You Are Your Own Superhero

What makes you a superhero? Who else will come to save you?

The biggest realization that came out of 9/11 for me was that nobody was coming to save me (us). I mean this in a gazillion ways. My company’s HR department couldn’t care less about my career development. No one at all would ultimately be responsible for my happiness, but myself. All of this came crashing into reality for me because of 9/11. And since then, I forget the lesson quite often. But just lately, I’ve had reason to think about it again, for my own purposes, and based on two recent conversations.

You Are Your Own Superhero

We’ve already agreed that you know what to do. We realize that part of what we have to do involves getting stronger with our choices. We know that letting the emotions and thoughts of others affect how we see ourselves is a problem and that we have to get untangled. We’ve thought about how important discipline is to our world. We know that we have to say no faster. So what’s left?

The work.

You are your own superhero. No one has to save you. You don’t have to say “if only.” You just have to do the work. Do you need to make more money? Then start working on that. Do you need to lose weight or get healthy? Today’s the day.

Superheroes are part of a very powerful mythology that says this: you’re not strong enough, so some outside force will have to come and help you.

That is, unless YOU are the superhero. Right? Mmmmmm. Isn’t that neato?

Pick Out Your Cape and Tights!

What kind of superhero do you need in your own life right now? You probably need the kind of superhero that knows how to do things right. Competence matters. Learn how to be a better builder. You need a brave hero who can face the waves. You need to be the kind of hero that knows that there really are no enemies. And frankly, you need a practical hero who can help you find time.

But that’s all inside you. You know what to do. Yes, sometimes part of “what to do” involves reaching out. Community is a very powerful resource and going it alone can stink. But you have to approach this like a superhero. Let’s talk about that.

The Superhero Approach

First off, realize that superheroes mess up all the time. Superman used to drop airplane parts all over the place while trying to safely land people. Batman has all kinds of angst that he hasn’t quite dealt with in therapy. Green Lantern? His weakness is the color yellow. Anyone with a Livestrong armband can beat him. Aquaman? The dude’s only power is that he can talk to fish. Fish, I’m guessing, aren’t that interesting.

However, superheroes do their very best. They realize that they are the only ones who are going to answer the call. YOU are the only one who will answer the call to save yourself. They pick themselves up after every failure. They rethink things as fast as they can. They seek the next best approach if Plan A fails (and it always does).

Superheroes don’t stand around to take praise. Praise is just as poisonous as criticism. Forget that. Just do the job and get back to your secret identity.

Superheroes don’t worry too much about belonging. They’re too busy working on what needs doing. There are some exceptions:

Aquaman, Left Out
Aquaman never fits in with the other superheroes very well.

Save Yourself

You don’t have to wait for someone to save you. You’re the hero. Do it. Pick up the challenge and bring yourself to what has to happen next.

Just a Hair More About Superheroes

Ani Difranco has a song that resonates with this:

Can’t see the video? Click Here

Friend, PodCamp co-founder, and mentor-at-a-distance, Christopher S Penn writes about awakening your inner superhero.

Friend, Trust Agents co-author, and mentor-at-a-distance, Julien Smith, writes very challenging posts about how to grow.

And then beyond that? It’s yours to tackle. You’re the superhero, after all. runs on the Genesis Framework

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  • Anonymous

    Chris, thank you for the reminder that the Superhero is in me. Anytime the Victim is around, so is the Hero. And your post explains very nicely how to put my Hero in action. Thank you.

  • Kneale Mann

    I would add that asking for help is one of the smartest things a superhero can do. In fact, asking for help is essential or we will suffer in silence and not move forward. Belief alone is not enough. Action is required and in that, help is requite. And our payback is to help others. No, actually help in real ways, not just with a pat on the head and a “you can do it” because that makes us more stuck. The superhero will be drained of their powers if all they do is give it to others with nothing in return.

    • Chris Brogan

      There’s a long history of team-ups in superhero comics. You’re totally right to point it out. I also agree that back-patting isn’t helpful. : ) 

      • Kneale Mann

        Go get ‘em kid, you can do it – helps no one. If you offer help, be specific. If you ask for help, be specific. We have no more time for skimming the surface. This is why it is my humble opinion that our social networks will continue to get smaller yet more powerful. Great post, Chris, thanks for the kick in the backside as usual.

      • egoebelbecker

        And of course it’s traditional for superheroes to have a completely stupid fight because of a misunderstanding before teaming up, so stop and think for a second before throwing your first punch.

        • Chris Brogan

          Marvel pretty much made the 1960s about that. : ) 

          Punch first, team up later. 

  • egoebelbecker

    Fish might be uninteresting, but aquatic mammals must be pretty cool. I mean dolphins *punch out sharks* with their noses on a regular basis and they come across like surfer dudes to me.

    Do you figure they pick on Aquaman too, or do his lame powers not work on them because they are too cool?

    Poor Arthur. No respect.

    • Chris Brogan

      You got me there. I don’t think much of Aquaman. And I’m sure people everywhere pick on other people, if only a little bit. 

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  • Hollie Pollard

    I love that superheros have a secret identity, and do genuine good and help others. I tghink those are important qualities to remember as we take on our own role as our own super hero.

    • Chris Brogan

      True that. We can’t just stand around waiting for back pats. 

