You, my friend, are the star of your own movie. The star of the movie is you.
You are the hero of a beautiful story, projected in your mind every minute of your life.
You are special. And you want everyone else to know that you are special.
It’s why a baby screams for attention. It’s why Facebook is one of the richest companies on the planet. It’s why you care about the clothes you wear and the car you drive and the way you look.
It’s the most essential part of who you are.
You know that every story has heroes and villains. They are the reason you watch sports. That’s why you get so worked up about politics. They are the drivers behind every TV show or movie. Whatever you do, it’s about your guys, the heroes, vs. their guys, the villains.
As William James once said, “Mankind’s common instinct for reality… has always held the world to be essentially a theatre for heroism.”
And, if he couldn’t become a hero, why would anyone choose to fight in a war?
In each of our minds, we live out a morality play.
It is a play where we are always center stage. It is a place where what is good and evil and right and wrong evolves according to the changes in our lives and our reactions to those changes.
Whether you are rich or poor, generous or selfish, kind or mean, the story inside of your mind is always looking to explain your position in the world.
However your world unfolds, your morality story molds to adapt to your mind’s feelings about how it unfolded.
Freud called this, “primary narcissism,” which is just another way of saying that self-love is a basic part of who we are.
When you watch a pair of siblings fight for their parents’ attention, it’s because the unyielded need for recognition has not yet been diminished in their minds.
According Becker, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Denial of Death:
“Sibling rivalry is a critical problem that reflects the basic human condition: It is not that children are vicious, selfish or domineering. It is that they so openly express a man’s tragic destiny: he must desperately justify himself as an object of primary value in the universe; he must stand out, be a hero, make the biggest contribution to world life, show that he counts more than anything or anyone else.”
Most of our struggles, from birth to death, can be stripped down to this: persuading others to think of us an object of primary value in the universe. To become the hero of our own story.
Our primary quest is to convince the world, or at least some part of it, that we are, and always have been, the star.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
One of the most successful books of the 20th century was Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies.
This book could be re-written in a single sentence: Treat other people as if they were the stars of a movie, and great things will happen to you.
Here are the six ways in which Carnegie tells us to act, so that other people will like us:
Become genuinely interested in other people
Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
Five of the six ways to “win friends and influence people” require you to stroke someone else’s ego. The sixth, “smile!” is just another way to let someone know you like him or her.
And my favorite gem from the book, “A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China that kills a million people.”
The book sold 30 million copies, and the simple point of it is this: everyone thinks they are the star of the movie, and they want other people to let them show it. Take advantage by playing a supporting role every time you meet someone new. Do this, and you will not only make lots of friends, but you can convince them to do whatever you want!
Sometimes when we star in the movie, we aren’t really the stars. Instead, we find someone else who is the star of the movie and find a way to connect ourselves to them.
Did your local sports team just win the Super Bowl? Well, that’s about you, too.
Did you cheer for Americans during the Olympics? They represent who you are.
That’s why sports fans use the pronoun “we” when talking about their favorite teams. If you are in the stadium or watching on TV and you support the team from the beginning, the team’s glory is your glory. Your hero worship lets you share in the moment.
Piggybacking someone else’s glory is just another way to pretend to be the star of the movie. It’s heroism by proxy. We can play the hero without having to do any of the work.
In the big crowd when we celebrate the championship, at the parade, is there any difference between the fan and the hero? Whichever one we might be, in the orgy of noise and screaming and music, it all blends together.
The Hero Hidden Below
The radio program and podcast This American Life did a feature on a New York City group called Improv Everywhere. This group likes to weave improvisational comedy sketches in the middle of real life situations, with people who have no idea that they are in the middle of a sketch. Some sketches make people laugh, some make people cry.
About ten years ago, Improv Everywhere decided to perform a sketch where they pretended to be superfans for a previously unknown band who were on their first tour in New York, Ghosts of Pasha. Ghosts of Pasha had no idea what was about to happen.
Improv Everywhere recruited dozens of people to learn the band’s songs and then go to the concert, and the only instruction was to act out their imagined love of Ghosts of Pasha in whatever way felt most natural.
When the band played the show, they were shocked to have a crowd full of people who knew and loved their music. It felt like they were stars! They had made it! They were playing a concert in New York City and a bunch of people they had never met knew and loved their music.
And then, a few days later, Ghosts of Pasha discovered that it was an act – that their fans had not been earned organically. They hadn’t just discovered their music and fallen in love with it. Instead of having fallen in love with their music, the fans had been acting out a performance as a part of an Improv Everywhere sketch.
To hear Ghosts of Pasha’s guitarist tell the story, when he learned it was hoax, it reminded him of the deepest wounds from childhood. He had been an insecure kid, and then he immersed himself in music, in playing guitar. For the first time, during that concert, he had thought that the guitar had made him a star. There he was, in New York City – thinking he had proven himself as someone worthy of attention. And then it was yanked away, like Lucy stealing the football from Charlie Brown.
The poor kid was devastated.
But the founder of Improv Everywhere wasn’t sorry. He said he wanted to give the band the night of their lives. There was nothing wrong with that, in his mind.
To me that shows a callous disregard for how humans think and feel.
To make a person feel special, by pretending to love their art, only to later reveal the expression of love was about someone else’s artistic performance that nothing to do with that person. Viewed from that perspective, there are few things you could do to another person that would be more more cruel.
Later, the band came to peace with what had happened. Why? Because they said what had happened that night had felt so right, so real. Even though they were only performing for performers, they had had a great show, and at that moment, it was real. To quote guitarist and keyboardist Milo Finch, “[w]e rocked the place that night and you know it.”
And you know what, I’m sure he’s right. When given the opportunity to become a star, it’s a role that feels more right than anything. .
A New Perspective
Part of me thinks I’ve never written anything more obvious than this. But part of me thinks this is a revelation.
So in the off chance that I’m right, I’ve decided to publish it.
Of course everyone wants to be special! I know that. You know that.
But to treat every person you meet as if they are the star of a movie that you love, therein lies a real challenge. That requires you to bring energy to everyone you meet. To every cashier and person on the subway and every client and middle manager and tax professional.
Each of us is a star and wants to be treated as such, but the world almost never treats any of us that way.
That’s really something. That explains a lot.