the art of discovering your innate genius, your badass gift to the world




Here’s an example of word-of-mouth in action: a friend of blogger and brand editor Abby Kerr told her about a book called THE BIG LEAP, by Gay Hendricks. Abby read it and blogged about it, which is how I discovered it, and now I am blogging about it to you.

Because I liked the section about superpowers (the same section that Abby highlights).

Your superpower is your unique ability

your special gift

your magical something that you excel at that is helpful to the people around you.

I would also add that it is easy. In fact, it is so easy for you to do, so natural, that chances are you probably don’t even acknowledge it for the cool awesome thing that it is. You barely acknowledge it at all. You take it so completely for granted that, if you do think about it, which you don’t, you would just kind of figure that everybody does it.

No no no no, my friends.


This is why a book like Tim Rath’s STRENGTHS FINDER– and the accompanying online test — is so bloody helpful. It’s the outside perspective that can nudge you into a greater awareness – or even just an awareness – of the voodoo that you do.

For example: when I took the test, I discovered that my primary strength was something called Input.

Which basically translates to the ability to suck up lots of information and then break it down for others “with the force of your voice and the power of your presence”.

Another top strength is something called Futuristic: I get excited by looking into the future and what I can see in there – and then working to manifest that.

Did it occur to me before I took the test that either of these things was some kind of ‘ability’? Not on your freaking life. I read like I breathe, and I observe and listen to the world around me, and the rest seemed the natural outcome of that.

But when I’m engaging in these activities, or activating these abilities — or however you want to look at it – I am happy, in that unself-conscious, filled-with-the-moment, connected and invigorated way. Which is how Marcus Buckingham defines ‘strength’, and the marvelous Danielle LaPorte often emphasizes in her blog and forthcoming book.

A strength is not necessarily something that you’re good at.

A strength is something that energizes you, inspires you, and makes you feel most like yourself.

A weakness is not necessarily something that you’re bad at.

A weakness is something that depletes you, drains you, and makes you feel disconnected (and despairing).

(Right now, as I write this, I am happy. Later today, when I am walking around the construction site that is the current state of my new house, and attending to a bunch of house-related details, I will not be happy. But my companion, who is one of those methodical and detail-oriented types, will be overjoyed, which is why I am bringing him along.)


Your strengths, according to Gay Hendricks, author of THE BIG LEAP, make up the larger picture within which you still need to find your superpower, your “innate genius”. He invokes the image of Russian dolls. When you open one doll, you find a smaller doll nestled inside it, and when you open that doll, you find a still smaller doll, and so on, until you come to the final very cute very tiny doll: the deepest level, the essence, of you.

He says:

You may not even realize that your unique ability is what is driving your success in applying the larger skill…That gift is your greatest contribution to the people around you. It’s the pinnacle skill of your working life. You can also use it to great benefit in your nonworking life….(There may be millions of people who have it. However, it’s usually unique in your particular circle or work setting.)

He suggests that you start with the outermost doll: the larger skill that is our first, surface answer to the question, “What is your unique ability?”

For example.

My first answer: “My writing.”

My ability to write, my ease and comfort with it, surfaced early in life, and was a key strategy in navigating the less-than-ideal terrain of my growing-up. I used it not just to escape, and to get through stressful situations, but also to thrive. Without it, I honestly don’t know who – or where – I would be in my life right now; just the thought hollows my stomach and gives me a sick feeling.

All of which meets Hendricks’ criteria for “unique ability”.

But then you have to go further in.

Hendricks advises you to ask yourself a series of questions (a Russian doll set of questions).

Start with:

I’m at my best when I’m…..

And then proceed to doll #2:

When I’m at my best, the exact thing I’m doing is…

And doll #3:

When I’m doing that, the thing I love most about it is……

….and you’ll know you’re getting to your essence, your superpower, when you start to feel as if the face of the cosmos is smiling deep inside you and saying YES. THIS.

