Social media has changed our lives. Never before have we been able to curate our existence the way we do now – stringing together our key moments as glossy, filtered photographs, taking ourselves to purpose-built pumpkin patches to be pictured with our significant others in the golden light of autumn, like a scene from an American teen drama. We can make our lives look, from the outside at least, entirely cinematic.
“You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life for god’s sake!” as the quote from festive flick The Holiday goes. But is there a risk that treating your life like the storyline of a Hollywood romcom actually has a negative impact on how you experience day-to-day joys?
I started thinking about this last week because, alongside my day job, I am also pursuing a version of a career in stand-up comedy, and on Sunday I got to appear on a professional bill of people I have idolised for years at the iconic Alexandra Palace.
Now, I got into stand-up by accident, after a tweet about a comedy course I did to get over a fear of public speaking led to me being booked for my first show by my favourite comedian. A short two years later, I was stepping out in front of a sold out crowd, where I was spotted by a big shot TV exec, quit my job, and am now ready to start a dazzling broadcast career.
Except I’m not, am I? I’m sitting at my laptop in front of a repeat of Jonathan Creek, with one eye on my work emails. The reality of it is that it was exactly what it was – an amazing experience to be cherished, thoroughly over-mentioned to friends and family, and a huge win for a girl who once couldn’t speak in front of six people without getting an eyelid twitch.
So why couldn’t I just enjoy it for all those valid reasons? Because a niggle in my subconscious hoped that maybe there was a talent scout out there, as that is what I’ve been taught – by Hollywood, by social media, and by my well-meaning mother who told me I could do anything and was destined for stardom.
With this in mind, I started to fear the morning after the Biggest Show of My Life™, and the inevitable crash that would follow. I even toyed with making it My Last Ever Show™ as there was a risk that I would never get to do something that good again.
A pragmatic friend questioned this hysterical assertion, when they foolishly asked how I was feeling about it all and I told them the honest truth. Why was I giving myself such a tough “now or never” ultimatum? Why was it this or nothing? What was wrong with just seeing how it went? Why wasn’t I just doing comedy for the sheer love of it, without one eye on the absolute best-case scenario?
The short answer is that I got myself tangled up in what has been dubbed “main character syndrome”. And I’m not alone in this apparently. A quick search of Twitter and TikTok shows well-searched hashtags about #maincharacter behaviour. This is not a recognised condition, but it is resonating with people.
Thanks to social media, it’s not enough to get a great annual review for work you’ve done, you’ve got to get promoted. You’ve got to smash it! Crush it! Live your dream! But in pursuing our next Hollywood moment, are we missing out on the joy of the mundane, and putting pressure on things that are good for their own sake to deliver the next big thing? And are we letting other people’s “main character” moments make our lives look grey by comparison?
I started a conversation on Twitter about it to see if my view was everyone else’s view, and on the whole the feedback was that centring yourself as the main character helps you to be resilient, and tricks your mind into thinking when things go wrong. As Lorna Prichard tweeted in response: “Ah classic, need that jeopardy or it’s not going to keep them watching.”
Jess Aszkenazy agreed it could be a help and a hindrance: “Both! Helps push yourself forward and remember that you are in control of your own life, but hinders in terms of expectations from other people (which are often too high and we ultimately end up disappointed).”
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
As ever, things like this are deeply personal. As a naturally anxious person, I have been more inclined to use this as a stick to beat myself with – potential unrealised, an expectation too high – as opposed to attaching a carrot to it and using it to get over the next jump, and that is something I clearly need to work on.
Maybe I should envision all the hard bits of my life the way I will view them in retrospect, backed by “Eye of the Tiger” in a training montage delivering me into my next Hollywood moment. And maybe instead of looking at my life as one long film, culminating in a single happy ending, I need to experience it more like a long-running series, with a carousel of changing characters, lulls and cliffhangers, and the occasional epic moment.
There is comfort in believing things will always be fine at the end. And ultimately, life’s knocks aren’t softer because you lived them twice – once when you catastrophised them, and then again when you lived them. Plus, sometimes it does go exactly as well as you hoped. You really do have no idea where the writers’ room is going to take you in the next series, so I say: enjoy the spotlight.
Vix Leyton is a Welsh stand-up comic
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies