Your Superpowers Come Naturally
Your superpowers are right in front of you but you may not see them. They come so easily to you that you take them for granted. You think everyone has them, too. They don’t.
I didn’t realize I had musical talent until I was forced to compare myself to other graduate students during a music perception test at Princeton (where I was studying to get a Ph.D. in psychology). I was surprised to learn I’d scored off the charts. That discovery led me to ditch my career as a psychology professor and follow my dream to become a rock star a few years later.
Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) possesses super strength and combat skills because she was born an immortal Amazon. What about you? What do you think your superpowers are?
In October 2018, I was honored to sing at the “She Roars” conference at Princeton. I told stories about what it was like to try to be a superwoman during my days as a graduate student there. Then I had all the women sing “Roar” with me and stand in the Wonder Woman pose.
The next day I met Amy Cuddy, the author of the best-selling book Presence, who made this power pose famous. Amy is a gifted researcher, speaker, and writer. She’s also naturally resilient and that superpower has helped save both her life and her career.
In her 2012 TED talk, which became the second-most-popular TED talk in history, Amy said, ”Nothing makes you feel more powerless than having your core identity taken away from you.” She related how a car accident left her with a significantly lowered IQ after she’d always been a gifted student. No one had expected her to succeed, but she did anyway.
Amy found that adopting the Wonder Woman power pose — hands on hips, feet wide apart, shoulders back — for two minutes can make you feel powerful. This postural feedback gives you the experience of being a laid-back alpha (i.e., a superhero). After that TED talk, it seemed like everyone was posing.
But a few years later, Amy had to use her resilience superpower once again to successfully refute harsh criticism of her research. Some of the attacks were launched by colleagues who were unhappy with her “star” status. The jury is still out on whether power posing raises testosterone and lowers cortisol levels, as Amy originally claimed. But her recent research solidly shows that it makes us feel more powerful. She is currently writing a book about bullying and bravery. How perfect is that?
According to Forbes, “There is a substantial body of research that suggests that ambitious, successful women are not liked (think Hillary Clinton). And not only was Cuddy successful and powerful herself, but the goal of her research was to empower other women and minorities. If people generally don’t like powerful women, we can only imagine what they think of powerful women trying to help other women become powerful.”
When Amy and I spoke at Princeton, she was kind and generous. Her former ballet training still showed in the graceful way she held herself. I didn’t know at the time that one of Amy’s former Princeton classmates had attacked her research, too. We both acknowledged that “Princeton can be tough” and left it at that.
In my case, I was treated poorly by some of the faculty there but at least my classmates supported me. For example, one of the psychology professors questioned a mathematical equation I had written on the board as I stood in front of his class. He commanded me to “sit down,” adding “you’re wrong.” Another graduate student pointed out that my work was correct and the professor said, “carry on” without apologizing. So I did.
Two years later, my advisor switched the order of authorship on my dissertation the night before he submitted it for publication (placing his name first). Around that same time, the chair of the psychology department asked whether I wanted to proceed with a sexual discrimination suit against my advisor after learning that he’d paid me less and given me less freedom than a male student who had also done research for him the previous summer. It was news to me but I declined. I just wanted to get out as soon as possible. I was the first in my class to defend my dissertation. I left Princeton with straight A’s.
Like Amy and myself, you lose your core identity when authority figures question or block your innate abilities. I didn’t register that I could sing or write songs while I was at Princeton because I felt pressured to be a good student and pursue an academic career. Having musical proficiency fell outside the limits of who I was allowed to be.
But even when I tried to excel in school, I was oppressed by a psychology graduate program that had only started admitting women one year prior to my acceptance and didn’t always treat us so well. What I loved most about the 2018 She Roars conference was that Princeton openly apologized for its missteps dealing with female students, especially those of us who matriculated in the early years.
Even if you haven’t been discriminated against because of your gender, race, sexual orientation, or beliefs, I imagine that this generally rings true for you, too. Suffering a loss, going through a challenging time, or having an authority figure squash your precious talents can sidetrack you from your dreams. My intention is to show you how Amy and I reclaimed our power so that you can do so, too.
As Kahlil Gibran said, “when you are born, your work is placed in your heart.” Stand true to who you are. Do whatever it takes to discover and develop your natural gifts. Honor your path. When you need a jolt of power, try standing in the Wonder Woman pose. It works! If you’re a guy, just pretend you’re Superman or Thor when you do it.
The abilities you express without even trying are your superpowers.
So, think about it. What are you naturally good at? What comes easily to you that you do better than others? Running, teaching, drawing, accounting, schmoozing, cooking, or something else? Compare yourself to the people around you and find out. Then go out and do it.