is a nod to some of my demons - the perfectionist and the impostor.
Secondly, I feel unable to question and pick apart my industry for fear of being portrayed in the wrong way or being ‘disloyal’ to the work I do.
Sure, these problems exist as fantasy more in my head than in real life, but it is enough friction to stop me from putting pen to paper and just getting something done.
The side affect of this is that I have been more of a consumer than a creator. I spend time reading others work, and feeling bad for not committing to releasing my own. Scattered across my laptop and in my note books are fragments of personal research and musings about life that I just don’t want to share wider for the fear of being judged or challenged.
What if I write a bad essay? What if I get something wrong? How will I live it down?
The same goes for creating new passion projects and things that are unrelated to my work. Sometimes I just want to start things for the fun of them and not take them anywhere, but doing that in the open with a following gives people expectation and piles too much pressure onto the creator.
Perhaps ironically, with the ultra-transparency of the blockchain, it has bought with it a movement of anonymity. Verified “alt-accounts” with a huge following on Twitter are the norm. Alter egos of perhaps normal everyday folk like you or I, who behind a barrier of hidden identity seem to be achieving so much. Challenging the status quo, creating art. Of course, there are equally a same amount of these accounts that are bad actors and use the power of being anon for bad. C'est la vie, unfortunately.
Noticing a wave of these creators is what first lead me to think about the topic in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea of a pseudonym is not new. Many of the most celebrated creatives of our generation and those of bygone eras have utilised the benefits of a second identity. The Bronte sisters, Banksy, Satoshi Nakamoto to name but a few and each with their different reasoning whether it is to fight suppression or purely for artistic purposes.
I get the attraction of this.
In a way, there is a certain romance of adopting a created persona and being ‘anon’. Wiping the slate clean, starting again and being able to create and build without any eyes on you. The freedom to create something and then scrunch it up again if it is not to your liking without people judging. The freedom to experiment. The freedom to be someone else entirely.
I also recently came across the idea of alter egos when reading about ‘grit’ and mental resilience. Again, there are many examples of well known people creating and adopting their own persona to reap the mental benefits.
David Goggins is an interesting one. Bullied and abused as a child, as a young adult he was obese and had asthma and a low self-esteem. He created an alter-ego of ‘Goggins’, and Goggins is everything that David wanted to be but wasn’t. Goggins was free of the baggage of Davids past. Goggins was an elite athlete. Channeling this new-person, David has been able to achieve some of the most impressive displays of athleticism the world has seen.
Another example is Kobe Bryants infamous ‘The Black Mamba’ alter-ego he uses to describe his competitiveness on the basketball court was born out of adversity, a time when his self-esteem was low and he was being boo’d on the court. Black Mamba was an escape from that.
What these and many others are doing when they create these characters, is they give themselves a choice as to who they want to be. We are free to create our own personal brand, choose our own strengths, forget all of our own perceived weaknesses and flaws and realise what we want to achieve.
This topic fascinates me, and I have been giving it a lot of thought recently.
Whilst I am in no way suggesting you create yourself a Hannah Montana character and swap between yourself and an alter ego like Jekyll and Hyde, I do wonder how much we can learn about ourselves from considering it.
What would your character look like if you could create them from scratch? What would that character achieve? Would you achieve more? Would you be happier? Would you be more creative?
What would you do differently if you started your journey again as someone else? Would you be more likely to enter debate with industry leaders? Would you be more likely to take creative risk?
I have spent the last few months penning together some short stories under the guise of a ‘persona’. It has been liberating to say the least, and has allowed me to go through the process of writing something and releasing it without the friction I would usually face of worrying about how I was going to be perceived.
The result has been a confidence boost that has spurred me on to get back to releasing regularly to my Substack. Whilst the person writing these words to you today is regular old me, maybe you wouldn’t be reading them if I hadn’t have created this ‘alter-ego’ and found a route through the blockers that were preventing me from creating what I want to create.