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.
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?”
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).
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 email@example.com.
‘Cause I really want to know.
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