“I’m a superhero.”
I once watched a small boy come into a coffee shop with a costume on. He literally flew through the door—one hand outstretched in front him with a giant fist in the air, the other behind his space suit shirt and cape. Between sound effects and jumping motions, I heard his mom’s continuous caution to be careful.
Though constant, her warnings seemed only to trigger an extra effort on the superhero’s part to collide with everything above ground level. It wasn’t long before I found my own table being bumped, causing a momentary delay in the traveler’s final destination. As he looked up at me, he said, “I’m a superhero,” and then confidently “flew” off.
I was reminded how quickly children are able to adopt a persona, identity or character as their own. Kids decide who they want to be based on their interests, and as soon as they put on a costume, they look at the world differently. They assume they have changed. They believe they hold the same characteristics, traits, powers, and abilities of their role model. Like the guest at my coffee table, you hear “I am a superhero.” You don’t hear, “I’m Johnny, and I’m pretending to be a superhero.”
What does a youngster in a costume have to teach us?
When I try to translate that experience back into the work world, I’m a little disappointed. It seems I have a lot to learn from my brief encounter with a superhero—perhaps we all do.
Like many, I’ve chosen a profession out of my interests. I learn and grow each day through the success and failure of my work, all of which is like the components of a truly legitimate costume. While this elaborate and growing costume and these experiences should create confidence in my abilities and in myself…I ignore them. I credit success to luck—and failure to lack of ability, skill or knowledge. I’m worried people will look at my costume and see the holes. Instead of thinking I’m a superhero, they’ll ask, “Who’s that girl dressed up, pretending to be a superhero?”
Are we all just frauds?
I think Seth Godin discusses this fear best when addressing the work of artists and professionals in his book The Icarus Deception. He states, “Deep down, we’re worried that we will be discovered as the frauds that we know we are…. Everyone is lonely and everyone feels like a fraud…This is part of the human condition.”
No matter what our work, no matter how much experience we have, and no matter how qualified we are, it’s safe to say we often feel like frauds. We all have days when we wonder how we are addressing a room full of people looking to us for answers. We all have moments when we think someone else would be better suited or more equipped to handle our responsibilities. We all feel inadequate in some way, shape, or form for the role we step into day in and day out.
And while our weaknesses seem like gaping holes in the costumes of experience we wear, the truth is everyone has holes in their costume. As Godin states “It’s the human condition.”
It’s easy to let those holes be a focal point, and to pretend that you are alone in feeling like a fraud. It’s also easy to hold onto a costume but never gain the confidence to wear it well in public, denying yourself the opportunity to use your skills for the good of your organization, society and the world around you.
No more pretending. Own what you’ve got.
Though difficult, it is much more beneficial (to you and to others) to stop worrying so much about the holes in your costume and the limitations you may have—and start owning your identity. You have opportunities and experiences that have placed you where you are today. If you were truly a fraud, someone would have noticed. And even if you’re not convinced, until you’re called out as a fraud it’s time to stop saying, “I’m pretending to be a superhero.” Start saying “I am a superhero.”
Written by: Stacie Burley, Former Milestone Leadership Associate