Starring in One's Own Life
On Sunday, February 22nd, the 2015 Academy Awards will be presented. When many of us were younger, we imagined one day receiving an Oscar—or perhaps it was a Tony or Grammy or Emmy that we coveted. Such an award would seem to signify that we had attained star status. But what if we don’t need these types of external accolades to star in our own lives? This month, let’s take a look at what it means to star in one’s own life and at how we might go about doing this.
What does it mean
What comes to mind when thinking about “starring in one’s own life”? A key component is recognizing that one’s life matters in and of itself. The life story of each and every one of us contributes to the story of the entire world. Every single person is on a unique path through life—even if you have an identical twin, no one else has had the exact same set of experiences that you have had. Valuing our own unique contributions is a significant aspect of starring in our own lives. It’s how we pay attention to our own lives that’s crucial, not how others pay attention to us.
Being true to ourselves is something else that comes to mind. In order to star in our own lives, at least some of the time we’ll find ourselves pursuing a dream or following a calling. At times we may need to be very persistent in order to head in our desired direction. We may have to overcome numerous challenges so that we can continue on our true path.
Another way to view starring in our own lives is to think in terms of having the leading role in one’s life. The psychologist Donna Rockwell writes, “In order to be truly happy, in fundamentally contented ways, we must learn how to become lead actors in our own life stories.” If instead we always see ourselves as just playing a supporting role in someone else’s life, we’re going to shortchange ourselves. There may be stretches in which someone close to us has pressing needs and we have to put some of our own individual concerns on the back burner for a while; but we eventually have to give those concerns attention on the front burner or else we’ll get burned out.
What does it NOT mean
If we’re starring in our own lives, it doesn’t mean that we have to think we’re the center of the universe and everything revolves around us. It doesn’t mean that we get to direct the actions of everyone in our lives or that we get to write a script that everyone has to follow. Also, it doesn’t mean that we’re the center of attention all of the time, and it doesn’t have anything to do with having Twitter followers or Facebook friends.
In essence, it’s not about having a spotlight shining on us. Instead, it’s about the energy that emanates from us—much like a star in the sky, whose light comes from within. This is reminiscent of a phrase used by the writer and teacher Elizabeth Lesser; she has referred to each of us as having a “golden, radiant core.” Similarly, the Sufi poet Rumi hundreds of years ago wrote, “You must be set alight by the inner sun.”
Myth of “big days”
Some people think that you only get to be a star on your wedding day or perhaps a few other momentous occasions (such as when you graduate or become a parent). When experiencing such “big days,” it’s clear that a person is at the center of attention. That can make it harder to remember that we can star on any given day. As noted above, it’s not the spotlight shining on someone that makes a star—rather, it’s the energy coming from within.
Earlier, we acknowledged that there may be times when we put our individual concerns on a back burner due to the pressing needs of someone else (such as a sick parent or child). If we’re caring for someone with a chronic condition, it can be helpful to find ways to take regular breaks, so we can give our own needs and wants some attention.
In other cases, it may not be pressing needs that are driving individuals to perpetually play a supporting role, rather than starring in their own lives. Sometimes it can be easier to focus on helping other people solve their problems instead of focusing on one’s own problems. Starring in one’s own life can involve a willingness to face one’s own problems head-on.
Ways to take the lead role
So what can we do If we want to have more of a sense of starring in our own lives? First we can realize that wealth and celebrity are not requirements for this. We can choose to be our own casting director and we can give ourselves the lead role in our own lives, whatever our situation is.
There are all kinds of ways to play the starring role in our own lives. We can be quiet or loud, subdued or flashy. We can be on Facebook or not, on Twitter or not.
At the heart of starring in one’s own life is embracing one’s own life story. We aren’t trying to be somebody else or wishing we were somebody else. We can be inspired by another person’s persistence or compassion, but we’re not trying to imitate someone else. We each have a unique set of talents, gifts and perspectives to share with the world.
What we can do is recognize and validate the meaning of our own lives, instead of waiting for someone else to do that. That type of recognition and validation can endure over time, no matter how our external circumstances may change.
One technique that can help us to feel that we’re starring in our lives is memoir writing. There seem to be more and more classes on memoir writing available. Writing down some of our stories might aid in seeing the bigger picture of our lives, even if the writings are just for our own personal use.
Some of the subjects covered in previous Blue River Monthly articles may be relevant when we’re actively trying to play the lead role in our lives. Such subjects include the questions we ask ourselves, mindfulness and getting unstuck. Our questions can help us determine our personal priorities and our courses of action; mindfulness can help us to truly experience the episodes of our lives; and getting unstuck can, of course, help us to move towards a dream or calling.
Expectations can be a help or a hindrance when we’re trying to play the leading role in our lives. If we know people who expect us to nurture and pursue dreams, that can be very encouraging; similarly, if we expect ourselves to try new things and stretch our limits, that can be helpful. However, if those around us have very narrow expectations regarding what is suitable for us to do, it can be challenging to break out of those boundaries. And if we feel boxed in by our own expectations, that can make it hard to seize out-of-the-ordinary opportunities that may arise. It’s useful to be aware that rigid expectations are generally based on what’s been possible in the past, not on what might be feasible in the future.
Just as there’s room enough in the observable universe for trillions of stars, there’s room enough on earth for billions of people to each have a meaningful story. We each have the capacity to shine in our own ways. We’re able to choose to play the leading role in our lives, to have top billing in our tales and to star in our own sagas.
-- By Mary Jablonski