You Are Not The Protagonist

It has been a long time coming, but it is time to learn to disbelieve in the legend of yourself. I know this might seem strange after a lifetime of being told you are special or growing up in a world where very literally anyone could potentially become famous overnight (no matter how fleetingly), but the truth of the matter is, you are no one. You are certainly not the chosen one, the Dragonborn, or the Lone Wanderer. This is not an epic role-playing game where the outcome of every plotline and the livelihood of every non-player character hang wholly on your actions and yours alone. Life is not a story where your happy ending is foretold, where you only need to suffer through the necessary trials before discovering your promised land. I’m sorry to say this, but you are not the hero.

Now this doesn’t necessarily make you an NPC either. Within the last few years, that term has come to take on some negative real-life connotations beyond its use in video gaming but even looking past that definition, you are most certainly not an NPC. No one really is. We all have goals, big or small or somewhere in between. Some of us may be reaching for the peak of a profession or to acquire great amounts of material wealth while others are focused on making it through another day as unscathed as possible. All are valid goals and yes, almost every other person you encounter in your day has goals as well, be they immediate or long-term. This is the first step to realizing that you are not the protagonist in your own personal epic. Others exist, each with their own spanning narrative whose objectives in life may or may not intertwine with or otherwise contradict your own. Whatever the case may be, your fellow humans are indeed as complex as you perceive yourself to be, even if that idea does mesh well with your idea of uniqueness.

Understanding that nearly all humans are working toward something, that they are not merely quest-givers or pawns to be used to advance one’s own agenda, means that it is not enough for you passively expect to level-up and grow without putting significant work in. What I mean is, in video games, oftentimes strength or any skill increase is granted in a very measured, reliable fashion as one progresses through the stages of the game. In other words, completion of missions or quests, no matter how easy or difficult, will almost always result in some sort of permanent gain that further sets you, the protagonist, apart from the lowly NPCs in the world. In truth, of course, performing our daily quests (work, school, workout, etc.) is no guarantee of skill increase. We must actively seek out self-improvement in our daily lives by challenging ourselves. Worse yet, slacking off can actually cause a backslide, lowering any gains previously gained. Couple this with the idea that every other non-NPC in the world is also involved in this same game of constant skill gain/loss and perhaps you will see that becoming an overpowered juggernaut in life is not a simple matter of linear progression.

New skills of course can always be acquired but we can never expect it to be as easy as simply assigning an ability point or unlocking a new perk. Because you are not the hero, there are no guarantees that you will achieve our end goals or that any new undertaking will result in the acquisitions of improved statistics. Worse yet, growth is definitely not always fun. Sometimes it certainly can be but, more often than not, growth comes from doing something over and over again, no matter how boring or unenjoyable, until new proficiency is gained. And of course, while grinding in games is not always fun either, there’s generally no time restraint and the payoff is almost always more readily apparent.

I guess what I’m getting at is, that because I grew up in a world dominated by video games, where I was told repeatedly in school that I was special and smart, that I grew to expect that great things would just happen if only I kept playing the game long enough. Unfortunately, if this is a game, it is not single-player by any means. Not only is this game massively multiplayer, we are each granted only one character slot and only one life. As such, there are no redos, no re-rolls. We have the skills and the stats that we have and it is up to us to either improve upon them or allow them to wither.

More than that though, I think it’s important that we all discontinue from using one another as measuring sticks for success. Another person’s achievement does not diminish your own and it certainly doesn’t bar you from an equal or greater achievement. More to the point, this isn’t a competition. We need to step away from this idea that in order to do something properly that we must be the very best, like no one ever was. Attempting to judge one’s own progression by the progression of someone living an entirely different life with a different set of difficulties and circumstances is an exercise in frustration and futility. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter how fast and how far you fly, or that you even fly at all. What matters is that you make steps everyday towards whatever it is that will bring you happiness or peace or whatever state of mind you wish to achieve.

And honestly, that is the only achievement that really matters.

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