According to Donald Miller’s book, Hero on a Mission, in life, stories, and in business, there are always four characters at play: the hero, victim, villain, and guide. To get the most out of life, you need to be aware of which role you are playing and how the four characters are influencing your life and business every day.
The Four Characters of Every Story
Our lives are just like stories. They have a beginning, middle and end. Often, our stories start off full of excitement but somewhere in the middle, we get bored. We are no longer living a pre-scripted adventure handed to us by society: you go to school, graduate, get married, have kids…then what? We’ve entered into a space called the narrative void. In the void, we begin to feel restless and disillusioned.
Our businesses often follow the same trajectory: we get an idea, work really hard to make it happen, grow a successful business, and then….? If you have fallen into the narrative void, the first step toward finding your way back to meaning and excitement is defining what role you are playing in your story. In order to do that, you need to know how to identify each character.
We have been trained to believe that the hero is the greatest character in every story. Although the hero gets all the fanfare and attention, in reality the hero is a weak, broken character who regularly struggles and sometimes fails. However, the hero always gets back up again, generally with the help of a guide.
The hero wants something so badly that he or she is willing to transform to get it. Heroes approach life with hope and curiosity, always asking “who can I become?”. A hero understands that he or she has the responsibility to create something meaningful in the world. The hero accepts his or her own agency, or ability, to influence life’s outcome. Instead of just dreaming about a meaningful future, the hero moves toward it.
The victim, on the other hand, views life quite differently. When struggles come into the victim’s life, victims helplessly sit in those struggles and allow those struggles to consume them. A victim surrenders life to fate and believes that he or she is a helpless bystander, not an active participant.
Victims frequently feel restless, stuck and uncertain. They know they want to live a different story but believe they have to wait around for someone to rescue them in order to get there. They don’t have any sense of control in their own lives and therefore feel disenchanted by it.
The villain exists to make other people feel small and insignificant. The villain does this because he or she also feels small and wants to bring other people down to the same level. Like the other characters, the villain has faced his or her fair share of problems. However, instead of transforming to overcome those issues, the villain seeks revenge. Villains are resentful, brooding, and go out of their way to make others feel small and insignificant.
In the movies, villains are downright evil. In life, villains can be a little sneakier. Miller warns that the villain mentality is comparable to dancing with the devil, it’s a slippery slope that can take you down fast. It begins with a sarcastic comment, or a cold-hearted joke, and ends with ruined relationships, if you let it go too far.
Although all stories can be edited and fixed, the villain and victim mentalities can’t be edited out. If you want to improve the story, you have to leave those mindsets behind as soon as you notice you’ve fallen into them.
Believe it or not, the guide is actually the strongest character in the story. The guide is the person who helps the hero win. Guides are the most respected characters because they are empathetic, kind, and realize that life is about using your abilities to make our time on Earth even more meaningful for others. The guide has also faced difficulties but he or she overcame those difficulties, learned from them, and now uses those experiences to guide others through similar situations.
The guide is willing to sacrifice him or herself for the good of others because, as Miller says, “guides know that life is not so much about what you build, but who you are building up.” A meaningful life is more about giving encouragement than collecting accomplishments. Becoming a guide is truly one of life’s biggest honors and the pinnacle of success.
How The Four Characters Influence Your Life
Unfortunately, life isn’t quite as clean cut as screen plays. You don’t get to play just one of these characters. In real life, we all carry these four characters within us.
Think about how you react when something goes wrong. Do you:
- Believe there is nothing you can do? (victim mentality)
- Make sarcastic comments to ensure that other people feel bad too? (villain mentality)
- Transform to overcome the situation? (hero mentality)
- Realize that you’ve been through this before and seek to encourage others through the difficulty? (guide mentality)
If you are like most people, it probably depends on the situation. We are all capable of playing all four roles in the same day, sometimes even in the same hour. The most important piece is recognizing when we are playing the victim or the villian and choosing to step out of those roles as quickly as possible so that we can continue moving our story, and our lives, forward.
How the Four Characters Influence Your Business
If you are running a business, you obviously want to stay out of the victim and villain mentality as much as possible while at work. You want to treat your customers, team members, and colleagues in a way that causes others to talk just as much about your product or service as they do about your positive qualities as a person.
In marketing, you likely already know that you should position your business as the guide. Your product or service exists to solve a problem and make your client’s lives easier, to guide them toward a better future. Therefore, you always want to talk more about how your product or service can help them than you do about the product or service itself.