The Four Roles We Play in Life
The Victim, the Villain, the Hero, and the Guide
Living a good story is a lot like writing one. When we read a great story, we don’t realize the hours of daydreaming, planning, fits, and false starts that went into what the reader may experience as a clean line of meaningful action.
Stories can be fun to write and fun to live, but the good ones take work.
If we are tired of life, what we’re really tired of is the story we are living inside of. And the great thing about being tired of our story is that stories can be edited. Stories can be fixed. Stories can go from dull to exciting, from rambling to focused, and from drudgery to read to exhilarating to live.
All we need to know to fix our stories are the principles that make a story meaningful. Then, if we apply those principles to our lives and stop handing our pen to fate, we can change our personal experience and in turn feel gratitude for its beauty, rather than resentment for its meaninglessness.
#1 THE VICTIM: THE ONE WHO FEELS LIKE THEY HAVE NO WAY OUT
If you think about it, then, a person who surrenders their life to fate is the essence of a victim. By surrendering their story to fate, they allow fate to decide whether they succeed in a career, experience intimacy, cultivate a sense of gratitude, or set an example for their children. Fate, then, does a terrific job managing the scenery but little to push the plot of the hero forward. That job was the hero’s to do and they didn’t do it.
Victims believe they are helpless and so flail until they are rescued.
Actual victims do exist and do in fact need to be rescued. Victimhood, however, is a temporary state. Once rescued, the better story is that we return to the heroic energy that moves our story forward.
#2 THE VILLAIN: THE ONE WHO MAKES OTHERS SMALL
The second item on our checklist for fixing a bad story is to make sure the hero isn’t surfacing too much villain energy. Just like a hero that surfaces victim energy, a hero that surfaces villain energy will ruin the story too.
The story doesn’t usually tell the backstory of the villain, but the writers almost always allude to some kind of torment in the character’s past. That’s why the villain has a scar across their face, or a limp, or a speech impediment. The storyteller wants you to know the villain is carrying a pain they’ve not dealt with.
What separates a villain from a hero is the hero learns from their pain and tries to help others avoid the same pain. The villain, on the other hand, seeks vengeance against the world that hurt them.
The difference between the villain and the hero is the way they react to the pain they’ve experienced.
We know we are surfacing villain energy when we dismiss other people’s comments or when we think of them as lesser. We know we are surfacing villain energy when we reduce others to their outward appearances rather than taking the time to understand their point of view. We know we are surfacing villain energy when we reduce those who criticize us rather than seek to learn and grow. If we are honest, we all surface villain energy all the time, sometimes depending on whether or not we’ve skipped lunch.
#3 THE HERO: THE ONE WILLING TO FACE THEIR CHALLENGES AND TRANSFORM
A hero wants something in life and is willing to accept challenges in order to transform into the person capable of getting what they want.
When we’re reading a story or watching a movie, we subconsciously want the hero to rise to the occasion.
How is the hero responding to their challenge? When they are insulted, how do they react? When they are rejected, how do they treat the person who has rejected them? When they feel that all is lost, are they able to find a light in the darkness? Do they try? Do they move forward against all odds, and do they get up again when they are knocked down?
If the hero responds with purposeful action and a sense of hope, our story will move forward and become interesting. But if they respond with a sense of hopelessness like a victim, or if they lash out at others like a villain, the story will break down.
#4 THE GUIDE: THE ONE WHO HELPS THE HERO
In stories, heroes can’t make it on their own because they don’t know how. If they knew how, they would have worked out all those flaws on their own.
Remember, heroes are flawed and in need of transformation. In fact, they are often the second weakest character in a story. Only the victim is in worse shape.
To help the hero out, the storyteller sends a guide. Yoda helped Luke learn to be a Jedi. Haymitch helped Katniss win the Hunger Games.
When you watch a story, the story itself is not about the guide; it’s about the hero, and yet the guide is the strongest, most capable character in the story. They are also the most caring and compassionate. We may root for the hero and hate the villain, but our utmost respect is reserved for the guide.
When you think of guides in stories, think of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid or Lionel in The King’s Speech. Think of Mary Poppins, guiding the family into a new and better understanding of life itself.
Becoming a guide is the most meaningful transformation that can happen in a human life.
LIVING A STORY IS THE ONLY WAY TO TRANSFORM
When something difficult happens, victims accept defeat but heroes ask, “What does this make possible?”
Show me a person successful in business and I’ll show you somebody who learned from their failures. Show me a man who is grateful for his wife, and I’ll show you a man who had his heart broken a few times.
Our pain and our challenges chisel us into better versions of ourselves. For sure, the blow of the chisel hurts. But the result, if we allow it to be, is a sculpted character competent to create a better world for themselves and others.
THE HERO MUST WANT SOMETHING
Once the hero defines what they want, the story begins. And why does the story begin? Because, again, when a hero defines what they want, a story question is posited. The audience, and for that matter the hero, is engaged by a single interesting question: Will the hero get what they want?
When an audience can’t determine what a hero wants, or when what the hero wants is too elusive for an audience to understand, the audience loses interest and becomes bored.
This is yet another warning for those of us who want to sidestep the narrative void. If you don’t want anything, you aren’t living inside a compelling narrative. When we don’t want anything, or, perhaps, when we cannot exactly define what we want, we become characters in a story with no plot.
A HERO MUST ENGAGE THEIR CHALLENGES
Two more reasons people do not transform: they either avoid challenges or do not learn from them.
