Why would we ever give that title role to anyone but ourselves?
Recently, I was watching The Holiday — for maybe the millionth time, and I found certain segments of dialogue continuing to resonate with me days later.
Arthur: Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason, you're behaving like you're the best friend.
Iris: You're so right. You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God's sake...
And it's so true. If we're not the leading lady of our own lives, who will be? And why would we ever give that title role to anyone but ourselves?
I have discovered many times over the years, in many friendships and relationships, I'm not the leading lady in my own life. I see it over and over —situations where I'm the Robin, the supportive friend secretly desperate to sometimes play Batman. So many choices I make and things that I do where I take second footing, allowing myself to play the supporting actress to everyone else's star. In fact, it's possibly the reason I became a writer. It's the only place — the only place ever—I've given myself the role of center stage.
And then I think of that amazing Nora Ephron quote: "Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim."
I think we should look at life like a story—a story that unfolds in chapters that may last a day, a month, a year, a decade. My book has had many chapters, many characters that have come and gone and left their indelible scars. And you realize, with some chagrin, that even as the people change, the story remains shockingly unchanged.
Are you playing a supporting role in someone else's story?
Those silly little things you do that put yourself second to everyone around you. Is it always you making the effort to go to your friends, and them not making the effort to come to you? Does it make you feel small, less cared about, somehow "less than"? It's a small example, but it's you believing that small window of their time is super valuable, or at least more valuable than your own.
Do you find yourself in situations where you get to do something or go somewhere or have something you want only after making sure the significant people in your life have something they want? Do you routinely put people as a priority but when you are reflecting, kind of feel like you are simply an option?
So, how do you know if you're living a supporting role in someone else's story?
I've always believed that every person's story could be an epic one. But sometimes, we decide that the story of those lives around us just mean more. At one time or another, we've all said yes to doing a favor, or changing plans, or going somewhere we didn't want to go— because we didn't want to disappoint someone else. We felt too guilty disappointing someone else, their happiness far more important than our own. We show them a way, too. Because if you set a standard of giving and never receiving, you may soon find yourself in a world where people just assume that’s just how it's supposed to go.
Don't get me wrong—being a supportive friend is incredibly important. In fact, it could be the most important role we'll ever play. But if you've ever noticed in our favorite films, "the best friend" never gets to have any problems or needs of her own. She exists to listen to the lead, to dry their tears, laugh at their triumphs, be the Robin to their Batman. And chances are—you may fall into the role of "the friend" and have several relationships that continue that never-ending dynamic, and never anywhere you yourself become the star.
Do you ever find yourself wondering when it's going to be your turn?
Do you see your friends constantly seeing you as a backup option while you see them as a priority? Even when your life choices make you feel overwhelmed or invisible, you still will tear yourself to pieces for the approval of others, and you'll find yourself growing silently resentful. And yet you'll never stop.
Chances are it's a pattern, and it's one that you are continuing to sew into the years of your lives and relationships.
Leading ladies clearly define their boundaries.
They know what works for them and what doesn't. They have no problem saying no, and will gear themselves toward the people and situations that serve their own greater needs and purposes. They aren't wrong. These are women who are choosing to put themselves first — as they should. They are the star of their own lives. And because they do what they want, when they want, how they want, people respect them. They aren't rude, but they are in charge. Playing the lead role isn't about being a brat or a bully, it's about knowing and realizing your own personal power and making the choices that are best for you and your life — not dictated by an endless sea of need for approval.
But I wasn't put on this earth to be on my own, for myself. And that's the problem I always continue to have. And why I continue to play this role of support, rather than the star.
Too often, I find myself waiting for something to happen, some greater instruction (from Batman, perhaps?) — weighing all the possible results — before taking the next step, before making any decision. I'm so cautious, so afraid of making the wrong moves that it's a form of paralysis. In doing so, it's easy to live for everyone else—to help them have their best lives. There's less likelihood then of failing at your own, right?
Creating good boundaries isn't easy—it's been a personal goal of mine for a while and it's one I'm still working endlessly to master. Boundaries, saying no, even putting ourselves first doesn't come very comfortably to those of us who like to make other people happy and frequently overcommit.
Becoming the star of your own story is possible, though. It's the ultimate in New Year's resolutions, and it's absolutely mine. To shed that supporting roles and put my goals, my dreams, and my happiness on top of the list.
When you do that, you just may find that life is a whole lot better than it was before. Or at least, in the book of your very own life, it's your name in the starring role. Seems only fair, doesn't it?