When I was in fourth grade, I got my teacher fired.
Our classroom wasn’t a friendly place. When the door was closed, the kids that didn’t have a ready response to the question of the moment, were ridiculed. The environment was governed by the rules of shame and blame. The tone was mean spirited and occasionally personal insults were passed out to ensure no one would think they could escape the need for serious improvement. My blood boiled. One day I told her to stop. She told me to mind my own business and gave me demerits for speaking out. My concern became an obsession: this teacher was damaging us for life. If the adults around us weren’t going to stop this injustice, I would do it. And so, I took detailed notes. Everyday. I knew that if my case wasn’t strong this would back-fire. Finally, the day came that I would not wait any longer. I went to the office. I shared my notes. The next week our teacher had to leave town and we had a substitute for the rest of the school year.
This was a major theme in my life from a very young age. I could spot inconsistencies and mediocrity a mile away. I absolutely could not ignore situations where people, time or things were mistreated or misused. I thought all adults were dumb, or not paying attention. My instinct was always to intervene.
As you can imagine, this didn’t always work out in my favor. In most cases, I was disciplined for my efforts. I was asked to focus on my studies, mind my own business and trust the adults “in charge”. This made me angry and rebellious. I would often correct teachers in front of the class and tell coaches which drills to do at practice. I was told I was annoying, bossy and inappropriate. The more they resisted, the more I pushed back. The results were usually me quitting or me being asked to leave after futile attempts by all parties to get me to “get in line” and accept things as they were.
Fast forward to now, my 22nd year as an executive coach and consultant. Thanks to a few teachers and mentors that recognized a raw ability to quickly assess a situation and then directly communicate it to others, like an untamed, unrelenting superpower that just needed refinement.
You see, superpowers are just that - - - they are super. And they are powerful. And no one has the same one. We are granted these superpowers so that we will use them to help other humans. Superpowers tend to be awkward, out of control and inappropriate when they first show up. Like the X-Men. (In case you missed the movies, these characters have extreme powers and abnormalities that on the surface can make a child look and act like a monster. With the right mentorship and development, most of them use their newly harnessed power to save the world.) These very special characteristics make it difficult for us to blend in because they are one of a kind, purpose-driven assignments. They show up when we are young enough to still believe we are powerful. The unfortunate thing is, that parents, teachers, and bosses need us to fit in, work well with others and meet basic requirements. Superpowers need not apply. And so most kids are conditioned to use only behaviors that enable them to please the adults, not the powers designed to disrupt the program and create new worlds.
Now, let’s talk about you.
Like most adults, you are probably coming to work in your street clothes instead of your “super suit.” You may have no memory of your unique power. You may have blocked it out because it got you in trouble a lot when you lived at home. I find that even the most confident and successful people are often very unclear about what they do uniquely well now, let alone what differentiated them or stirred their passion when they were 8.
No need to be sad or ashamed. Work requires us to focus on “stuff” to keep the wheels of commerce moving. And this “stuff” rarely requires superpower deployment.
You know what I’m talking about…
Going to meetings
Dealing with all the people who keep you from doing the stuff
And because this is somewhat satisfying and occasionally gratifying, you go for it. You commit to the “stuff” and abandon any trace of the superpower. Shocking, I know. We’re spending days in buildings full of people preoccupied, stressed out, unfulfilled, with superpowers packed away in their mental attic.
What is amazing is that some people know what their superpowers are and pretend they don’t. Or they act “normal” so that they blend in. It would be way too dangerous to fully deploy your powers while doing the “stuff”. Like many characters in the comics, there's an element of hiding needed to allow the person to live a normal life without having their super identity fully exposed. Peter Parker just wants to be the high school kid that fits in, not be known as Spiderman. Bruce Wayne the Billionaire is secretly Batman.
If you haven’t noticed, we are in need of a major intervention. (Pretend that I’m flashing that light they use in Gotham City to call Batman to service.) We need you to remember your superpower. We need you to deploy your superpower before it’s too late.
Tips for Super Power Recall
Try to recall what you pretended to be as a child. (I was the teacher. Every. Time) Think about what you were passionate about, enough to take risks in your early life. (i.e. You would speak out, you saved your money to fund it, you thought about it A LOT, you did things for it even if you knew people would make fun of you.) Consider what you naturally do well and imagine if you used it 10x more than you do now. What is holding you back? Recall feedback (formal or informal) you have received. Identify the qualities and behaviors you use all the time in spite of them annoying or causing issues with other people. These may be underdeveloped or unharnessed superpowers waiting for refinement.
This is the challenge. Your mission, if you choose to accept it. We need you, Superman.