When I thought on it a bit more, and back to when I was younger, I realized that I often hit my best notes when I was on a stage of some sort: giving a speech or dramatic performance (I won awards for both) or even cracking people up at a dinner party. Which has nothing to do with my writing per se…and yet seemed connected.

Especially since the whole reason I started writing seriously, from fourth grade on, had to do with the attention it got me from teachers and peers. It was the experience of standing in front of a class and holding people spellbound. There is nothing more amazing than that.

So doll #2: I’m at my best when I’m connecting with an audience.

I thought about how it feels when I do that – when I’m doing it well. It’s a sensation that goes beyond words – it feels primal, visceral, intuitive, instinctive. It feels like I’m tuning into the world, into the people around me, and receiving from them and then responding to that. It’s a performance, but it’s also a kind of dialogue, an improv: I mirror you to feel what you feel and be in your world, and then lead you where you maybe didn’t know you wanted to go.

I brought this up with a close friend of mine. She’s seen me through the demise of my marriage and nasty aftermath and, now, the re-invention of an identity and a life. She knows me very well.

“When I’m at my best,” I told her, “I feel like I’m reaching people on an intellectual or emotional level, preferably both. Except that doesn’t really get at the feeling of it. Because when I’m really at my best, I feel like I’m reaching into some kind of collective soul, and catching hold of something unspoken. And then I’m speaking it — leading it — in a way that other people can relate to.”

“You’re at your best when you’re vibrating with this sense of resonance,” she said immediately. “For you it’s all about connecting and resonating with other people, with the culture, with the world at large. Your writing is the main vehicle for that, but you do it in other ways too.” (She couldn’t help adding, “That, by the way, is why you couldn’t stay married to your ex. It was impossible to do that with him, it’s not something he values.” Point taken.)

The more I thought about this, the more it made sense. If you go back to Hendricks’ point that your superpower is what you develop early in life to navigate the major challenge of your childhood, then I developed the ability to connect with people in a way that wasn’t threatening to me; in a way that I could control.


I was so jazzed by this exercise that in an ongoing email exchange with a friend I tacked on a by-the-way, what’s-your-superpower kind of question. (His response was a tepid, “I’ll have to think about that.” Boo.)

What’s your superpower?

Think about it, and then say in the comments below.

Or email me at

‘Cause I really want to know.

Don’t you?

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Aug 4, 2011

19 comments · Add Yours

Boiled down to its simplest essence, mine is translation. (Great post, Justine.) xo


can you elaborate on that? translating what to what, and what exactly are you doing when you’re doing that?


Fantastic! I’ve got some books to go out and buy now….. I have a 3-year-old daughter who is digging on princesses and a 5-year-old son who is – of course – all about superheroes. Having kids is a great excuse for a lot of things – acting a fool in public, singing badly at the top of your lungs – and now learning all about superheroes! The princess thing doesn’t appeal to me in quite the same way. But what is there not to love about superpowers??!! ANYWAY….my unique ability would be art, but off I go now to start opening up the little dolls to get to my superpower. I’ll let you know! xo Cheryl


What is it about the whole princess thing? I never really got that, and now, because I was apparently destined to have sons with nary a daughter in sight, I probably never will. And I agree: superpowers are AWESOME. Let me know! xo


I know! That’s what’s cool about the movie ‘Tangled’, as I was reminded this week when the kiddos wanted to re-watch it. She’s a princess – AND has a superpower!


Thank the gods. Please, just give the princess a freaking superpower. Something that she actually *does* and gets masterful at and is recognized for and has nothing to do with being pretty. (Being pretty isn’t a bad thing. It should just never ever ever be the only thing.)

And which reminds me that I haven’t seen that movie, but I know my boys really liked it.


