When news broke that Putin had invaded Ukraine, individuals around the world began questioning how they could help victims of the crisis. Former 90210 actress AnnaLynne McCord had the answer. As she expressed in her (deep breath) spoken word poetry video, if only she had been Putin’s mother, her love for him would have altered his intentions and prevented global conflict. The video predictably went viral, with viewers asking how AnnaLynne thought that centring herself as the solution to war in Ukraine was anything other than completely tone-deaf. But seeing yourself as the protagonist in any and every narrative that arises is not a totally far-fetched idea.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Main Character Energy trope has become a familiar TikTokism and its popularity doesn't appear to be waning. Currently, the #MainCharacter hashtag is sitting on a whopping 6.7 billion views. Videos tagged here are largely aesthetic compilations that tell you to 'start romanticising your life' and 'think of yourself as the main character', all while imagining that a camera is trained on you.
A YouTube search for 'how to be the main character' will bring up a bounty of videos of influencers giving instructions for how to live your best, most cinematic life. If you're so inclined, you can take a course in which you’ll learn to harness your Main Character Energy, run by sex educator Shan Boodram (currently sold out) or entrepreneur Georgie Stevenson $420. These courses promise results such as manifesting money, finding your soulmate or getting the motivation to start your own business.
If achieving our life goals were that simple, I’m sure many of us would drop our hard-earned cash pretty quickly. But could it be possible that courses such as these prey upon the insecurities of those who are struggling in life, over-promise and then under-deliver?
I first heard of Main Character Energy around six months ago and my key takeaway, initially, was a subconscious affirmation of my own validity. I’d begun using manifestation techniques in an attempt to create my dream life and Main Character Energy worked alongside this to remind me that I deserve to achieve everything I desire.
After casting myself as the main character I felt a shift in mindset and began to believe that the goals I was working towards simply had to come true. This conviction shouldn’t have been a bad thing but somewhere along the way I lost sight of anything other than the conclusion of my narrative, and drifted towards a pitfall of main characterism: self-absorption. I became increasingly obsessed with propelling my storyline forward, to the exclusion of everything else.
By January my dream of moving out of my nine-square-metre room in a less than spacious flatshare and into my fantasy home still hadn’t come true. I looked at others who lived in beautiful, aesthetic apartments and felt jealous and embittered. I wondered why the script writers of the drama that was my life hadn’t yet drafted a version in which I got what I wanted.
This was a wake-up call. When I stopped to consider my situation I recognised how lucky I was to have a warm, safe space of my own. In my determination to achieve my goals I had begun caring less about everything that didn’t relate to the main character’s story. I’d become less kind and compassionate as a result. Main Character Energy had shifted into egotism.
I asked life coach Will Medd what he thought of all this. "I find the idea of main characters tricky," he explains. "It makes you think that you’re in control of this world when, in fact, things happen in life and we add a narrative onto it that has us as the protagonist." He advised me to shift the focus of my thinking. "So much of this trend is about what you want to be experiencing – but instead stop and consider what the world is asking of you. It’s less about identifying what you need to achieve and more about understanding that you’re already enough, and you already have enough to offer the world."
I’m not alone in searching for self-improvement and falling into the trap of Main Character Energy. Kate, 26, from Oxford, tells me that she tried to embrace Main Character Energy during the pandemic. She says: "Many people who know me would say I have always presented with Main Character Energy as I can come across as quite assertive. But in fact I naturally tend to please people so I think in that regard this trend definitely made me better at really focusing on what I want and need."
Kate found that embracing Main Character Energy made her hyperaware of people asking things of her. "In reality, many of these requests were not that deep but because I’d really taken pride in my main character being a 'no' person, I ended up feeling resentful towards people who simply wanted to spend time with me because I was so focused on conserving my energy."
"It didn’t help how Main Character Energy feels so intimately tied to social media," adds Kate. "The more brazen you can be about self-love and self-focus, the better. But I realised that this can lead to self-aggrandisement and leaves you still seeking validation from others because you’re posting it – it’s an absolute paradox."
Ultimately, Main Character Energy seems to be about taking control of our lives – and after two years of pandemic-induced turmoil, who wouldn’t want to sit in the director’s chair and call the shots on their future? Advice from someone who's done it? Embrace your Main Character Energy from time to time, by all means. Just know when to step out of the spotlight – it's arguably the most important trait you can have.