What child of the early 2000s hasn’t watched The Wedding Planner and aspirationally cast themselves in the role of Jennifer Lopez, crushing it in business, rocking the chicest fashions, winning tons of Scrabble, and ultimately finding love in the whimsical, twilight ambiance of San Francisco? Not a rhetorical question—I know you can relate.
Now flash forward with me to 2023, and that mental image I just painted for you has an official name: Main Character Energy.
A search for this hashtag on TikTok yields more than 420 million results, so clearly the whole Main Character Energy vibe is still as influential today as it was back in the era of J.Lo’s romantic comedy run. But what exactly does it mean to channel Main Character Energy, and is this something we should strive for?
What is Main Character Energy?
Basically, someone who exudes Main Character Energy sees themselves as the protagonist in their own life story. This has become a credo in recent years to both Millennials and Gen Zers, over 70 percent of whom feel that experiencing the collective trauma of a pandemic has taught them to re-evaluate their priorities, take control of their choices, be more intentional about their objectives, and focus on pursuing their bliss.
At face-value, this is logical—admirable even. After all, why shouldn’t each of us claim the starring role in our personal narrative? No one else can do it for us. And for many fans of the trend, Main Character Energy fills them with confidence, empowerment, and a genuine zest for life. Others agree it’s also helped them achieve a new goal, make a positive change, discover a passion, leave an unhealthy relationship, or feel gratitude for what they have.
More than 50 percent of 13- to 39-years-olds, who tap into Main Character Energy, attribute this mindset to becoming their “best self.” However, critics warn that—if taken to an extreme—Main Character Energy can cause inflated self-absorption, further reinforcing the common trope of Millennials and Gen Zers as “entitled, egocentric narcissists.” So then, at which point does Main Character Energy cross a line into potentially toxic terrain?
Main Character Energy vs. Self-Absorption
In short, Main Character Energy turns problematic when we begin to think of ourselves as the lead protagonist in every scenario, not just our own stories. This is where we risk centering our experiences in the world, while bypassing the realities of those around us. If we’re not careful, social media platforms can encourage that insular view to cement in our psyches even more since it’s hard to feel compassion for others through a virtual screen.
We have seen celebrities and influencers normalize this self-centered behavior on a public scale. (Hint: Gal Gadot’s 2020 “Imagine” collaboration with her A-List friends in their sprawling mansions to express global solidarity at a time when millions had lost basic essentials). But while we love to ridicule these cringe-worthy antics, any of us can feel that same inclination to only shine the spotlight on what we perceive, want, or need at insensitive times. We all are capable of “being our own advocate” to the harm of someone else.
This begs the question: Is it possible to harness Main Character Energy without falling into an inevitable pattern of egotism? Can we lean into that sense of empowerment without behaving like the sole center of attention? Can we prioritize ourselves, while still holding space for the validity of experiences which might differ from our own?
It Is All About Balance
Of course, we can. The solution just comes down to balance. Circling back to my earlier J.Lo reference, I suspect that rom-com enthusiasts, such as myself, found her character aspirational because she was a study in nuance—unapologetic but compassionate, fierce but tender, strong but vulnerable, in control of her ambitions but simultaneously kind to others.
Those qualities are easy to resonate with. Aren’t we all trying to find this nuance in our lives? Isn’t there something deeply human about rooting for ourselves and those we interact with? I think we can do both. Sure, why not claim the director’s chair of our own narratives? But let’s also be curious, empathetic, and sensitive to another person’s story written from their unique point of view. There’s enough Main Character Energy to pass around.