There are four major characters in nearly every story: the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide.
In Hero on a Mission: A Path to a Meaningful Life, American author, and Entrepreneur Donald Miller examine the role of story and finding meaning in our daily life. Miller uses Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey as a metaphor for our life story.
There are four characters in every story: The victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. These four characters live inside us. If we play the victim, we’re doomed to fail. If we play the villain, we will not create genuine bonds. But if we play the hero or guide, our lives will flourish. The hard part is being self-aware enough to know which character we are playing.
Playing the hero improves our stories dramatically. If we want to take control of our lives and bend our story toward meaning, we can surface more hero energy and less victim and villain energy.
In stories, there are four primary characters:
- The victim is the character who feels they have no way out.
- The villain is the character who makes others small.
- The hero is the character who faces their challenges and transforms.
- The guide is the character who helps the hero.
These four characters exist in stories not only because they exist in the real world, but because they exist inside you and me. The problem is these characters are not equal. Two help us experience a deep sense of meaning and two lead to our demise.
The Victim, the Villain, the Hero, and the Guide: The Four Roles We Play in Life
Whether we like it or not, the lives we live are stories. Our lives have a beginning, middle, and end, and inside those three acts we play many roles. We are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, teammates, lovers, friends, and so much more. For many of us, the stories we live feel meaningful, interesting, and perhaps even inspired. For others, life feels as though the writer has lost the plot.
THE VICTIM: THE ONE WHO FEELS LIKE THEY HAVE NO WAY OUT
One thing that will ruin a story fast is if the hero—the character that the story is about—acts like a victim.
You cannot have a lead character in a story that acts like a victim. This is true in stories and it’s true in life. In fact, this is true in stories because it’s true in life. The reason a hero that acts like a victim ruins the story is because a story must move forward to be interesting. The hero must want something that is difficult and perhaps even frightening to achieve. This is the plot of nearly every inspirational story you’ve ever read.
A victim, on the other hand, does not move forward or accept challenges. Instead, a victim gives up because they have come to believe they are doomed.
Victims believe they are helpless and so flail until they are rescued.
If a story is going to work, the hero must not surface victim energy. Victim energy is a belief that we are helpless, that we are doomed.
THE VILLAIN: THE ONE WHO MAKES OTHERS SMALL
A villain, you see, makes others small. A story about a villain won’t deliver a sense of meaning either.
What separates a villain from a hero is the hero learns from their pain and tries to help others avoid the same pain. The villain, on the other hand, seeks vengeance against the world that hurt them.
The difference between the villain and the hero is the way they react to the pain they’ve experienced. In stories, villain energy brings about negative consequences. The more we surface that energy, the worse our stories get.
Our villainous tendencies may seem innocent enough, but villain energy is nothing to take lightly. When we begin to reduce others in our minds, we are dancing with the devil.
We know we are surfacing villain energy when we dismiss other people’s comments or when we think of them as lesser. We know we are surfacing villain energy when we reduce others to their outward appearances rather than taking the time to understand their point of view.
In the end, guides are just heroes who kept going.
THE GUIDE: THE ONE WHO HELPS THE HERO
In stories, heroes can’t make it on their own because they don’t know how. If they knew how, they would have worked out all those flaws on their own. Remember, heroes are flawed and in need of transformation. In fact, they are often the second weakest character in a story. Only the victim is in worse shape.
To help the hero out, the storyteller sends a guide. Yoda helped Luke learn to be a Jedi. Haymitch helped Katniss win the Hunger Games. Guides are the characters in the story who have empathy and confidence, and as such are equipped to help the hero win.
The confidence guides have comes from their years of experience honing in their own hero’s journey. Guides know what they are doing and can pass valuable knowledge on to the hero.
“If life is teaching us anything, it seems to be this: it is a meaningful thing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another. This is the essence of a guide, and if we take the hero’s journey, this is where each of our stories will go.”
A Hero Accepts Their Own Agency
“Victims live at the mercy of forces outside themselves.”
Heroes are not as strong as you think. They are usually unwilling to act, in need of help, filled with self-doubt, and often incompetent in the very area in which they are given a challenge.
Agency refers to the ability we have to make our own choices. And all of us have agency. Agency can be unfairly limited by factors such as social class, religion, and ability, but agency is almost never limited completely. In fact, very happy people know a secret: a human being has a ridiculous amount of personal agency. A person’s reaction to a set of circumstances dramatically affects how their story plays out.
“The character who becomes the victim believes they are helpless and acts out of that belief. The character who becomes the hero accepts their agency and rises up against their circumstances.”
The Hero on a Mission Life Plan
The Hero on a Mission Life Plan is based on two ideas: the first is Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, and the second is the elements that drive an interesting story. This life plan is not about productivity, though it will certainly help you become more productive. This life plan is designed to help you experience a deep sense of meaning.
THE CHARACTER WE PLAY WILL DETERMINE THE QUALITY OF OUR STORY
If we believe we are helpless and our stories are in the hands of fate, we are operating from a victim identity. If we believe other people are small and should do as we say, we are operating from a villain identity.”
The first shift we experience as we surface heroic energy, though, is that our lives are not in the hands of fate. At least not completely. Heroes rise up with courage to change their circumstances.
Fate may send us challenges, but it does not dictate how we respond to those challenges. We are not preprogrammed. We have the power to shape our own stories. Fate may throw us sunshine or rain, but it does not determine who we are. We determine who we are, and who we are directs our story more than anything or anybody else.
A Hero Chooses a Life of Meaning
Meaning is existential. To be more precise, it is an emotional state you experience under certain circumstances, and those circumstances can be created by us, and those circumstances are relatively easy to create.
To experience meaning, a person simply needs to rise up, point at the horizon, and, with deep conviction, decide to venture out toward the hope of a meaningful story. Meaning is something you experience while you are on an adventure.
“Meaning is not an idea to be agreed with. It is a feeling you get when you live as a hero on a mission. And it cannot be experienced without taking action and living into a story.”
The Hero want something specific
A storyteller must define an exact thing the hero wants. They want to win the karate tournament. They want to save their father’s company. They want to marry their sweetheart.
Once the hero defines what they want, the story begins. And why does the story begin? Because, again, when a hero defines what they want, a story question is posited. The audience, and for that matter the hero, is engaged by a single interesting question: Will the hero get what they want?
When an audience can’t determine what a hero wants, or when what the hero wants is too elusive for an audience to understand, the audience loses interest and becomes bored.
Narrative traction is the feeling that our personal story is so interesting we can’t turn away. We may not always like it, but we can’t not do it. Even if it exhausts us and we find ourselves complaining about it, we’re in it. The story has swallowed us up and is keeping us interested in our own lives.
“To make a story happen, we have to get up every day and “put something on the plot.”
A HERO MAKES LIVING INTENTIONALLY A HABIT
A victim has no plan. They are waiting for a rescuer. A villain has a plan for destruction and strategizes vengeance on a world that has hurt them. A hero creates a plan that is mutually beneficial for the world and sticks with it. A guide has lived a great life and turns around to help heroes find and live meaningful stories of their own.
“Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.” – Viktor Frankl
All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.