I once asked a girl what kind of character I would be in a movie. I was hoping she would tell me that I was a picture perfect male lead, tall, confident, charismatic, the type of person everyone wants to be or know. Unsurprisingly, she told me I was a side character. To her, I seemed like the type to provide support for those around me. She told me that I was often people’s favorite character, and at the end of the day I was the one who contained the most depth. I think she really did mean everything she said as a compliment, but the sad reality of it was that she was simply confirming what I had known all my life.
I’m not the hero of my own story.
Like I said, this wasn’t a surprising revelation. Early into my high school years I came to the realization that I couldn’t think of a single reason for living. It was ironic, because I made this realization in the middle of talking a very dear friend through her own depression. She had been struggling, and she told me that she couldn’t see a reason to keep living through the pain. She wanted purpose, a reason to keep fighting through life’s seemingly unending challenges. If I’m being honest I didn’t have a good answer for her. I was too busy grappling with me own realization that my own life had little meaning. Even after helping my friend I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that my existence was rather pointless. If I was just wandering aimlessly through life, wouldn’t it be better to simply stop? The question haunted me, refusing to let me eat or sleep until I provided it with a valid answer. It was my first real battle with my suicidal thoughts, and in the end I won by telling it that my life would be devoted to living for other people. My purpose in life would be to preserve the smiles of others.
And so began my descent into being a supporting actor in my own story.
It’s amazingly simple to stop living for yourself. All you really need to do is come to the painful realization that none of your needs matter when compared to the smiles of those around you. You start by cutting back on sleep. Why waste valuable time sleeping when you could be catering to those who need emotional support late at night. Next comes relationships. You begin to derive happiness not from another person, but rather the happiness that you instil in another person instead. It’s not about catering to their every need, but rather putting yourself in position to become the optimal version of yourself for any given scenario. Most importantly though, is to never spend too much time discussing your needs or issues. It’s not their job to fill in your cracks, it’s your job to foresee theirs. Only when you were alone, and everyone else had been satisfied could you begin to evaluate your situation. My self-reflection generally ended with me sobbing in a corner, telling myself that this was normal.
It was a sad and lonely purpose for living, but it was my purpose so I held it dearly.
I’ve operated like this for most of my life. I got so accustomed to my new role that it became as natural as breathing except when it wasn’t. Living for others is empty. You aren’t really happy. Seeing someone smile because of your actions may be momentarily fulfilling, but soon fades as you realize you just have to ready yourself for the next person in need. It’s taken me quite some time to realize that my way of living was borderline insanity. It wasn’t selfless or noble, it was desperate. I couldn’t see myself as the main focus of life, and so I adopted the shallow persona that amounted to little more than a hollow caricature. Looking back I wasn’t even living, but rather slowly dying. I was wandering aimlessly, waiting for someone else to find purpose in a story that was supposed to be mine.