What does it actually mean to be a main character in your life?
This idea gets floated around frequently, but is usually left vague and ambiguous. It sounds great and inspiring, but what does it mean in practice?
In this conversation, we take a look at what goes into defining ourselves and reconciling those truths between our personal goals and external or societal pressures. This is a real coaching conversation that was transcribed and edited for clarity. Names have been changed to protect anonymity. It is a very meaningful and important conversation that often gets ignored. Kudos to Patrick for being open and vulnerable enough to bring it up.
You’ll see the term “alpha-male” used on a number of occasions. This is the language Patrick felt comfortable using to portray what he was experiencing, so we kept to this at various points in the discussion. However, given the context of the conversation, “main character,” “leader,” or “identity” are alternative terms that could be used interchangeably in place of “alpha-male.” This is not explicitly a conversation about “alpha-males.”
When “Geralt of Rivia” is used as a reference, Patrick is referring to the book (and now popular television series on Netflix) The Witcher, in which the main protagonist’s name is Geralt. (The bard is a character in the series that acts as Geralt’s weaker companion.)
Let’s dive in.
Patrick: I try to be real with myself. I have this thought, and you can tell me if this is incorrect or toxic or something. But, I guess one thing that also made me slightly sad, I’ve always been surrounded by people who are typical “alpha-males.” It used to bother me that I wasn’t, and I kept trying to emulate it for years and years. But I guess some part of me knew it just wasn’t me. I’m never going to be faster or stronger. Or any of those things. And it bothered me because I’m like, “that’s the definition of a real man.” Here I am just pretending.
My life coach said, “Patrick, you know ‘Geralt of Rivia,’ right? I’m sorry, but you’re not going to be a Geralt. You’re not a Geralt. And why you feel so bad is because you’re trying to fill his shoes and you can’t.”
And he goes,
“You have to recognize you’re more of a supportive character, like the bard. Think about the qualities that you possess here. You’re kind of a cuter looking guy. You’re smaller. You sing, you dance. These are your actual strengths. So you keep discarding your actual strengths and throwing away your strengths for things you’re just not good at. So what do you do?
You feel like sh*t most of the time, and then you can’t keep a consistent thing going and now you have disillusioned dreams and you’re less fulfilled, or you shut off all your emotion. But this isn’t who you are.”
Alex: It’s an interesting perspective. I’m actually going to challenge what your life coach said.
Patrick: That’s why I brought it up because part of it made me really sad and like, well, if that’s the case, I don’t want to try. Why would anyone try to be a supportive character? And he said, “Stop me if I’m wrong, but consider the things you feel correct about and then we can talk about it.”
But he was basically trying to say, there’s a disparaging difference between what you think life is supposed to be and what it actually is. And that’s why you feel obsessed.
Alex: Let me ask you this. How do you define what a leader is?
Patrick: Well, usually taller and stronger. In my mind, better looking and usually much better with people. Like they don’t have to try as hard for a lot of the basic necessities, right? People usually like them more. They’re usually a lot more positive.
Alex: Why do people like them more, in your opinion?
Patrick: I always think it’s because they have value. They have a presence. When you’re a leader, it isn’t just a role you get to do. You have the skills and the calmness, the mental aptitude, under stress, to lead people through something. It’s actually a pretty sh*tty job if you think about it, right? But leaders have those natural qualities and they are shining through on their everyday personality. And that’s why I think it’s what a leader possesses. They have that, whether they’re a friendly one or not, they are leaders because of those qualities.
Alex: What do you think is the style of leadership that is reminiscent of these people you compare yourself to? If you had to explain it.
Patrick: Well. Hmm. The people who I’ve always wanted to be like, the leaders, they’re always positive and encouraging. But they are also not afraid to be angry with you. They express their distaste right away. It’s the lack of fear to do so that I think is what makes them powerful. But usually it’s fighting for someone else. They get angry that you would be so sh*tty to yourself or something.
Alex: Hmm, you know what that sounds like? There are leaders who lead by fear. They can get angry, they establish a presence. They force the people who follow them into submission. But then there’s leaders who inspire followers. People follow that type of leader because they feel inspired and they are willingly choosing to follow you as a leader because they believe in you. Which one do you think is a better leader? Someone who follows you because they’re scared of what you’ll do or because they feel inspired by you?
Patrick: Inspired, yeah for sure.
Alex: Okay. So your life coach was comparing you to the Witcher, right? And referred to you as a supporting character. You sing, you dance. You may not be as big as some other guys, but let me ask you this, who was the main character in Dirty Dancing?
Patrick: Oh! Yeah! Patrick Swayze!
Alex: If you compare it to a movie that doesn’t fit your life, of course you’re not the main character! It has nothing to do with you. Would you consider Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing not a leader? He was in control. He was suave. Everyone liked him. He was the main character of one of the most popular movies ever!
Patrick: That’s true.
Alex: The reality is that each of us is a main character, but we’re a main character in our story. In order to step into that role as the main character we have to decide who we want to be. It’s interesting because I started dancing in order to become more of a “main character” in my life. I’ll tell you what it means for me to be a main character. For me, it means being physically capable of some things. Sure. But at the same time, to me, it also means having freedom and control over my life.
I don’t submit to a boss. I don’t have to ask for time off. If I don’t feel great, I don’t have to plead to somebody to, “please let me rest and get healthy.” I make those decisions for myself. I also have the discipline to know that there’s no one supporting me or giving me a safety net, or making me follow through on what I know I need to do. I know that it’s up to me to decide, willingly, to do the stuff that I need to do and to work hard every day. That is what a main character is to me, having that autonomy and discipline.
For me, it’s also being someone that people like being around. Sharing good stories and making them feel good about themselves. Giving them a sense of hope whenever they talk to me. They walk away feeling better about themselves and about their life having talked to me. That is a leader to me, leading through inspiration.
The stereotypical “alpha-males,” those guys are the ones sitting in the corner too afraid to dance. In those moments they’re being controlled by their fear of looking silly or “not manly.” What is “alpha” about that? The dancing for me was about overcoming that fear and having fun. You sing and dance, what about stepping into either of those skills isn’t “alpha?”
It all comes down to how you define it, because there’s no one definition of a leader. Except that if there was one, in my opinion, it would be, “a man who sets his path and follows it.” That’s a leader. That’s a main character.
And I think earlier you referred to standing up to people. Right? Your first choice of action shouldn’t be aggression or violence or anything. But that also doesn’t mean you’ll let boundaries be crossed. That’s the key, being able to set boundaries.
Patrick: Yeah, that’s true. That’s the hard part.
Alex: In many ways that also means boundaries for people who threaten your mental health.
Patrick: Hmm, that’s a good way to put it.
Alex: Not letting others, those you think of as stereotypical alpha-males, impede your ability to consider yourself an alpha-male is setting the boundaries that, in fact, make you an alpha-male. No?
Patrick: I like that. I like that. That’s really cool. Huh. So if I summarize it’s: If I have a vision, I protect my vision. I live my vision. And I’m using that vision to inspire. What you’re saying is I have an idea of what my main character is, and I’m not gonna let the negative people tell me that, “no, that’s not right,” because I believe wholeheartedly that this is what I want to be like.
Alex: Exactly. If you define your character and you live by that code, that is being the main character in your story.
- You define your values and goals. You get to determine what the main character role in your story looks like. No one else.
- Once you’ve defined the character, live by that code. Don’t let external or societal pressures cause you to stray from your values or your mission. Protect and live your mission.
- The main character leads through inspiration, not fear. Inspire others through kindness and hope. Living your mission sets the example for others in your life to discover their own main character’s role. Leading through fear is the villain’s job.
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