A few weeks ago we took our kids to see the newest Star Wars movie. It’s only been since last summer that they’ve caught up on the originals (Parts 4,5, and 6) and last fall when they saw The Force Awakens. Like many kids their age, they love the characters and stories and have started collecting memorabilia. (Our son got a Lego Millennium Falcon for his last birthday. He’s 8.)
So, on a recent night when I was losing my cool because of all the video games winter has forced us to play, the two of them and I took to the couch for a coloring session. Music often helps to calm us so we chose a John Williams station on Amazon music. We heard not only our favorite theme music from Star Wars but all the other masterpieces Williams has created. (The list is longer than I could have told you before that night.)
We got to talking about the music and how it adds to the movie experience. I asked them how the Imperial March made them feel when they heard it. How different would it be, I asked, if when Darth Vader marches on screen the music was more like a circus theme. They laughed and laughed.
John Williams is a talented composer, and I know that he gets a lot of credit for his work. But I wonder how many people who have watched the movies featuring his scores fully appreciate his contributions. I mean, what would Superman or Indiana Jones be without their recognizable theme songs?
In some cases, I feel like the answer might be “nothing.” The music adds a layer of depth taking an interesting character and making him (or her) unforgettable.
My new job is a supporting role. I’m not a teacher. I’m an aide. My official title has a fancier name, but my day-in, day-out duties are assisting someone who has more knowledge, experience and credentials than I do.
Ten years ago, that might have bothered me, but I feel exactly the opposite. I have never felt more perfectly suited for a job in all my years of work. (I have come to realize that my writing is more art/calling than job, but that’s a post for another day.) I show up. I help where I’m needed. I go home satisfied because my presence mattered in a real and tangible way. (Some days, it feels more intangible, but that’s rare.)
In the world where most of us live (I was going to say “real world” but Hollywood is part of the real world and acting is a viable way to make a living if that is your gift and talent), there aren’t a lot of prizes for a job well done. There’s little recognition for a supporting role in life. No one is going to hand me a trophy for showing up to work every day and giving it my best effort and maybe making a difference in someone’s life.
But the truth is I don’t need a trophy. Because I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing with my life.
I wouldn’t make it past the audition round of American Idol and I would fall flat on my face in the meantime. Even if by some miracle I was cast in some kind of TV show or movie, I would be miserable. I don’t like people looking at me all the time and I’m definitely not a performer. (Unless I feel really comfortable with you and can crack a bunch of terrible jokes in succession. Or if I’m telling a really interesting story.)
I couldn’t work in the medical field because I don’t like bodily fluids and I have an overactive gag reflex. Even my job as a journalist, which I worked for almost 10 years, was a not-quite-right fit. I am less detail-oriented than I would like to think, and I often missed asking the obvious questions.
One month into my new job and I feel more “accomplished” than I did in 10 years of journalism. But then again, I don’t think I could have done this job all those years ago. I needed more time to figure out who I was than who I thought I wanted to be.
It’s awards season. The TV channels are full of Oscars and Globes and Emmys and Grammys, and I am always six steps behind what’s new and popular, but I have a casual interest in these things. There are recognitions for all kinds of behind-the-scenes contributions, some we never even hear about. And because we focus so much on the stars–the leading actors and actresses, especially, the awards for supporting roles sometimes feel like a lesser prize.
(Am I alone in thinking this?)
I wonder what kind of message we send to kids of this generation when we spend so much time adoring the stars–in movies, sports and music. Why can’t being good at something ordinary that perfectly suits us be enough?
I suspect the answer to that question lies in part with our inability to really know ourselves. From the time we are young, we are given clues about who and what people want us to be. Most of the time, we mean no harm when we comment on a child’s personality, but I wonder how much of it shapes who they become. Or who they think they have to become.
In the last year, I’ve become obsessed (I don’t think that’s too strong of a word) with the Enneagram. It’s a personality assessment, I guess, but it’s more like a mirror into your true self. I have learned more about myself through the Enneagram in the last year-plus than I have maybe in the last decade. (I hope that doesn’t sound like an exaggeration.) I know more about why I do some of the things I do and how I need to change. Maybe most importantly, especially in light of what I’ve been writing about supporting roles, I know that my presence matters. That might not sound like any big revelation but’s that probably because you aren’t the same Enneagram type as me.
Knowing that my presence makes a difference in the world, that my voice matters, it changes how I go about my day, and it convinces me that this support job I do five days a week is an appropriate use of my life.
I’m almost 40 years old and I’m just learning this. I hope that you are further ahead in this area than I am. But if you’re not, could I encourage you to invest in learning about yourself? The more you know about who you are, what you’re suited for, and why you do what you do, the more likely you’ll be to find your role in the world. It might be a starring one. It might be a supporting one. It might be one no else understands.
But as long as it’s the right one for you, the world will be a better place.