3 Steps to Discover your Superpowers
We all have a Superpower! Here’s how to discover yours…
When we hear the word “superpower”, most of us think of contemporary characters from comics, movies and TV, but for as long as we’ve told stories, they’ve been full of demi-gods, heroes and guys in capes. For whatever reason, we seem to be obsessed with the idea of people with supernatural powers and the adventures that engulf them.
In this article I’ll argue that while humans might be lacking in supernatural abilities like invisibility, telepathy or flight, we have numerous hidden ‘Superpowers’ that are not just very human and personal, but really define who we are and could be on the deepest level. However, for a variety reasons, we’ve never understood this, let alone discovered these strengths and learned how exploit them.
From research and game design to the discovery of Superpowers
This idea of personal Superpowers began to emerge a few years ago at MIT, while I was studying how people learn through passion. At the time I was focused on gamers, asking them to chronicle all games they’d played at various stages of their lives and then to tell me their personal stories.
The extent to which the content of the games impacted how people made sense of their stories surprised me, but after years of exploratory research and hundreds of biographies, an even more surprising insight emerged: While sharing their gaming experience, the players disclosed all of the personal strengths they had developed over time. Interestingly, these weren’t common skills like problem-solving, communication or creative thinking, but instead referred to qualities like getting the bigger picture, channelling fictive characters or constructive playful leadership. However, these strengths seemed to be trapped within the games, with players knowing neither how to apply them to other domains, nor even how to communicate them to other people.
With these insights in mind, I started investigating whether non-gamers and people from different backgrounds and cultures also shared this pattern, and my research showed that yes, almost everyone had personal, yet hidden strengths. At the time, I was also doing a coaching training at CTI and exploring Gestalt Therapy and the potential of Roleplaying for transformational experiences. Everything I was learning seemed to point to the fact that we all hold powers that shape our passions and desires, but unfortunately tend to shy away from them. We can’t yet see the enormous potentials they hold for us.
Our deepest strengths are well hidden inside our own mental box; but we cannot see the powerful treasures it holds.
So what are Superpowers anyways? On the surface, there’s no simple definition because these abilities vary from person to person, but they do seem to have two things in common: first, they seem only to surface in an ‘open space’ where few rules apply, and second, they are abilities that we tend to surround with strong feelings of insecurity.
Why don’t we embrace our Superpowers?
There are many reasons why we struggle to discover and live our Superpowers. The following examples highlight a few factors:
1. Schools are no fertile ground
Most of our school systems are highly structured, emphasize the acquisition of formal knowledge across a range of subjects, and manufacture motivation with grades. In this atmosphere, let’s say your Superpower is that you “see” how shapes, forms and colors “make sense”, and how a message is formed through them. This means that you have the ability to build bridges between logic and art. But at what point will a teacher identify, let alone help you to develop, that strength? Let’s be frank: if you’re unlucky you might be told your artistic talent is average and your math skills suck. Without someone to mirror your talents and empower you to explore your passions, you might just close the box that holds your Superpowers. But no worries, it gets worse…
2. You are not your job
Once the educational system has spit you out, the job market (or your miserable bank balance) tells you what skills and competences are valued and worth developing. But our abilities are often so much greater than what’s asked from us! Let’s return to our example of our bridge-building design master, who made it through school and now works in an advertising agency, producing visuals for clients day in and day out. Does this have anything to do with his superpower? Ummm…kind of. But work is not interested in his Superpower. Work is interested in him doing what his superiors want him to do, and as the evaluation of his work has a strong influence on his sense of self-worth (thank you school system), he‘s more focused on pleasing people around him, than on developing his own Superpowers. Now maybe this works out for him for a while. But chasing a carrot — rather than finding the treasure within himself — is not the best strategy for navigating an uncertain future. For instance… Imagine a future where automated machines do most tasks, and most jobs are redundant. Wouldn’t you like to be in control of your Superpower, to contribute in shaping the world?
