This blog was written for and published by Future Females | March 2018
What’s your superpower? Giraffes clean their ears with their tongues. I know, that’s both fascinating and gross. Well, not your superpower such as being able to tap your head and rub your tummy at the same time, putting your foot behind your head or being able to eat 3 full plates of your tannie’s briyani consecutively.
What sets you apart? In today’s ultra-homogenous world, where unique and talented has become the new normal and people are just getting smarter and smarter – how are you different?
What gives you the WOW! factor? Just trail through Tedx videos and the opinions range from kindness, sensitivity, vulnerability, being different, your body language, the social brain, great jokes. The list goes on.
If you consider superheroes, I guess Superman is the most versatile. While others may be cooler (I mean seriously? Red underpants?), most of them have one great power like speed or telekinesis. Superman can do lots of stuff. A real value for money guy. He can fly: super-fast. He is super strong. Even his breath is like a tornado. He can change his clothing and hairstyle in seconds inside an incredibly confined space, while taking a call. Now THAT’s the superpower I want!
We, as mere mortals, are more like Superman than we think. As multi-faceted beings with the amazingly complex brains, versatile personalities and complicated psyches, we are incredibly adaptable and have multiple things that we’re great at. Sure, you won’t be great at everything, but focusing and homing in on the things which you are superb at, sounds like a recipe for superpower awesomeness.
The trick first and foremost, is to surrender the things which you think you want to be, but really suck at. Those should be first to go. Most often these are the things that you think you need, so that you are more like those around you. Your first superpower is being you. Once you can rid yourself of the notions of imitating someone you’re not, you’ll have more space to manoeuvre, giving your strengths some room to grow.
What’s your brand? Interwoven with your unique superpowers, you’ll find your brand identity. Think of the people who have morphed into becoming their brands: Richard Branson, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Basetsana Khumalo.
There are also those spectacular humans who have become brands by default, as what they stand for and represent is so impressionable that it was inevitable. You can probably think of quite a few people in this category, people you look up to: admiring the way they carry their personal brand.
What do these incredible people have in common and why are their brands so alluring and successful? I believe they have a few superpowers we can adopt.
Don’t confuse self-promotion with arrogance. Nobody ever hears of the extremely talented public speaker who addressed monologues to her cat. If you have something to say and something to contribute, you better let people know that you exist. Say yes more often, put up your hand more often and if nobody is asking you – go ask the questions.
The easiest thing in the world is to become arrogant as you gain power, stature and money. It’s the default position to be that lady who demands to see the manager, that guy who asks people if they know who he is or that girl who cannot carry her own coffee and umbrella. Eh-eh, sies! Don’t be that person.
Amongst so many positive things we can say about Madiba, I believe his humility was one of his greatest attributes. I don’t think anyone would’ve batted an eyelid if he wanted to make up for lost time in the demand department after 27 years of incarceration. Yet, he remained the man who stood up when the tea lady brought the refreshments into a meeting.
Be that person.
The infamous quote reads: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” This remains so true when it comes to being recognisable and respected. Each of the great personal brands in the world are authentic people. The falsies are easily identified. We all have built-in fake radars. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people, all the time.
With Stephen Hawking’s sad death this week, there were so many odes to his legacy. Yet, there were also many people who voiced their distaste of the fact that he denoted the role of any deity in the creation of the universe.
There will always be conflicting opinions of who you are, what people think you should be doing and what they say is wrong with you. It’s not whether these opinions or wrong or right. You need to remember that you are not chocolate – you cannot make everyone happy.
What’s important for you, is that you act in accordance with your values and remain authentically who you are.
Vulnerability and authenticity are twinsies. They are made from the same DNA and they cannot exist without each other. Being vulnerable is not being weak. Vulnerability is power.
Brené Brown, who bases her books and talks on research, is an expert on the power of vulnerability and has some excellent words on this:
“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”.
“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think – or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”
“Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about what you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations.”
And my favourite:
“Vulnerability is the cornerstone of confidence.”
