My good friend and blogger over at Tough Minded Optimism, T.K. Coleman, just wrote the blog post I intended to write today. This should not come as a surprise, as we have talked at length on this topic and most of my ideas on it come from him. I’ll quote him at length, because he nails it:

“Every time I attempt to create, I am confronted by two aspects of my self: T.K. the brand and T.K. the creator.

T.K. the brand is the part of me that feels a need to protect my reputation from the fatal possibilities of being seen as incompetent, uncreative, inconsistent, and unintelligent.

This is the P.R. department of my psyche and it never approves of me experimenting with new techniques out in the open.

It always reminds me, with the very best of intentions, of course, that the subtlest miscalculation could result in permanent damage to my image as a writer, a thinker, or an innovator.

T.K. the creator is the part of me that wants to exploit every experience as an opportunity to discover something new.

The creator is not concerned with saving face, protecting the brand, or subjecting creative impulses to quality approval tests.

This conflict is more acute the more successful you are at your “branded” activity. If you get a paycheck, or acceptance in your social circles for being the X guy, it’s a lot harder to be the Y guy. Even if you’re not the best at X, the mere fact that you’ve been doing it for some time and are known for it makes it more secure than Y. While it makes sense to specialize and go where returns are greatest, it’s also wise to make sure we include our own fulfillment in how we define returns.

I love music making, songwriting, poetry, short stories, and other creative forms of expression. I happen to think I’m not very good at them, but I get a lot of joy out of trying. It’s hard to let that part of myself show, because I’ve engaged in so much more public commentary and analysis. Whether or not I’m good at the latter, I’m comfortable with it and many people I know got to know me as a person who engages in that. To introduce a new aspect of myself is scary and a little embarrassing. But it feels even worse to repress it.

There was a special on an NFL game earlier this year about 49ers tight end Veron Davis and his love of art. Davis opened an art gallery in San Francisco where he displays and sells art, much of it his own. I was impressed. Not with the art as much as with the courage of a top tier athlete to put another side of himself out there for public scrutiny. Whether or not his art is good, it will tend to be seen as art produced by a non-artist, or the opening of his gallery as a self-indulgent act by a guy too rich for anyone to tell him he’s not an artist. I happened to think his art was pretty good, but that’s not the point. The point is he was willing to recreate himself, or enlarge his brand beyond what had worked before. I respect that. He was not letting the public perception define the private reality.

T.K. ends with some advice from his experience,

“I’ve been somewhat of a rebel towards the first voice [of risk aversion] for over a year and I’ve gotten more creative work done during that time than in my entire life combined.

I’ve discovered that it’s not enough to merely FIND work that’s worth doing. One must also FIGHT for the permission to keep doing the kind of work that turns them on, to avoid the trap of being boxed-in by the demands of the brand.

We each have to find our own ways of negotiating the concerns of our brand while making sure our creative evolution is not stunted in the process.

I leave the details of the process up to you.

My point is philosophical:

A brand is a great asset, but a very poor master.

At all costs, avoid becoming its slave.”