People say that everyone’s the hero of their own story, but that doesn’t mean having to play the Hero all the time. We can have other roles, and be aware of them. I doubt Robin has any illusions about being the star when he stands next to Batman, even if he is the star of his own comic book.
There have been periods in my life where I felt very much like everything that happened to me was purely in relation to other people being protagonists. I’m thinking specifically of vast periods in which I was a sidekick to other peoples’ various adventures, but there’ve been periods where I played the villain and the love interest (both at the same time with one boyfriend, which as you might imagine was interesting).
We are humans, we define ourselves in relation to other humans. For a lot of people, that means that our mental image of people consists solely of how they relate to us — think of the first time you saw your teacher outside of school when you were a child. You didn’t really think teachers, or doctors, or babysitters, or librarians stopped existing when you left their domain, but it never occurred to you to think that they had families and homes and errands.
If we’re aware of this, we can take a measure of control in our relationships with others. By understanding how they see us, what kind of characters we are to them, we can invoke the archetypes of our stories to make relationships more harmonious and effective. After all, two “heroes” working at opposing goals will continually get in each others’ way.
Say someone finds herself the villain, despite her best efforts. Rather than try to court the hero, she gently lets him “turn” her to his side, if she wants him to work with her, or shows him a common enemy against which they both struggle. If she doesn’t want to change his mind about her, she can use his perception of her as a villain to draw him into making mistakes or forceful accusations he can’t back up. Or she can sit back and complain about why people treat her that way without trying to either change her archetype or use it to her advantage.
In my case, when I was the sidekick, I felt like I was drifting without a place, and being a sidekick, a loyal friend and a sympathetic ear, allowed me to be part of something larger, something grand and romantic. That doesn’t mean that my friendship or my sympathy were insincere. (I would actually consider it a different kind of sincerity — because at the time I was happy with my role as it was, and not looking for ways to be the hero myself.) I mean them quite deeply and it didn’t bother me at the time that I was trailing along on her adventures. Any adventures were to be cherished.
If we are going to pursue the awareness of our ability to write our own stories, it is necessary that we consider the value of all the roles we can play, find the ones we are most comfortable with and most effective in, and use that awareness to craft ourselves a place in the world that uses our strengths and balances our weaknesses with those of the people we surround ourselves with. Even within the path of the protagonist, there are many roles besides Hero to choose from.
For every great King, there is a Power Behind the Throne, there are Advisors, there are Warriors, there is a Queen and a Prince and perhaps an Evil Brother. And perhaps it best suits our goals to be the second-string character in the story of someone else who can bring about our goals more effectively than we can. Kings and Heroes aren’t always the protagonists of the story; sometimes they’re the ones who set things in motion for other people.
The key is in understanding the role you’re playing, choosing to own it and put it to work for you.