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How to Create an Alter Ego That Will Help You Design Your Life

When Kickstarter co-founder, Yancey Strickler, found himself at a turning point, he decided it was time to try something new — by being someone new. Could you also use role play to design your life?
by Carrie M. King | Feb 26 2020

What might you be able to do if you didn’t have to be yourself to do it? What if you could suddenly breathe life into all the varied aspects of yourself that, for one reason or another, you never got to explore? That’s exactly what Yancey Strickler, co-founder of a little crowdfunding platform called Kickstarter, asked himself after he’d left the company. He needed to figure out what to do next and so, he decided to ‘try on’ different personas to see what kind of people he could be, and what these characters could bring out in him.

“There’s no reason why we have to wake up and be the same person every day.”
Yancey Strickler

It’s not uncommon for people in creative industries to have alter egos or stage names that allow them to inhabit or channel a different kind of creativity. But for those of us who don’t often find ourselves on stage or writing novels, it can be hard to know how this applies. Can you really design your life and make decisions about your future through role play? Well, it certainly worked for David Bowie — and Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke — and it also worked for Yancey Strickler.

Playing a Role May Be the Most Fun Way to Design Your Life

Gamification expert, Gabe Zichermann, says that techniques like role play and alter ego development “leverage people’s natural desires for competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, and closure.” As children, we possess an infinite ability to imagine different futures, to try out lifestyles, hopes, dreams, relationships, and personalities to see what might work best for us. The older we get, the more we get told off for daydreaming, but the more valuable this skill might actually end up being.

When Yancey looked at himself in the mirror, he knew he needed to design a life that would leave him feeling satisfied and fulfill one of his dreams. Something he’d always wanted to do was to write a book (Spoiler: he did. It’s called This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World) but first, he had to figure out what kind of Yancey he had to be in order to do that. He’d already been Virginia Kid Yancey, New Yorker Yancey, Nice Guy Yancey, Entrepreneur Yancey and he knew he’d have to figure out who Writer Yancey might be. In the beginning, he wasn’t sure of much, but he was pretty sure that Writer Yancey would have a moustache.

Changing your persona may not just consist of growing upper lip fuzz, but for Yancey, it was a symbolic change he felt he needed to become the kind of person that would and could write a book, namely: The Motherfucker Who Doesn’t Care. He needed to be tougher, to care less about those around him, and to be a bit more hard-headed in order to get the work done.

And get the work done he did. You may not want to write a book, but you probably have some goal that you’d like to achieve, some aspect of your potential that you’d like to explore. If so, it might be worth trying to design the next step using role play or to create an alter ego that is capable of doing what you want. We’ve listed a few steps that can help you, like Yancey, discover the kind of role you might need to play in order to help you design your life, or simply take the next meaningful step. Let’s get started.

How to Create an Alter Ego

    1. Define a Goal

What do you want your alter ego to achieve? Why do you need an alter ego in the first place? Are you too nervous to explore your creative side? Do you need an alter ego that’s more focused? Do you need an alter ego that likes exercise? Do you need an alter ego that’s not scared of something? It doesn’t matter what your purpose is as long as you have a clear one, and no goal is too big or too small. People who’ve played RPGs like certain video games or DND (Dungeons and Dragons) might have a slight advantage here. It’s important that you give yourself free rein to imagine any possible permutation that’s going to be useful to you. Remove any feelings of awkwardness — this is all about designing your life and creating your future.

    1. Create a Voice and Personality

How does your alter ego sound and what kind of language do they use? Are they loud or quiet? Are they studious or are they a party animal? Are they fearless or are they cautious? If you begin to feel silly during this process, remember that we all inhabit a variety of personas everyday for different times and situations. How you behave and speak depends on the circumstances. Creation of an alter ego is just a logical extension of that natural process and allows you to give shape and character to an aspect of yourself that you haven’t had the opportunity to explore.

    1. Give Them A Look

How does your alter ego look? What kind of clothes do they wear? What’s their style? Is their hair different? Do they have a different eye color? Do they have a signature hat? How do they move? What kind of mannerisms do they have? It’s important that your character’s appearance matches the personality you’ve chosen for them. It needs to feel real when you inhabit it, for whatever purpose you’ve designed it, but also to feel a little like a uniform you put on to be this person. It functions as a suit of armor that can protect you from worries that concern you when you’re just being your regular self. You can keep it simple like Yancey and just change something small, or you can go the whole hog and completely transform yourself.

    1. Choose a Name

This might be the most fun part of the entire exercise. You can, like Yancey, choose a kind of thematic title that expresses the goal you’ve set out to achieve, e.g. his choice, The Motherfucker Who Doesn’t Care, or you can get as creative as you want and choose a name for a person you will become when you try on this alter ego. How about Pancetta Hopscotch? Or Buck Thistlefrond? Or Parker Francesco? No? Well, whatever you choose, make sure it works for you. And if, after a while, the name doesn’t work anymore, you can alway choose a new one— at the time of writing, Nicki Minaj has 19.

Designing your life through role play can be a fun adventure that can unlock parts of your personality you never knew were there. Like Yancey, you can achieve long-held dreams and shrug off fears, anxieties or personality traits that are holding you back. We are all possessed of infinite potential if we could only find ways to access it. If you don’t feel you need a whole personality to step into, that’s fine. You can just choose traits that you take on when you need them. But if coming up with an alter-ego was good enough for Prince, then it’s good enough for me.

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