Why We Are All Secretly Superheroes

“I’m Superman,” my son said to the man painting our house. “Oh,” the man replied and smiled. “I’m sorry, I did not recognize you.” Aiden nodded, turned around, and “flew” away.

Why We Are All Secretly Superheroes

My wife and I chose the name Aiden for our son because of our shared Irish descent and we liked the way it sounded. As a writer and lover of words, I also happened to like the meaning behind it: “little fire.”

But if you were to ask my three-year-old any day of the week what his name is, he would probably say, “I’m Superman.” Or Batman. Or The Incredible Hulk. Or whatever costume he might be donning that day.

Ashley and I have tried to explain to Aiden (I mean, Superman) the difference between real life and make-believe, but it doesn’t do much good. For him, the line between fantasy and reality is at best blurred, if not non-existent. He believes life is an epic adventure and he possesses some secret power the world needs.

And maybe he’s right.

My question for you today is this: Do you remember what that felt like? When you believed you possessed a purpose that was bigger than your fears? When anything was possible and an adventure awaited you?

When did you stop believing that? When did you settle for the status quo? And when, exactly, did you give up your superpower?

Hiding behind normalcy

If you know the Superman story (and being a comic book nerd, I know it quite well), then you know his alter ego is Clark Kent. You might also know he is an alien from a faraway planet.

What you may have missed is that Superman, unlike other superheroes, did not become special through a freak accident. He was born that way. And when he left his home planet and crash-landed on Earth, he became Clark Kent, the adopted son of a couple of farmers.

In other words, Superman does not hide behind a mask. He hides behind normalcy.

I think many of us do that. We believe we have some special purpose but over time lose sight of it. And we spend most of our lives avoiding what we’re really meant to do, because it just seems too scary. Instead, we assume false identities based on our performance, because that’s safer than being who we really are.

When we do this, we deprive the world of our gift and live through a shadow of our true selves.

How I became a writer

For years, I wanted to write but never called myself a writer. When I finally made the decision to embrace my identity, things began to change – not all at once, but faster than I thought they would.

I started a blog, published a book, and quit my job – all within 18 months.

Some might say it happened quickly, but that’s only what it looked like. The truth is I spent a decade wondering what I was supposed to do with my life. I felt like something was missing but didn’t know what to do about that. Of course, I thought about writing but never committed to it, never actually did it – until eventually, it felt like I could do nothing other.

You might say I was stalling during that season of life, and that’s probably true, but that period of waiting was also a time of preparation. And just like Superman’s childhood was a means of preparing him for the task ahead, we all have seasons of stillness that help us become who we’re meant to be.

What to do with the waiting

The lessons during these times, as frustrating as they can be are:

  1. Remember who you are. Listen to your life, and pay attention to what you hear. Before you can tell your life what you want to do with it, Parker Palmer writes, you must listen to your life telling you who you are.
  2. Use your environment. Accidental apprenticeships are all around you, if you’re willing to embrace your context and make the most of it. Everything you do in life can prepare you for what’s to come.
  3. Press into the pain. Take time to practice, even when it’s hard. The toughest times tend to shape your character the most.

Life for me right now is a little crazy. We’re getting ready to move, have a new niece that will be joining the family any day, and I’m traveling non-stop for speaking.

In fact, later this week, I’ll be sharing the stage with Dr. Oz and Marcus Buckingham (no pressure) at a conference that 15,000 people will be attending.

In the midst of all this, I’m trying to remember that who I am trumps what I do, but the latter should flow from the former – not the other way around.

Other news

  1. The Tribe Conference (an in-person event designed to help you connect your message with an audience) is selling fast. Ticket prices go up on July 6 at 11:59 PM PT, so don’t miss out.
  2. An interview I did for Entrepreneur became their #1 article last week. Read about how to find your purpose here.
  3. My new book, The Art of Work, is now available on Audible. Get it for free when you sign up for a 30-day trial. Click here to get started.

How are you becoming who you’re meant to be, using the season you’re in? Share in the comments.

45 thoughts on “Why We Are All Secretly Superheroes

  1. Children are proof that we are born without doubt, without fear. It’s our own twisted minds that make us rethink our calling.
    I recently read The Art of Work, and it made me realise that I am a writer. I’m not a business student or a teenager or a geek. I’m a writer, first and foremost. And that was a real eye-opener for me.
    Fast-forward just a few weeks, and I’ve almost finished writing my second novel, published close to 140 posts on my blog, and started working as a content writer for a small website. And I know that I’m not saving lives or fighting crime, but maybe my words are. The important thing is to believe that you’ve making the world a better place, and it will happen. 🙂

  2. Hey Jeff,

    An empowering article indeed. I just loved how you used the story of superman to remind us about settling for normalcy and losing sight of that one “higher” purpose for us truly being here. You have certainly helped me in finding the “calling”.

