‘Tis the season of superheroes in my household. We’ve seen the new “Incredibles 2” movie a handful of times this summer, and my kids love to watch YouTube videos of hypothetical matchups between superheroes that wouldn’t otherwise run into each other. Did you ever wonder if the Hulk could take down Wonder Woman? Me neither, but plenty of people have their arguments for each side.
But superheroes don’t just appear in the movies or on a screen. We are surrounded every day by people who possess incredible strengths that can change the world. And while we might not be able to break down doors or float through space, our emotional superpowers can be just as strong. You know, that thing you feel that comes so naturally and easily? The one you almost can’t control but has served you well in most situations? That’s your superpower. But, like fictional superheroes, these powers have to be managed properly. Just like The Hulk can use his rage to break and destroy, he can also use his strength to bust out of the rubble and save Iron Man (yes, I had to look that up). We can use our superpowers to hurt or to heal. Let’s explore.
My husband’s superpower is Problem Solver. This comes in handy when I need a leaky sink fixed, a set of sold-out concert tickets procured, a load of groceries taken in from the car, a math problem solved, a computer rebooted. Do, do, do. Sounds great to have around, right? It is! Most of the time. But what a Problem Solver also does is take away the empowering feeling that one gets when he or she figures out a solution on their own. The pride that comes from trudging through the muck to emerge at the finish line. It can make people (ahem, me) dependent on this Problem Solver to take care of anything. But then what happens when there’s a truly impossible situation for which a solution can’t be found? Frustration. Disappointment. “But you’re supposed to fix EVERYTHING!” (Those may or may not be literal words that have been said in my kitchen, and maybe more than once). When managed properly, Problem Solvers are the glue that holds a group together. But there’s a fine line between Solving Problems and Taking Over. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, says, “Help is the sunny side of control.” Being someone’s Google Maps is only helpful if they can navigate themselves through a no-cell-service zone.
Me? I’m an Editor. Want your email proofread and jazzed up? I’m your gal. Need help with a website to take it to the next level? I’ll give you pages of notes. Looking for guidance on changing the design of your living room? Send me over and I’ll make your house look brand new. But did you notice what each of those sentences started with? An invitation. WANT. NEED. LOOKING. Editors who edit without being asked are just plain critical. Can you imagine if I came over to your house for a dinner party and, unprompted, offered, “Have you ever thought of switching these pieces of furniture? The couch would look much better over there, and adjusting these throw pillows will help balance the size and scale.” Whether it’s true or not (and, honestly, I’m usually right) (Wanna to know another superpower that takes responsible management? Confidence.), it wasn’t invited, and immediately puts the listener on the defensive. What was wrong with my couch? I liked it where it was. And heaven forbid that my ideas for improvement are interpreted as complaining. “I love a complainer!” said no one ever. It’s my responsibility as an Editor to determine when to keep my ideas safely tucked in my head (and my mouth shut!), and when to share my opinion if help is being sought after. Clean break between the two.
Both of my sweet children’s superpower is Big Heart. I used to say “sensitive,” but, unfortunately, my generation still uses that word in a negative context, as in, “Stop being so sensitive!” And, when I think about it, Big Heart is a more accurate description. Their hearts are HUGE! They will look for the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite him or her over. A schoolmate is eyeing the chocolate-chip oatmeal bar we made at home? My son will ask to make a double-sized second batch to share with everyone the next day. My daughter’s 4th grade class hosted a fundraiser selling yo-yos, so she brought in money from her own piggy bank to fund the kids who didn’t have enough. Are these
great qualities for human beings? YES! I’m so proud of the thoughtful and caring people they are. But can my kids buy yo-yos for the whole world with their saved-up quarters? No. Is it their responsibility to lay awake at night and worry about everyone else’s problems? No. Do they have to be taken advantage of just because they’re the easiest to be taken advantage of? No. They must use their Big Hearts in ways that feel authentic, yet sustainable. When a superpower is laced with vulnerability, one must “care with aware.”
The comforting thing about superpowers is that they are mostly used for good. Hooray! But it is lifelong work to continually apply these strengths in appropriate manners. Just this morning I could have blurted out 10 different situations where I noticed areas for improvement (“That news headline had a typo” or “If you organized your apps by category, you’d navigate quicker through your phone” or “Your backpack has fragile things on the bottom and the heaviest stuff on top”), but the only thing this Editor was asked for at 8:00am was a hug and kiss on the way out the door, so that’s what I provided. If my kids wonder why their PB&J is squished by lunch time, perhaps I can give some sage wisdom, but for now they have to figure it out on their own. But wait, does that make me a Problem Solver?!? Oh man, this is more complicated than I thought.
So what’s your superpower? Charm? People-pleasing? Introvert? Academic? Optimist? Humor? How are you managing it responsibly?