3. Superpowers are a curse and a cure
Living your Superpowers is very fulfilling, and I’ve been surprised by what an impact they can have on a person’s life. But we’ve already learned how hard it is to get there: it’s hard to find them, and it’s easy to lose touch. They can become buried beneath other obligations or responsibilities or fears, and in some cases, we might even try to stop others from living their Superpowers. But it gets even crazier. Superpowers are also a double-edge sword. Why? Well imagine yours is empathy: you can feel what others feel. This ability gives you a more holistic understanding of situations, BUT you can’t turn it off, and overwhelmed by input, you might lose track of your own feelings and perspectives. In this way, Superpowers are often both a curse and a cure. Because they’re a part of who we are, it’s hard to step away from them, and it’s painful not to be fully aligned with them, once you know what they are. Sadly, since most of us are amateurs in handling our Superpowers, we focus more on their negative side-effects and might even consider them to be weaknesses or insecurities. Other may reinforce these perceptions, calling our skills shameful, useless, or even urging us to suppress them.
So how do we unlock this mental box, finally releasing our unique powers?
3 steps to discover your personal Superpowers
Most of us have spent all our lives neglecting our Superpowers and even though we can’t revive them overnight, there are many different ways to get in touch with them. But it’s a long-term process and one that requires exploring, sharing and getting out of your comfort zone.
Step 1 : Start searching for what feels different and meaningful to you
My experience in game design and coaching seems to suggest that discovering your true strengths requires commitment and experimentation. Think about life phases or moments when you felt deeply empowered. Find the patterns that lie behind the tasks and problems you master confidently. Think about what you are most passionate about and dig deeper — what makes the experience so meaningful to you? Also, ask close friends what Superpower(s) they see in you and explore the feeling their feedback triggers in you. Write, draw, build something that expresses your Superpowers. Don’t be irritated if it can’t be done easily! Take it step by step and be attentive to your inner voices. Oh, and by the way, this is a never ending game: once you find something, dig deeper and ask yourself what the Superpower beyond that power might be.
Step 2 : Create your inner hero and put your villain voice in its place
In superhero stories the villain shows up without asking or — worse case scenario — in a moment of confusion or weakness. The same thing holds true for our own inner critics. At the verge of something interesting, something unique and impactful, isn’t there a voice whispering: Who do you think you are? What will others think? What if you fail? We all know these voices.(There’s tons of literature on this if you’re interested.). Of course, you’re not your villain voice. However, even your villain serves some purpose, as he usually pops up whenever new possibilities knock at your door…
And this is the very moment you need to call your inner hero in order to create a constructive voice that reminds you of your inner strengths. How does this hero look? Is she or he real or fictional? These questions may seem funny, but we need to learn to communicate with our hero!
When the inner villain pops up without asking, it’s the inner hero that needs to be called.
Step 3: Name your Superpower and express it in different contexts
Once you start getting in touch with your Superpower and figure out how to own it, it’s time to… live them out. Give your Superpower a name, share it with others. Embrace what you have learned about yourself throughout the journey, and do not be scared to grow beyond your limits. Do not make the mistake of keeping your Superpower a secret! Be brave and let it grow with you.
If you already know how to express and integrate your Superpowers into your job, don’t stop there. Why not see how your inner strengths could be brought into your relationships, even your partnerships? Make them a part of your everyday-life, even if that means shopping at the local supermarket or taking a walk in nature with your Superpower. It will be exciting, challenging, and surprising all at once, because this is what personal growth is supposed to be.
Don’t ask what your Superpower can do for you, ask what you can do for your Superpower
Some final words about an infinite journey
Over the last years I had the chance to work with numerous coaching clients and groups, while continuing my personal research into these topics. What have I learned? That curiosity drives our discoveries. That exploring our Superpowers is an unending exploration. That the deeper we dive into our potential, the more nuances and opportunities unfold before our eyes.
What is my personal Superpower, you might ask? It’s guiding people. Therefore, one of my greatest challenges is to allow others to guide me. Growing means accepting your strengths and exploring the hidden treasures you hold — for yourself and for others. Let me tell you: there is absolutely nothing that should stop you from exploring your Superpowers.
Thanks for reading. In our work on Superpower Discovery we fuel the potential of a world of deeply empowered people .