The princesses are the essence of femininity. They have everything a girl could want. The sparkly gowns and all the beautiful things. Not to mention, they live lives of leisure. LOL I, myself, don’t do the princess thing, but I have one. :) Thanks for the superpower question, “I’ll have to think about that” too. LOL


When I’m at my happiest, feeling totally in the zone is when I can ask the right questions to help someone connect with something they’ve been struggling with. I’m a badass sounding board.


Wow, Justine – so much to fathom! So allow me to touch on just a few points. In many ways, one’s core superpowers are also one’s core intentions, our Soul’s journey, that which invigorates and nurtures us. Fulfilling our core goals, like writing or performing, brings us to another level of completion,which is in alignment with whom we really are, and where are superpowers live. We run into resistance (the pinching off of LIFE ENERGY) when we move toward targets based on who we THINK we are, or who we THINK we should be. A mental/emotional contradiction then sets in. It’s a short circuit in spiritual energy which produces negative feelings like depression, frustration, resentment, or anger. But…when we are in alignment with our true selves, our Soul Consciousness, we are open to the flow of all energy, from our higher selves, from others, from All-There-Is. Many people call it, BEING IN THE ZONE.

Now, can one apply these principals to relationships, to marriage? I think so. I believe that relationships work best when both people have their core intentions in alignment, as well as their core beliefs and moral principals. Nothing new here. But think of this in terms on an alignment of superpowers. If a superpower is one of the expressions of who we are, and from where we draw our inner strength, would it not be advantageous if the person we loved understood us from that same perspective?

You quoted: “That, by the way, is why you couldn’t stay married to your ex. It was impossible to do that with him, it’s not something he VALUES.”

Could be, that it’s not something he IS?

Just something to think about.


PS: My superpower is my striving to show how we are all connected.


My superpower is translation too. This means several things to me. It means helping people translate technical, complicated ideas into stories that non-specialists can understand. It means speaking English and Spanish and Chinese, sometimes in the same conversation. I think adapting to new environments is a form of translation too.

What depletes me? Long-term planning. Strategery. Lack of sleep.



THE BIG LEAP is a book that truly changed my life. I was experience immense writer’s block — hadn’t worked on my book for almost six months, and was about to write it off as a pile of meaningless cliches (thanks for that, inner critic). Then my coach at the time sent me the book, and I read all about how we set Upper Limits for ourselves that we’re afraid to reach for – that we don’t think we deserve. I think part of finding your superpower is having the courage to say that “I’m worthy of success, and I am worthy of serving the world in this way.” Thanks for another awesome post :)


I’m not sure how to excapsulate what i think my “superpower” is into one word. I’d try and use Vibrancy, Enthusiasm, Energy, Imagination, Passion, compassion. I feel like mine would have to be the infectious energy I can have for life, how my zealous nature can infect people. Definately at my best in conversation, laughing, joking, enjoying.

I am the cause of my own depletion, i am a horriffic over thinker, to the point of anxiety and a terribly hollow feeling, where remembering my vibrancy becomes a hard slog!

Lovely post of yours though…


Wow, Justine — as usual, you have a knack for writing about something that’s on my mind RIGHT NOW. Someone was just talking to me about Strengths Finder today, and though he suggested I’m probably “self-aware enough that it might not offer any epiphanies,” your post sold me on checking it out.

The challenge, of course, as you pointed out in your post, is that asking yourself to notice your own superpower is a bit like asking fish to become aware of water. When you swim in, drink and breathe it, you just don’t realize it’s even THERE.

I counsel other people ALL. THE. TIME that what comes most naturally to them is their highest-value offering. And yet, I don’t always see the same in myself!

Case in point: I lead High Holy Days services for my small synagogue. Have for years. I’m one of a team of lay leaders who do so. At this point, I could practically do it in my sleep, and yet I know — from my own experience on the bima/stage, and from the response I get from attendees — that I bring something really special. People love my singing, but it’s more than that. It’s a way I connect, make everyone comfortable.

