“I never wish to be easily defined.” —Franz Kafka
There is a craving among young, creative people for internet fame because they think their success is contingent on their ability to turn themselves into a brand. There’s truth to it, publications and commercial brands like people with a lot of Twitter followers. It makes them seem more real than someone without a solid online presence and it lets them know that people already like what they produce — it makes a financial investment in them seem better calculated. That’s a very serious concern and I would never turn my nose up at something that helped myself or others make a living from their art, but I do want to think about the costs associated with putting this concern first.
In life you don’t get to do everything well, at least not all at once. You don’t get to have a big, juicy, exciting life and have it also look good from the outside. Big, juicy, exciting lives come with messiness and failure and with a lot of things that keep you up at night, worrying because you aren’t doing the safe thing, because your life doesn’t look like everyone else’s does. They don’t (and cannot) look easy and beautiful and perfect from the outside because when you’re in the thick of something like this, the exterior is not on your mind.
Being a good brand isn’t just about learning some basic marketing or trying to be business savvy with your life, it’s about giving the best parts of it up. Brands cannot be fearless. Brands need to be concerned about each and every thing you do instead of embracing something you want or trying it on for the sake of joie de vivre. A brand must be simple and easy to understand, it must be dependable — you are supposed to always know what you are getting from it.
Maybe there are creative people who can have a really awesome personal brand and be true to themselves. This is because they just aren’t the kind of people who don’t go through a lot of big changes in their lives or they are truly happy and fulfilled doing the same thing year to year. If they exist, they are the exception and not the rule. Most people have to trim themselves down to fit inside a stencil, they aren’t born that way. The easier it is for something (or someone) to be a brand, the less complicated they are. We as creative people, as humans want to be complicated, we need to be complicated. We need to take risks. What kind of life is worth giving up, worth living on the sidelines and being safe for the sake of having it be a consistent schema, for the sake of it looking good from the outside?
It’s not that building a brand isn’t important, or that it’s wrong to think about how you come across to other people (especially those you want to consume your writing, or art, or employee you in some sense) but it’s that it shouldn’t come first. YOU should come first. Your intuition should come first and selling it to other people should come after the fact — at least if your goal is to live as deeply as possible.