None of these amazing world class personal brands would’ve been possible without the strive for excellence. With excellence, a vision of where you are going is imperative. If you just patter and potter around, doing things to a mediocre standard, guess what? Success and stability are two destinations you will not be reaching soon.
It takes a helluva effort to stick to your guns. What’s harder is that many times, you will be the only one with the clear vision of what you want to achieve. But never compromise on your standard of excellence. Stay true to your vision and make excellence a habit.
You just love your local coffee shop or restaurant and go there time and time again until they know your name and bring your skinny mocha latté extra foam with a biscuit on the side automatically. Why do you go there all the time? Because they’re consistent. You know what to expect and it’s always a great experience.
And in many ways, consistency and excellence go together. Any business or person who is consistently excellent – who offers a great experience – has a greater chance of success and longevity than those who like to fly by the seat of their pants.
Ever seen a prosperous kick-but firm with the motto “Meh” or “Whatevs”? Nope. Won’t cut it. Don’t let willy-nilly ebbs and flows be part of your personal brand.
Nobody is indestructible or all-powerful, but having the ability to not only stand up after you’ve fallen or heal when you’re wounded, but to continue self-renewal and rejuvenation is the money shot.
You can have the most idealistic plans with the best intentions, with all the talents and charms in the world. You will still fail. You will stumble and you will be wounded. Deal with the fact that this is inevitable and know that it’s how you recover from the fire that counts.
All the greats have faced tremendous onslaughts and unthinkable challenges, most times against the grains of society and status quo. If they stayed down where they were trodden, do you think their names would’ve been written in the stars today?
Cry if you must, take time if you need it. Having the extraordinary ability to renew yourself time and time again, coming back stronger and fired up with passion, is what will set you apart.
There is a reason a hero is called to action. Ever heard of all the great things Couch Potato Man or Lazy Girl have achieved? Without action, well, there really is no satisfaction.
The sports brands have really coined it with “Just do it” and “Impossible is nothing”. Athletes and super humans know all about conquering their limits, facing their fears and sacrificing hugely for their end goal. Usain Bolt could only have discovered his talent by running. Imagine if he never tried.
You can only become a hero by being an Action Hero. Anything less than that is pure fantasy.
Sense of humour
Stephen Hawking said: “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny”. The Joker’s famous line in Dark Knight was “Why so serious?”
Life is so much more worth the living if it’s fun. The best part of this entire process is being able to laugh at yourself and seeing the sense of humour in trying situations.
People who are not stern faced all the time are more approachable – being able to make someone smile brings with it comfort and breaks down barriers.
Humour has recently been dubbed as a character strength by psychologists. Positive psychology, a field that examines what people do well, notes that humour can be used to make others feel good, to gain intimacy or to help buffer stress. Along with gratitude, hope and spirituality, a sense of humour belongs to the set of strengths positive psychologists call transcendence. Together they help us forge connections to the world and provide meaning to life. Appreciation of humour correlates with other strengths, too, such as wisdom and love of learning.
You don’t need to be Trevor Noah though. You just start smiling and see what starts happening around you. And equally important: what starts happening within you. It’s worth a try.
Kryptonite: kill or be killed
Every hero has his or her kryptonite. Those things which don’t make you stronger, but will kill you. We are consistently taught that we can do anything we set our minds to, so we believe that our kryptonite can also be beaten. It can’t. You will waste so much time and energy on things which you know, in your gut, is disastrous for you. Know when to walk away from a toxic person, a toxic situation or a fatal decision.
Kenny Rogers (a country oldie) sings about a poker game: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
Sure, you will make judgement errors until you find your way, but if it doesn’t nourish you, it’s destroying you. Walk away to better things.
In closing, I quite hate the term, (which has become such a cliché), but it works well in this context: lean in-to what makes you great and special and super. Focus on what you do well in your unique way. Don’t be a Clarke Kent with unattractive identity issues. Own it. Just be Superman all the time. There’s a lot of freedom in doing just that.