And yet, just the other day I was talking with a friend, confessing my guilt that due to lack of funds I haven’t paid full dues at my “pay what you can” congregation, and when she responded “Well, they get MORE than their money’s worth from you!” I was totally taken aback.

But I *only* lead High Holy Days services, I countered. I don’t even participate much anymore beyond that!

As she continued pushing her point, the lightbulb suddenly went off.

Doh! I’m totally taking this for granted because it comes so damn naturally to me — BINGO — can you say “highest value offering”?

Now that’s a long story that doesn’t even get to the heart of what my tiniest-Russian-nesting-doll superpower is, but it’s definitely related.

Something about connecting… with a performance element… inspiring people and making them feel comfortable. All while using my own creativity.

Big surprise I’m a jazz singer/songwriter/comedian, and a teacher/coach/inspirationalist, huh? All incorporating connecting, with a performance element and inspiring people and making them feel comfortable.

Anyway, I clearly have more to mull on here to get to that innermost doll. Thanks for lighting the spark.

Off to check out Strengths Finder…



The old adage is true, everyone is good at something. The trick is working out what that thing is and doing something with it. Imagine if Yehudi Menuhin had been born in the Amazon rain forest where violins aren’t exactly plentiful. One had to wonder how his talent would have manifested itself. I often wonder about people who have jobs like film director, how does one realise one has that natural ability? I wrote poems and stories as a kid. It was obvious years and years before I wrote my first novel that I had a facility with words – what you would call my “unique ability” – but I never dreamed of being a writer any more than I imagine Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen dreamed about being a director.

Stepping back though and looking at what I have excelled at over the years – maths, programming, composing, writing – what I actually see as my core talent is systems design, taking disparate elements and finding a way for them work together. I excel in an office environment. I’m a lousy boss but allocate me a task, give me a deadline, leave me be and I’ll be just fine.

Looking one step beyond that what matters to me in life can probably be summarised in two words: meaning and order. I seek out both these things. I can get just as much pleasure designing a database system as I can working on a novel plus I get to use pretty colours in the database that I can’t do with the novel.


I love this book. I just read it last month and found it helpful and inspiring.


I’m at my best when I’m …. creating? When I sing and when I write, I literally feel like I’m flying. The sensation of making something beautiful resonates with me, but I don’t know how to apply that, I guess. I suppose I’m always looking for ways to add value/beauty to things.

(somehow didn’t see this post – I subscribed to the site but haven’t gotten any emails?)


Justine! I have just read these words you recently posted:

“An authentic presence is a connected presence. It is in communication with you rather than at you. It is receiving and responding. It is tuned in to you enough to recognize your needs and what you might not even know you want to know (until you know it).”

You have put into words what I sort of knew but could not say. My answer? It is not what I do as my “day job” (not yet but soon). It is when I am directing or performing or facilitating…

“When I’m at my best, I feel like I’m reaching people on an intellectual or emotional level, preferably both. Except that doesn’t really get at the feeling of it. Because when I’m really at my best, I feel like I’m reaching into some kind of collective soul, and catching hold of something unspoken. And then I’m speaking it — leading it — in a way that other people can relate to.”

Amen to that.


First off – I’ve already read (and loved) the Big Leap but you inspired me to check out Strengthsfinder. Every time I take something similar (have you checked out the VIA Character Strengths survey?) I’m surprised at how much overlap there is, and how much insight a slightly new angle brings to it. Going to take the assessment tomorrow, we’ll see what shows up!

Inspired by you + Abby I’ve been doing some digging on articulating my superpower – here’s what I got:

I see time and space and energy as though they were tangible things, and I see where they’re being wasted, and how to fix that and use them most efficiently, artfully, and easefully. Part of this (or maybe a side effect of it?) is that I naturally know how to pull something out of the ether, into the tangible, and make it actionable.

Thanks for another great post!


mine is my vision thru writing – i am able to paint pictures with words :)


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