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Discovering your superpowers

Superpowers? Wait, isn’t Voco supposed to be all about making progress in your career, not donning a cape and saving the world? Well, yes, but the thing is, it’s much easier to make the progress you want in your career when you use your strengths - aka your superpowers - to get there. But too often we get stuck thinking about the things we’re not so good at. Or we worry that we need to be good at everything.

The truth of the matter is you’ll enjoy work way more if you’re doing the things that you’re good at, rather than worrying about the things you’re not. And while we’re often schooled to think we need to focus on improving our weaknesses in order to make progress, the opposite is more often true. Real progress is made by amplifying the things you’re naturally great at, not trying to make yourself a little bit better at the things you struggle with.

What are superpowers?

Your superpowers are essentially the product of your natural abilities combined with the skills and behaviours you’ve acquired through your learned experiences. They are the things that you are the best at and that you enjoy doing the most, but often you will overlook them as they just come so easily to you that they don’t seem worthy of consideration.

The important thing, then, is to know what those superpowers are, and to ensure that you’re using them to your advantage. And what might seem like a superpower to one person, might actually be kryptonite to another. Your superpowers are individual to you, they are what make you great.

Of course it goes without saying that everyone has weaknesses too - things they don’t enjoy or find hard to do. But sometimes those weaknesses are just superpowers in another costume. The trick is to also identify and mitigate your weaknesses, so you can focus on building on your strengths - no one can actually be good at everything all of the time, that would be exhausting.

So, grab your cape and let's dive in to figuring out where your superpowers lie by asking yourself five questions....

What feels most effortless to you?

Think about a time when you enjoyed doing something at work so much that the time just flew by? When you were so engrossed in what you were doing that you didn’t feel the urge to check your phone or go and make a cup of tea? When your focus was absolute and you felt like you were knocking it out of the park without even trying?

OK - so that was probably a time when you were doing something that was engaging one, or more, of your superpowers. When you were deep in the ‘flow zone’, performing at your best. And loving the feeling of truly excelling at something without effort.

That feeling can come to us all at different times when we’re doing different things. For one person it could be when they’ve solved a particularly knotty, mathematical problem; for another it might have been when they were leading a brainstorm or giving a big presentation.

The trick is to start spotting when that feeling hits and what you were doing when you got it. When you can identify what feels most effortless to you, you are well on your way to discovering your superpowers.

Activity: Make a list of all the things you find really easy at work. Just a simple list. Look back at the list and circle the five things you find most effortless on it. And then write down an example of a time when you’ve done each thing. Is there an overlap between the examples? This list should start to build a picture of  the kind of things you find effortless and enjoyable to do, and the interplay between them.

What do other people say you're good at?

Sometimes we’re not very good at recognising what we’re good at ourselves, but that doesn’t mean our superpowers aren’t visible to other people. And guess what? They've probably told you what you’re great at loads of times, maybe you’ve just not been listening hard enough.

Think about the times when others have told you that you’re good at something; or about the kind of things people ask for your help with? If you’re repeatedly being asked for your advice or input on something then chances are, other people think that your advice or input will be valuable. Because it is.

Try and keep a running list of everything from casual comments and questions, to more formal feedback or praise, and you’ll likely start to see patterns that will reveal what others see as your superpowers.

Activity: Choose between three and five people who know you well ask them to describe three things they think you do really well. It’s important to emphasise the ‘do well’ bit here. Compare and contrast their responses, and look for patterns which help reveal your superpowers. But even if they all say wildly different things, you’ll still get some great insights into what you’re naturally awesome at.

When are you most fearless?

Think about the times when you were at your most confident. When you were willing to just jump on in and do something despite the risks and challenges it might pose. When you felt full of energy and pretty bloody fearless. Boom! That’s your superpowers again.

We often feel most confident when we’re doing something we just know we’re good at. That we can smash. And oftentimes, that’s when we’re happiest too, when we enjoy ourselves the most. It’s about being comfortable, but not about staying in your comfort zone.

When our superpowers show themselves, we feel empowered by the innate knowledge that we’re good at something, so we stretch ourselves further and achieve more.

Activity: List a few examples of when you've jumped head first into something challenging and loved it! Or when you've felt like you've completely smashed something out of the park. What did you do? How did it feel?

When do you go the extra mile?

Passion’s a funny word isn’t it? It implies some sort of innate state that drives you to do something, that brings you joy without question. The reality is a bit different; sometimes being passionate about something takes good old hard work, and that’s where your superpowers come in.

If you’re motivated to work really hard, to try really hard, to give something your all; then it’s more than likely that you’re also engaging your superpowers. You feel full of energy and determination. On the flip side, it’s hard to give everything to something that you’re not so good at, that feels uncomfortable or that drains your energy.

Activity: Think about the times when you were willing to go that extra mile; when you felt exhausted but elated by the sheer effort you’ve put in; or when you simply couldn’t not do something. Those times were the intersection of your passions and your superpowers - note them down!

When are your weaknesses actually your strengths?

Now, we’re not saying that no one has weaknesses. Everyone does, just as everyone has strengths. But what we are saying is that sometimes the things you perceive to be your weaknesses, are actually your superpowers in a cunning disguise. It just takes a bit of detective work to spot them hiding away there in plain sight.

For example, lots of people would say their weaknesses are things like not having enough specialist knowledge about something or having poor attention to detail. But when they stop to consider the environment they operate within, they might see that these ‘weaknesses’ are actually massive strengths.

Being a generalist is a big superpower for a leader, who often has to see across multiple functions at once, or make decisions with minimal information. And those who don’t get consumed by detail might be great big picture thinkers, able to spot opportunities quickly.

So before you dismiss your weaknesses, think about how they might actually be strengths in a different circumstance or environment.

Activity: List three to five things you perceive to be your greatest ‘weaknesses’. Now think about the behaviour that’s hiding behind that ‘weakness’? For example, if you think attention to detail is a weakness, what’s behind could be something along the lines of ‘my mind moves at speed and I love seeing the whole picture’.

Not every weakness has an opposing strength, of course, but many will have some underlying behaviour that can be flipped when you consider it in the context of your environment or your career journey.