  3. Inspiring article, Jeff, thanks for sharing this. We should all be a little more like your son and recapture the sense that we all possess a superpower or two of our own.

  4. Yep, every one of us has “Superman” inside … but it’s unfortunate that most of us limit ourselves to being “Clark Kent” for our entire existence.

  5. I never threw away my childhood cape… the one that said someday I would be an incredible artist. I had many try to tell me otherwise because “that’s just a hobby. What do you want to do when you grow up?” I just thought they were crazy. I knew I was born with something in me I couldn’t just toss away. I put my cape on a hook for years, reaching for it now and then to shake off the dust. I was busy wearing another cape called Motherhood, which I am very proud of and don’t regret one minute of time I spent on it. Now it is my turn. I have happily grabbed my creative cape, ready to show the world what I am made of. And it’s working. In one year I have created more quality work than I did the previous 10 years. And I know this is just the beginning. Hello world, here I come!!
    Tiffany Sue Hill

  6. It’s safe to hide behind normalcy, because, that way, we aren’t hurting the status quo. But when our calling comes…calling, it’s tough to not yield; though we still have the choice to answer or not. Thanks for sharing, Jeff.

  7. Hi, my name is Julia Nesbitt and I’m a fiction short story writer. I would love it if you checked out my blog https://nesbittwrites.weebly.co… and could leave a comment or just simply read it. I try to write very realistically. Thanks!​

  8. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Italy with my daughter. While there, we were fortunate enough to see Michelangelo’s David and the Sistine Chapel. Not long after, I revisited the story behind the artistry by watching the Hollywood-meets-history movie, “The Agony and the Ecstasy.”

    As Michelangelo’s one-year commission stretched painfully into four, Pope Sixtus continued to visit the chapel, demanding, “Michelangelo! When will you make an end to
    it?” To which the artist steadfastly replied, “When it is finished!”

    500 years later, over 20,000 visitors per day make the pilgrimage to the chapel.

    Four years after the initial inspiration for my book “When Jesus Takes the Field,” my inner “pope” demands: “Pamela! When will you make an end to it?” However, I am trusting that my “masterpiece” will only be better-served by all the extra time. Here are some benefits from so much “delay”:

    *Heightened perspective. One child has left the nest and we are into the “post-extracurricular” years.
    *Added depth. We added a new activity that is the most demanding and intense we’ve encountered so far.
    *Broadened platform. A local school issue earned me the reputation as both an advocate and spokesperson for children’s extracurriculars.
    *Greater impact. My husband and I are now looking at starting a ministry to
    provide spiritual and practical support to families in extracurriculars.

    I still wonder when I will “make an end to it”—but am trusting God and His timing as he leads me through the process all the way until “it is finished!”

      1. I have, multiple times, and I agree! I can SO relate to Michelangelo’s description of the block of marble that becomes David as “the Giant.” Many powerful takeaways on the life of an artist. (I’m just thankful I don’t literally have to dissect cadavers to understand my subject matter!)

  9. Your Mastermind and Tribe Writers courses have given me the opportunity to try on a few super hero’s costume and experience what that would feel like permanently to be that super hero. Stepping into the writer super hero costume is slowly feeling more natural and less like a costume and more like…well me. Thanks!

  10. I love your point of hiding behind normalcy and ignoring your true purpose until it becomes too great to ignore. I spent 4 years in college studying Molecular Genetics when all I ever wanted to do was write fiction. During that entire time, I was desperately depressed and felt like there was this big hole in my life. Now that I’m writing fiction, I’m happier than I ever could have believed possible. When you say it this way, I think the fact that I’m USING what God gave me, actually in line with what I’m meant to do, allows me to feel whole and powerful.

    A superpower can’t be ignored, or else it turns into a disease. I almost let mine kill me, and now I realize that, rather than a burden, it’s the best thing about my life!

    Thanks Jeff! Always love your insights.

  11. Thank you Jeff for how you show up in your writing. It is inspiring and entertaining. Best wishes for your big trip out to Vegas. Be smart out there and keep remembering who you are.

  12. One of the biggest things I’m learning is that we’re not here to please everyone but to be ourselves. Giving myself that permission to be myself is a complete turnaround in my mind and something I have to keep reminding myself about.

  13. I think as parents it’s tempting to settle for normalcy with the pressures of life and providing for your children. When you are in this phase of life it takes extra effort to remember who we are ALONG with being parents. Thanks for the reminder!

  14. My “season” is midlife. I was a single mom at 20 and clawed my way into a print journalism gig, which I held for 18 years. In my late 40s I left an abusive marriage iand wound up going broke during the protracted divorce.
    Even so, I went to college (on scholarship) to get the degree I couldn’t get as a younger woman. In the process I stumbled into a new career as an online personal finance writer. Recently I created an online writing course and have started taking writing coaching clients. Best of all, I found true love in midlife.
    Starting to feel like the person I should have been all along. I’m sorry I had to wait until my mid-50s to do it, but I’m enjoying the hell out of it.

