We all have them: powerful capabilities bestowed by some freak accident that give us the power to vanquish evil and save the world.
Okay, or—perhaps more likely for most of us—they’re incredible talents that we were born with under more normal circumstances, and that may or may not be used towards such a dramatic end.
But the fact remains that all human beings have these amazing abilities that we’re often not even aware of and that have the power to change the world.
They’re responsible for humankind’s greatest accomplishments. They allow each of us to contribute unique and needed gifts to the world in ways that nobody else can. And studies have shown that people who use them are happier, less stressed, more fulfilled, and more productive.
They’re also key to finding meaningful work you love. If you read my blog post about the 5 steps to finding your calling, you know that Step #1 is all about identifying these superpowers and claiming them with confidence.
But how can you know what your superpowers are, and—since I know some people will be asking—how can you even be sure that you have them?
I’ve met lots of people who thought they didn’t have any extraordinary capabilities, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t actually have at least one. Superpowers are real, and we all have them. It’s just that they’re less obvious than you’d think, and it usually takes some work to uncover them.
So here are 5 fun things you can do today to reveal your superpowers, discover your mission, and make your mark:
1. Get curious about the people you admire.
Try this: make a list of 5 people you admire. For each one, write down what it is about them that you respect or appreciate. Do this first, before reading any further (or skip to the next section if you can’t do it right now.) Seriously, this exercise will only work if you don’t know what’s coming next.
Okay, so you have your list of admired people and qualities, right?
Now take a few minutes and journal about the ways in which you exhibit these same qualities. See if you can recall any times when you’ve demonstrated them in the past.
The qualities you wrote down for others are very likely key elements of your own superpowers.
Here’s why: the things we admire in others are really core aspects of ourselves. (And conversely, the things that irritate us about other people are also ours to claim, but that’s a topic for a different post.)
The key here is not to get caught up comparing yourself to the people you look up to or what they accomplished. This isn’t really about achievements. What happens when we use our superpowers is not an indication of their strength.
I’m going to say that again, because I think it’s important to really take in: What happens when we use our superpowers is not an indication of their strength.
When we put our gifts to work, the results are like an iceberg. We see only about 10% of the actual effects of our efforts. There’s just no way to know how we’ve impacted everyone or everything we touched, all the ways we benefited them, or how they then went on to help others because of what we gave them.
So without judging the caliber of the qualities you’ve identified, just feel into which ones might belong to you as well. Anything you’re willing to lay claim to is a superpower worth celebrating.
2. Start an Infinite List of what you do well.
If you’re not sure what an Infinite List is, it’s just a list that never ends. What you do well and the contributions you make to the world are neverending, and it can be very helpful to write them down so you can start to notice patterns.
You can do this by taking 5-10 minutes each evening to reflect on and record what you did well that day and what you contributed to others or the world.
The key here is to make sure you’re not discounting any of the good that you do. As a general rule of thumb, if it created any benefits for anyone, if it wasn’t a total disaster, or if you felt remotely good about it even if you’re not sure why, then you should put it on your list.
And keep in mind that small contributions can make a big difference. When I did this exercise for the first time, I eventually realized that something as simple as planting a flower in my yard could bring joy to a passing neighbor, or smiling at someone and extending a warm greeting could make their bad day better.
I recommend adding at least 20 things to your list everyday to make sure you’re fully acknowledging all the good that you do, no matter how small.
After a few weeks of this, you can go back and look for patterns in what you’re good at, including which types of actions you enjoyed most, which had the best results, and which felt most important to you.
3. Excavate your proudest accomplishments.
This one is pretty straightforward, though for some reason we rarely pause to do it.
Make a list of 5-10 accomplishments that you feel most proud of. Keep in mind that these may or may not have anything to do with what society considers important achievements. For example, graduating from college isn’t one of my favorite accomplishments. Working through depression, writing a novel when I was 12, and maintaining close relationships with my family are.
You’re looking for the accomplishments that are most meaningful to you. They may be big, like recording an album, or smaller, like hosting a fun dinner party for a group of friends. Either works.
Once you list your accomplishments, pick the 3-5 that you’re most proud of or that you enjoyed the most. Then tell the story of how you got the results that you did, and what skills, strengths, or characteristics you drew upon.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between skills and strengths. Your superpowers are more about your strengths (though they can certainly help you learn skills). It can be helpful to list both, but try to avoid getting too caught up in what skills you do or don’t have, because you can always learn new ones. Your superpowers, on the other hand, are yours to claim no matter what experience and training you have.
Once you’ve made your list, go through and look for patterns. See what themes or common threads you can find.
4. Ask the people who know you well.
Often our core gifts come so naturally to us that we assume that everyone can do them. It’s a common but debilitating mistake.
If you’re having a hard time believing that you have any superpowers or getting clear on what they are, the best thing to do is often to ask someone else. I recommend choosing 3-5 people who know you well in different contexts (eg work, family, friends, and hobbies or leisure activities).
Ask each person to spend 3 or so minutes describing what they like or appreciate about you, what they see as your natural gifts, or what they think you do well.
Don’t interrupt them as they’re talking, and for goodness’ sake don’t discount what they say. Instead, take detailed notes or record their words so you can come back to them later. Do your best to believe that they’re telling you the truth, and perhaps even allow yourself to bask in the glow of well-deserved praise if you can.
When they’re done, thank them and do the same for them.
Once again, when you’ve done this with a few people, review what they said and look for patterns. Keep in mind that just because they said it doesn’t mean you have to claim it. I believe it’s important to filter any feedback you get from others by asking yourself: What of this feels helpful and true to me?
Finally, also keep in mind that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to base your work life around it. We all usually have some superpowers that we don’t like to use. (I, for one, am very good at administration and organization, but they’re not things I love to do, at least not at work.)
You get to decide which superpowers to focus on, so when making your list, always ask yourself which ones you enjoy using most.
5. Follow the flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has defined flow as an “optimal experience” in which a person feels “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” He goes so far as to say it’s the secret to happiness.
Most of us have experienced that feeling at some point when we’re involved in a task, often creative, that feels worthwhile and enjoyable. Our focus is completely on what we’re doing, we’re not fighting ourselves or wishing we were somewhere else, and time seems to vanish into thin air.
Flow is a pretty powerful clue about where your superpowers lie. To follow it, just start to notice when you’re so engaged in something that you lose track of time. It may be at work, but it also may be outside of it. Before I started coaching, for example, I could talk with friends about our internal worlds and what we were learning about ourselves and our patterns for hours and it would feel like just a few minutes had gone by.
As a side note, it can also be pretty helpful to reflect on what you used to love to do as a kid. Children are in flow states all the time, so remembering what you spent many satisfied hours doing as a kid can be another great clue. This is actually how I eventually returned to my love of writing—once I remembered how much I had loved to write as a child, I could no longer justify not doing it as an adult.
The main point here is that what you love to do is often directly related to your superpowers. I like to think of it as the universe’s way of making sure we contribute our greatest gifts to the world and create the things that only we can, by making it enjoyable and inherently fulfilling.
Follow that delicious cookie crumb trail and eventually you’re sure to find your calling.
PS If you’re still wanting help, there are some paid assessments that can help you identify your strengths. I reviewed my favorites here.