Be the best supporting actor role in everyone else’s story
Me, Me, Me
American culture has an odd obsession with celebrity and being a star and unique. We are taught to see ourselves as important and as the center of our universe. Individually we are each the point from which all things revolve and rotate around. We each matter, probably more than the next person! It’s ok for goals, personal freedoms, and desires to take precedence over any unexpected repercussions in our ongoing quest for self-gratification. It’s self above all else.
For all the troubles this year has wrought, I’m grateful that America has been fully outed in 2020 for showing the worst parts of those individualistic and selfish qualities. The results of said selfishness should not come as a shock, but when millions of selfish people separately come together, the end effect is powerful and dangerous to all. A strong undercurrent shapes our behaviors and actions that frame everything we do back to “how does this affect me?” vs a reframing to “is there something about this decision that affects anyone else too?”
Supporting The Story Line
Have you ever looked at your life that can only be understood and known as a reflection and contrast to others’ lives? Or such that your value and purpose is best figured out in comparison when measured against someone else?
No? Good, because that means you’re emotionally healthier than I am. We’ll dive into that in a separate post…
In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that my personality tends towards wanting to stay in the shadows, just out of the spotlight. I don’t like too much focus on me. Let others get the stage time. Let their story be told. That’s more important. (You can chalk some of that up to some Midwestern manners too.) This behavior is reflected regularly among my friendships as I tend to delay my needs being attended to, particularly when I sense a friend is going through something substantial.
These lyrics from Sleeping At Last’s song, “Two,” have resonated strongly with me and explain it well (even though I’m an Enneagram 4.):
“No I don’t want to talk about myself
Tell me where it hurts
I just want to build you up, build you up
‘Til you’re good as new,
And maybe one day I’ll get around
To fixing myself too”
My strengths in relationships frequently find their place in the context of someone else’s storyline. My life doesn’t make sense if I were to remove my brother’s story, my parents, all my relatives, and all of my friends’ – past and current. None of this minimizes or negates my story; it’s just set alongside everyone else’s.
Over the years, I have worked towards staying in the giver & supporter role, particularly with closer friends. It’s manifested itself in numerous ways: with providing money, with offering time in being a listening ear or a helping hand, with giving advice and being a sounding board, and being almost every person in wedding parties over the last 20 years (from usher to groomsman to best man.) “Always the groomsman, never the groom,” said nobody.
I don’t mention all of this to tout my accomplishments or that I am entirely selfless. Far from it in fact! Instead, I look at my life as pieces of a puzzle I’ve been part of in other people’s photos. There is a certain honor I think we should all take when we can be there for our friends and family and not solely live for ourselves.
Here to Serve
In the 5th grade, our class performed a school Christmas play. I can’t remember any of my lines because I didn’t have any. You also won’t find any photos of me, because my teacher decided I was too good for the non-speaking role of “townsperson.” Instead, my skills were best utilized to hold up a sign that communicated whatever town’s name was (and hide my pre-adolescent face) during any town scene. Imagine my parents’ surprise when they didn’t see their son in the play only to find out later I was tasked to “act” in a role a 2×4 could have done just as well, but with less arm wobbling. Reflecting on this elementary school experience, it was equal parts traumatic (“Am I that bad of an actor at age 11?” and “Am I no better than a piece of wood?”) and instructional. Also, that teacher was a terrible play director who misread the “this kid is better behind the scenes” vibe.
I didn’t complain that night about what I was tasked to do. I had every right to be upset (and I probably was.) Hindsight has afforded me a fresher perspective that everything is always part of a bigger picture that we don’t see at the moment. This is particularly true when you’re holding a sign in front of your face.
Is it my role in life to be a supporting actor? To help others shine in their story? To direct others where to go? (The town is that way!) I think so. I look at that play and so much of who I am whose role is to be that person who helps others be better versions of themselves. I’d rather be the best supporting role and be part of someone else’s spotlight than hog it for myself but stand there alone.
Imagine if more of us collectively try to be there for others, loving and lifting up people and their lives. How wonderfully rich and unique would those completed puzzles look when they’re done? Life is better when we live it out to the benefit and service of others. Let us remember that with every action we take and with every interaction we have with one another. It’s not always just about you. Take a step back and play the supporting actor instead of lead once in a while.