  15. I think we can all be super heroes. Great article! I learned a lot. We all need a little bit of make believe to get to the other side… 🙂

  16. Inspiring article Jeff. I do remember how it felt like, how everything was possible and an adventure awaited me every day. I remember that special atmosphere that my childlike mind created. I was not just pretending being on an adventure. I was living it.

    Somewhere along the way I lost that special state of mind. Creative and fantasy thoughts were strongly and repeatedly being pushed away by a society who expected normalcy.

    But I was born with a strong urge to dream and fantasize, to create stories. Slowly, the writer in me started to emerge. It took me a long time before I confidently started to call myself a writer. But I also noticed that things began to chance when I did that. Magical things happened and now I will never store away my cape again.

  17. Jeff, those questions hit home. Almost too deep, to be honest. I remember the feeling and I remember losing the feeling more than once. Divorce almost destroyed me and everything I believed in. I find I am still rebuilding and remembering who I have always been. And, pressing into the pain is hard. It really is, but I am trying to embrace what is on the other side. Awesome message.

  18. I think your son is right! 🙂 Ever since, I decided to leave my home and make films abroad that I couldn’t make back home (Istanbul) where my ideas were like fantasy, the line between fantasy and reality started getting really blurred as I decided to leave the “I” back home and repossess my purpose that was bigger than my fear of just being labeled “brainwashed Christian filmmaker trying to save Jesus, unable to save himself in the first place”. Yes, while trying to find “true love” through a film “Cankurtaran/Istanbul (Lifeguard/Istanbul)”, I had met the core of me from “another planet” and started following Jesus in a country which 99.9 % muslim!! I know very well what it is to “hide behind normalcy” is all about! But it was until I made two more hybrid feature length documentaries “The Grenadines Road” and “When the Ants Dream” and had to travel three continents and an ocean, while I was still trying to finish a feature film script adapting it to the geographies I traveled that I started writing it in Istanbul, that my life has turned into an epic adventure and that I possessed some secret power the world needed.

    As I came to Colombia where I was almost “adopted” by the pure love of a small town girl who didn’t want me to go away any more I finally decided to shoot my first debut feature film as a “Superman” learning more Spanish and re-writing all the dialogues and scenes from an alien world (my home).

    Now the question is who are the other Supermen/women who are ready to do what we’re really meant to do. Telling a spiritual story about “non-religious thoughts on following Christ” made me come to your name from a past post on “Blue Like Jazz”, but reading your last blog post this morning made me even more secure to write you as who I really am, avoiding to assume a false identity based on my performance as a filmmaker, because that doesn’t make me feel any safer here in a country like Colombia where I am trying to learn who my real home community is. In hope that art be it writing or filmmaking will help grow our inner child together!

  19. Love this, Jeff. It makes me think about how is fear is an illusion, a perspective that is learned over time. Our potential and greatness is always with us. The work then becomes to shift from a perspective of fear to love to reconnect to the vibrancy that is always bubbling up from our true self and center.

  20. Super article! I appreciate your attention to ‘seasons of stillness’. Waiting plays a significant role in our lives, and, in our faith life. Too often we want to despair in unproductive seasons of life, yet God uses and redeems all things with His purposes. I read your book “Art of Work” this past month – it is brilliant. It brings light to the subject of work and calling and purpose. Thanks!

  21. First of all, let me say thank you Jeff! I call myself a writer, because you said I was a writer, and that I should start acting like one. So I’ve been blogging, and today I celebrate publishing my 100th post on Walking Deeper this morning. A leadership article will be published at Just Between Us on June 2nd, and I’ve entered a few short story contests. Of course, there’s been the dreaded rejections, but they have helped me grow. Speaking of growth, God is allowing my Facebook page to grow, and I am building a community. As Women’s Ministry Director at church, I’m stepping out to follow God’s direction in breaking the mold of Women’s Ministry, turning a 180 and reaching out to live the call. I’ve been blessed with a team excited for change. I don’t boast in a title, because I don’t believe it’s about directorship, but rather discipleship. I give God the glory; He is the Potter as this jar of clay perseveres in His plans for me. Jeff, you have been an inspiration, and the most impressive character of all is your humbleness. You are making a difference in many lives, and I am just one. Praying for a great run with your speaking.

  22. Thank you, Jeff, you are an amazing inspirational writer. You have such a natural ability to help others want to see the best in themselves. I think I might be in the cusp of a season – snow is still everywhere (so busy driving and waiting for people that I lost interest in things) with squishy mud that wants to hold me where I am – as I trod on towards the dry ground of meaningful purpose. The Sun is melting and drying everything up. With my new formed resolution “I am a Writer” (speaking actually comes easier) I am working towards building an intentional blog with great content. As this is a time issue, I think it will take the whole spring to develop but I know that summer is just around the corner.