Again, though, conflict is the only way we change. Without pain, there can be no transformation.
We have a responsibility to engage this world with courage. In many ways, engaging life with courage is our duty. And it’s by embracing that duty that we find fulfillment and meaning.
Rabindranath Tagore’s poem says it best:
I slept and dreamt
that life was joy.
I awoke and saw
that life was duty.
I worked—and behold,
duty was joy.
A HERO LEARNS FROM THEIR MISTAKES AND MISFORTUNE
Until we are willing to admit we make mistakes, we will never learn from our mistakes.
Still, it confounds me that some people cannot admit fault. It is as though their security is threatened if they admit that they have done something wrong. Regardless, these people are not our problem. They will have to deal with the consequences of their own egos and continue moving into new communities to start over.
For the rest of us, failure is an education. Mistakes are an education. Wrong deeds can even be an education.
When we see mistakes as a curriculum rather than a judgment, the velocity in which we transform increases. Failure, pain, mistakes, and even injustices directed against us offer an advantage—if we let them.
The Hero on a Mission Daily Planner
The point of the planner is to help you perform a morning ritual followed by a quick planning session in which you rein in the distractions to push your plot forward into another day. The daily page is going to help you tremendously.
You certainly don’t have to fill out the planner every day, but the more days you perform the morning ritual, the fewer days you are likely to wander off into a mental fog.
Here are the eight elements of the planner you can fill out that will keep you on track:
Element #1: Review Your Eulogy
Your eulogy will help you gain narrative traction and act as a filter for the major decisions you make in life. Reviewing your eulogy will ensure you avoid the existential vacuum and remain interested and active in the development of your life story.
Element #2: Review Your Vision Worksheets
Reviewing your vision worksheets will remind you what you have decided your life will be about and will serve as a filter to help you make better decisions. Remember, the key to accomplishing something big is to stay focused on what you’re trying to bring into the world and putting a little something on the plot every day.
If a writer forgets the plot of the story they are telling, then the story will wander into the weeds and the reader will feel lost. The less we review our life plans, the more likely we are to lose the plot of our own story.
Element #3: Review Your Goals
When you review your goals, you’re also reviewing the major projects you are working on, and you’ll better understand what is a priority and what can wait.
If you’ve limited your goals to just three, you’ll be able to do this quickly.
Element #4: Live from a Deep Place of Wisdom
Remember, victims are victims of their circumstances. Fate rules their lives. Outside forces dictate their every move. But when we surface our heroic energy, we gain control of our actions and use the power we have to live stories of meaning rather than regret.
If we don’t have a morning exercise in which we stop, pull back from our limited perspective, and meditate on our own agency, we will move into autopilot and fate will once again blow our stories around in the wind.
Not only this, but if we make better decisions every day, the compound interest on those decisions will add up to a better life. Fast.
Each day, the daily planner will ask you to answer this question: If you could live this day again, what would you do differently this time?
Element #5: Determine Your Primary Tasks
One of the planner’s most helpful functions is that it contains two different task lists: primary tasks and secondary tasks.
Your primary tasks are those large and important projects that will define your life. Those will be obvious after you review your ten-year, five-year, and one-year goals.
Knowing what your primary tasks are and making a little progress on them every day adds up. It may feel like slow going each day, but at the end of a month or a year, you’ll be shocked at what you have accomplished.
Element #6: Use Gratitude to Fend Off Victim and Villain Mentalities
By reflecting on the things you are grateful for, such as exciting or restful things you get to do later in the day, you communicate to the subconscious that the day is not lost. When you reflect on what you’re grateful for, you remember that later you will get to go for a walk or eat ice cream or enjoy dinner with friends. Right now, though, we’ve got to get to work.
Again, when we are grateful for all the things life has given us, we are more likely to sacrifice because we feel as though we owe life a little something in return.
When we are grateful, we remove a barrier keeping us from doing a little work that pushes our plot forward.
Element #7: Keep Track of Your Daily Appointments
When you transfer your daily appointments to your planner, you will create a sense of clarity about what the day will look like, rather than feel as though you are starting your day out by walking into a fog.
Element #8: Manage Your Secondary Tasks
A hero has priorities. We’ve already established ours by listing our primary tasks. One of the hidden benefits of deciding what is important, though, is that in doing so we also define what is not important.
A hero does not stop to pick up their dry cleaning on the way to disarm the bomb.
Secondary tasks should never be confused with primary tasks. Picking up your dry cleaning isn’t all that important. Sometimes heroes wear wrinkled clothes.
In all seriousness, though, writing down our secondary tasks reminds us of the things we need to get done later. Perhaps even tomorrow or the next day. When we don’t write these tasks down, they bother us incessantly. We feel that we must do them now. But by writing them down and acknowledging them as secondary, we tell ourselves we haven’t and won’t forget them. It’s just that we aren’t going to do them right now.
The Story Goes On and On
Our stories have a beginning and middle and end, of course, but they also have something else: a moral.
The stories we live don’t affect only us, they affect the people around us. Our stories teach the people around us what is worth living for and what is worth dying for.
You and I may or may not come from a powerful or positive legacy, but every single one of us gets to leave one.
When we live a life of meaning, we invite others to do the same. Those who come behind us will build on our stories. They can add to them and make them better because we have showed them the way.
Life can be very difficult, I know. There are tragedies all around us. There is darkness. But don’t forget, there is also light. We get to participate in the making of that light.
When the existential vacuum comes for you, and it will, remember there is a hope that is very real in the world.
We can always make meaning.