My superpower is the ability to work really, really hard. I have incredible persistence and work ethic. This has served me well. I’ve made millions of dollars, and achieved some pretty impressive things. On the other hand, it’s cost me greatly. I learned this in the process of losing (spending) all that money. I discovered that my superpower—one that is prized in the USA and particularly in Silicon Valley—is also my kryptonite.
As is typical with superpowers, there are two main ways that this gritty superpower operates as kryptonite in my life. First of all, it makes my life crappy. When I work all the time, I neglect other aspects of my life: my primary relationship (with Cindy), my health and fitness, my sleep, my other interests, and perhaps most importantly, my peace of mind. When my life becomes unbalanced, I suffer. My life had become extremely unbalanced back in 2007 when I quit my job and embarked on a ten-year sabbatical, which was a journey to find myself.
The other way that this superpower is also a form of kryptonite is that it’s self-defeating. The more I focus on success, the more stressed I become, and that leads to me being less successful. Often the best and most powerful ideas come while I’m sitting in a hot-tub or meditating. Often my creative passion and enthusiasm is greatest after I’ve taken care of my other needs, after I have refueled and regenerated. As I have written, my primary relationship is the foundation of my success, so taking care of that is often a much more effective way of ensuring success than spending another hour at work.
In my experience of working with people, I have found that this pattern holds true for everyone, even though each of us has a unique superpower. When we unconsciously become fixated on applying our primary superpower in all situations, we suffer in those moments and we become less effective. Below are some general classes of superpower and how they can operate as kryptonite.
Superpower: You have high standards for integrity, and will call-out signs of others not sticking to what they promised.
Kryptonite: Because you are so focused on the integrity of others, you sometimes fail to walk your talk.
Superpower: You’re passionate about helping other people, and taking care of their needs.
Kryptonite: You drive people away because you’re too insistent on helping them. Meanwhile you neglect yourself, and others can feel your resentment.
The Achiever (this is me)
Superpower: You are driven to succeed, and will persist through all adversity.
Kryptonite: Focused on what the world values rather than what you value, you end up spending all your time and energy striving for goals that don’t really matter to you. You achieve shallow success, and fail where it really counts.
The Artist (this is Cindy)
Superpower: You have exquisite aesthetic, and know what you like. This is because you are very sensitive, which enables you to empathize deeply with others.
Kryptonite: You often long for things you don’t have and can get emotionally caught-up in other people’s dramas. Because of this, life can get ugly.
Superpower: You can deeply investigate and understand things. You often know a lot about everything.
Kryptonite: You persist in learning more and more about something instead of taking action on it. Because you don’t get started, you avoid the deepest learning available: the learning that comes from doing.
Superpower: You are extremely discerning and can see the flaws in any argument or plan.
Kryptonite: You end up being skeptical about everything, including any idea you or others have, so you shut projects down rather than improving them. Because of this, your distrust prevents you from living fully.
The Thrill Seeker
Superpower: You’re passionate about trying everything, and excited about starting projects. You have a start-up mentality.
Kryptonite: Because you’re always starting something new, you are too distracted to finish the things you started. You start fires, but you don’t collect the wood to feed them. What you were so excited to start does not become what you originally envisioned.
Superpower: You are confident and you are willing and able to take charge. Others trust in your leadership.
Kryptonite: By taking control, you hurt others. You feel defeated when this leads to you realizing you cannot control everything.
Superpower: You can see all perspectives in a situation and can reconcile differences between others. You can end external conflict.
Kryptonite: You forget that you also have needs and you create overwhelming internal conflict by not addressing them. Because of this, you often feel forgotten and neglected.
The broad categories above are based on the Enneagram personality-typing system. In my judgement, this is the best system available. It’s extremely descriptive and provides guidance for growth and integration of each type. I recommend reading The Wisdom of the Enneagram.
As we became adults, we settled on a single strategy for adapting to the world. This strategy was highly effective in our most trying situations while growing up. We honed this skill so that it became a superpower. Unfortunately, as adults we then apply the same strategy unconsciously to all situations, whether it’s adaptive or not. By fixating on this superpower, we drive its desired outcome away. Now we have the opportunity to learn other strategies for dealing with life. In so doing, we can repurpose our superpower as a valuable tool, rather than using it blindly as a survival mechanism.
While we can all slot into one of the above broad categories, each of us has a unique superpower. For example, Cindy’s primary superpower is her persistence and insistence on going deep emotionally, and her unwillingness to tolerate superficiality. “Most people can’t go as deep as me,” she says. And on that note, if you’re up for a challenge, Cindy is available to support and guide you in repurposing your superpower so that you will achieve everything that you desire in life.
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Thanks to Cindy Riach for co-editing this article with me.