Why I’m Ditching Main Character Energy—and Having More Fun Instead

Side characters, unite.

By Isabelle Eyman

Being a writer is, at its most basic, telling stories for a living. I love creating a narrative arc, distilling my observations, and shaping a story around even the most unexpected topics. But with the rise of main character syndrome, I’ve finally been given language for a habit that I’ve unknowingly engaged in for, well… ever: centering myself as the protagonist of the movie that is my life.

Even before the trend took shape, I’d been listening to and letting the narrative of my life fill and consume my thoughts. I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to call it narcissistic, but I have to imagine it’s a habit shared by many. After all, we see and experience the world through our own, personal lens, don’t we?

But inspired by Mia Mercado’s piece for The Cut, I’ve gone through a bit of a transformation and have been living out my best side-character summer self (a departure from the ‘hot girls’ I once tried to emulate). And though summer is quickly fading, I’m letting my shift toward side character energy shape my cozy socks/fuzzy blankets/warm beverage fall self. Here’s how I’m adopting side character energy and letting it inspire an easygoing, zero-stress approach to my life.

Featured image of Sanetra Nere Logno by Michelle Nash.

Marie Kouadio Amouzame_side character energy
Image by Belathée Photography

First: What is main character energy?

It’s been called a “millennial condition” and its surge into the popular digital-speak lexicon has seen main character syndrome ascribed to the Gen Z masses. And it makes sense—in a world that’s growing increasingly reliant on technology and social platforms as our primary means of communication, a rise of self-promotional behavior isn’t just expected, but a necessary way of being known. There’s a reason we all need to have a personal brand, right?

In its most basic definition, main character energy describes seeing yourself as playing the lead role and anyone around you, adjacent to you, or simply external to you is exactly that: an extra. Therefore, everything requires narrative and commentary—from the more significant moments to the most passingly insignificant.

Babba Rivera laughing_side character energy
Image by Belathée Photography

How is side character energy different?

Popularized by @lolaokola on TikTok, the side character is essentially the foil to the main character. She describes the personality/vibe as the “beloved side character with great outfits and funny one-liners.” Whereas social media may have once glorified aspirational content and out-of-reach clothes, homes, and lifestyles, side character energy brings a low-key aesthetic back into focus. As Lola puts it, she’s here “to be funny and sexy.” I have to assume that end-of-story, closed book energy means that she cares little for what anyone has to say about it.

To be clear, I live to feel inspired. I scroll my Instagram and Pinterest feeds in the hopes that I’ll find a new crafting or knitting project that’ll inspire a few weeks of work. Or, I’ll come across some particularly spark-worthy journaling prompts that get me in the mood to put my heart in pen. There’s a certain joy that comes with looking for opportunities in the most unexpected places, or putting yourself in the path of learning and growth.

But when we learn to release the pressure of looking a certain way and instead embrace the free-flowing energy that comes with embodying the side character, that is where the magic really happens.

I love the idea of becoming the side character of my life because it requires understanding that the time we’ve put into working on ourselves can be acknowledged. We no longer have to grip so hard to the standards we’ve held ourselves to, and can instead call it quits—not the pursuit itself, but the belief that we keep have to grinding, hustling, and pushing ourselves to feel like enough.

Trust me: stepping into side character energy is the most freeing commitment I’ve ever made.

Samantha Wennerstrom eating breakfast_side character energy
Image by Sara Prince

3 Ways Side Character Energy Can Transform Your Mental Wellness

So how do you embrace this easy-breezy way of being all throughout the year? Below are five tips that I’ve started practicing on a regular basis to remind myself that my life is mine to lead (live, love, and laugh—had to) as I please. And don’t worry if these tips don’t come as quickly as you’d like, learning to release the control we’ve thought we’ve had over many aspects of our lives can be a challenge to unlearn. Be patient with yourself, and above all, follow what feels right for you.

1. You’ll Embrace Your Life Behind the Scenes

While we’ve been told to chase the spotlight, there’s plenty of joy that comes with letting your life unfold off-camera. When Huffington Post called living out the main character lifestyle “exhausting,” I could only agree. Documenting and curating our lives on social media can be fun, and to a certain extent, it can bring about a certain amount of satisfaction. But in this age of *actual* authenticity, learning to take a selfie because you felt cute—regardless of your outfit, regardless of the location tag—and posting sans filters can go a long way in the journey toward self-actualization.

2. You’ll Learn the Art of doing nothing

It might seem counterintuitive, but learning how to do nothing can be one of the greatest challenges—particularly nowadays, with the barrage of notifications constantly sounding. But learning to let a little niksen (the Dutch art of doing nothing), into your life can do wonders. So when the world is telling you to take on a side hustle, open an Etsy shop, and say yes to everything, connect with what feels true for you and let everything else fall to the wayside. Endless inspiration can be found in the simple, restorative joy of rest.

Camille Styles smiling with Brian and Jessie De Lowe_side character energy
Image by Michelle Nash

3. You’ll Learn to check in with yourself—and honor your needs

This isn’t something you do once and it’s over. Instead, carve out a little time each day—perhaps as a part of your morning or evening routine—to either journal or simply sit with yourself for a few moments. Where’s your energy? What does it need to be directed toward today? As the side character, you get to decide how much or how little energy you put into anything. Remember: Forget how it looks, and consider instead what will support you best.