  23. Hi, Jeff. You ask a great question. I’m currently b/w jobs and am taking the time to figure out who I’m meant to be. A lot of it involves weighing whether I should continue to pursue normalcy (seeking a “safe” 9 to 5 job, for example) or whether I should pursue a life that resembles freedom, as I define it.
    You mention in your post that you committed to writing when you realized that it was the thing you could not NOT do, which reminded me of what Scott Dinsmore says at the end of his TED talk on how to find & do work you love. He asks the audience what it is that we can’t not do?
    Why is it so hard to arrive at the answer?

  24. I own my story, own my voice, using my voice to influence a world bigger than me, and fighting from the battle field, instead of the field of defeats. I practice daily and laugh at danger 🙂

  25. Hi Jeff. At 62 (and a half) years old, I have recently completed my very first novel, which is now with an editor. I’m proud to say, 75,000 words written in 3 and a half months, which I’m sure God had a hand in. the words just flowed. It was my editor (my editor – that’s so exciting in itself) who recommended your writings and I’m so glad she did. I’ve just finished your book ‘Wrecked’, which really struck a chord with me. I’ve bought ‘The Art of Work’, but first need to complete Ken Davis’s book, at your recommendation, which is wonderful and particularly relevant to me, at my age. Not that I feel old at all, but the sum total of life experience has put some challenges in my path and his story is truly inspirational and such an encouragement. Thanks so much for your writing on commitment and the journey you have been on, in your book ‘Wrecked’ and the thoughts you share in your newsletter. I now declare to others that I am a writer. I’ve been thinking it for a while, but somehow your words gave me the permission to declare it, in a way that I haven’t before. In a recent meeting, I mentioned that I’m a writer and that my first novel is with an editor, to a person I have had quite a few conversations with, over the last few months. Somehow, I had missed letting her know that I am a writer and she was very interested and interestingly, didn’t doubt for a second that I’m a writer. Interesting how we can stop ourselves from sharing with others about those things that are part of us, for fear of their opinion. Yet, once shared, it’s often proved that they have no such opinion at all. Someone once said to me to remember that what others think about me, is none of my business! Good advice I think. I am a writer and a best selling one at that!

  26. In lots of ways I’m not quite ready to use all my super powers yet, so although I’m growing slow, I’m growing. And when the time comes, I’ll be using all my powers at once.

  27. One of my magical powers is holding things loosely. Yesterday, after two months struggling (REALLY STRUGGLING) with a painting that was keeping me from working on other paintings I realized that it was finished. I had an idea in mind when I started and USUALLY I am good at starting and then allowing the painting to lead, but this time I had a “purpose” in mind and I did not want to let it go. A twelve day road trip with my youngest three, putting down our beloved corgi, and a surprise visit from a friend bearing orchids enabled me to see what had been there all along. A finished painting. It had been complete for over two months. I “lost” two months of work by hanging tightly to a plan. I forgot my hold things loosely superpower. I made a little sign and tacked it to the wall. Hold things loosely. Follow the work. Listen for the still small voice that says, “It is finished.”

  28. Really nice post, Jeff. I’m a college professor who has been studying and teaching students about passion for the last few years (I’ve also been writing about this stuff at http://www.lifeaseffect.com, trying to get the word “out there”). College is a tough time for students, because they had dreams just a few years prior, but over time, that excitement gets beaten out of them. I try to help them (re)find their inner super hero. I’m going to share your post with them.

  29. Hey Jeff, this was an amazing post! Aiden sounds like an awesome superhero and I hope to be like him when I grow up. I’ve always struggled with hiding behind “normalcy.” I believe I’ve discovered the calling for my life, but I struggle with anxiety and fear about really going after it. I’ve been writing about it on my blog, and trying my best to help and encourage others along the way. This post has really energized me to utilize my powers. In fact, I’m publishing a post today that’s inspired by this blog post, and little Super Aiden. Here’s the link if you’re interested: https://www.discardedanxiety.com/blog/when-did-you-stop-believing. Thank you so much for sharing this with us… I know I needed it.

  30. It’s funny that your son goes around feeling like a super hero, because my 4-year-old does the same thing. He goes around calling himself Batman or Superman. When he plays outside, he’ll get a trash bag and slip his arms inside the pull strings pretending it’s a super hero cape. He even gives me a super hero name– sometimes it’s Batman, or Superman, or Robin.

    But, like you say, there’s a lesson to learn from all this: get over our fear and do what we love. As an aspiring blogger myself, I needed to hear this. Thanks for the inspiring message.

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