  • Anonymous

    Your Excellency ,
    Thy hero is theee Lady or “gentleman” who can bare not knowing with patience and yet , quest for order, civility and wisdom in a most humble way.”He who… sings …scares away his woes.” —Cervantes

    • Chris Brogan

      You are always fun to read. 

      • Anonymous

        Thank you!

        Glad to be contributing !

        Take care.

  • Hannah Marcotti

    That along with my coffee was a lovely way to start my day. You even threw in Ani! I might even go jogging despite the rain today, oy!

    • Chris Brogan

      If you do, I will. : ) 

  • Djcoffman

    This is one the smartest things I’ve read here. Bravo. My thoughts exactly!

    • Chris Brogan

      Kind of you, sir. Isn’t today your big announcement? : ) 

  • Mary Ulrich

    Another grand slam Chris.

     Love this but don’t you get tired of being a superhero? My cape has holes, my tights are too–er, tight. The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. What I decided is that I will only try and be a superhero on Mondays when I have the most energy. Not sure Wonder Woman would agree with this stragegy, but I think other human super wannabees would understand.

    • Chris Brogan

      Of course I get tired. All the time. Weary superheroes is part of the deal. But even when you’re at the bottom, someone else needs help: YOU! And then, you have to learn how to be the best hero and protector of you that the world has ever known. THAT is where heroes tend to falter. They forget that they need saving, too. 

      Put your own mask on before helping others. 

  • James Johnson

    I completely agree with you.

    I call it the “lottery mentality”. “If only I could win the lottery I could get out of debt and everything would be OK.” Well, odds are that’s not gonna happen so you might as well reprioritize things in your life and be your own catalyst for improvement.

    If you want to learn a new skill, turn off the TV and work on that skill
    If you want to be more financially stable, create a budget and a plan, then stick to it
    If you want less drama in your life and more emotional peace, remove the dramatic elements

    No matter what the situation, you are the key to your own success. You decide your level of involvement in YOUR life.

    Great post!

    • Chris Brogan

      True that, James. The television is the best thief in the world. Ditto mindless internet work. 

  • Tishpiper

    You have summed up all your recent posts within this one. Good progression on a theme for success. Thanks for you wisdom, humor and support

  • Christopher Somers

    What an AMAZING read!  It is just a great reminder that all of us can concentrate on what we can control.  Work hard daily and hourly.  We can accomplish whatever we want.  Sometimes we need that reminder.  A nudge from a friend our we need to nudge ourselves through our own goal setting or just remembering “we are our own superhero!”  Woo hoo !!!!

  • KatFrench

    Interesting post, Chris. Reminds me of a conversation I had just last night. My son asked me why I didn’t watch Biggest Loser anymore. And really, it boils down to the idea that the overarching message of BL (and Extreme Home Makeover, and that whole subgenre of “reality” tv) isn’t really empowerment, but wish-fulfillment. 

    They may be saying “you can do it, too” but in the back of your head you’re thinking “Sure I can. As soon as Bob and Jillian show up and whisk me away from my actual life where I can focus on this ONE PROBLEM 24/7 with oodles of professional support for months.” Nobody gets that in real life. As James says, it’s lottery odds. But it’s tempting to tell yourself that someday a superhero–or a team of elite life-improvement professionals–is going to show up and make it all better. 

    But the team ain’t coming. The team is you, and the real people you’re journeying through real life with. You have a Justice League–it just looks like your spouse, best friend, neighbor, and that guy who rubs you the wrong way but pushes you to be better.   

    • Nanette Labastida

      Wow you are so right Kat, my kids recently wanted us to apply for extreme makeover, so I did it, seemed fun and there are many reasons we could benefit. But they started asking daily If in had heard and kept referring to “when we get the makeover” I realized I needed to talk and tell them that I could do all of this, just in baby steps, and with their help even, and if I keep working hard, and over time. I had to remind myself to that I can take care of things instead of feel sorry for myself. Being a single mom I do fall into “somebody save me” mode.

      • Chris Brogan

        Love that realization. It’s a big one, isn’t it? 

      • KatFrench

        Persistence is the best superpower, IMO. :) 

    • Chris Brogan

      Exactly so, Kat. I watched an entire season of Heavy on Netflix streaming, and even though it has some similar elements as you mention, what I paid attention to was the mindset of the people who did the best work. And what I saw was that the people who put all their effort into growing from within made the best changes in their lives. 

      And that takes lots of work. 

      Wishing you well, and I love your Justice League part at the end. You’re absolutely right! 

  • Farnoosh

    Yep, my own hero, all the way. Finally, I don’t feel as egotistical and selfish for feeling this way. I have always felt this way deep down but more from an accountability perspective. I always have had role models. That’s different I think. Because I look up to role models, I don’t expect them to save me. And the HR department or any part of the corporate world: yeah, they will do absolutely nothing for employees; they are there to protect the company, and that mentality was one of the main reasons I could no longer stand the corporate world. Great article. Hope I didn’t go on too much on my soap box here :)!

    • Chris Brogan

      There’s no bad ego in feeling like you’re who will save you. :)

  • susangiurleo

    Very nice…and true. I love the art and the music video!

    This reminds me of the work of Angela Maiers and her TED talk about the words: You Matter.
    I won’t post the link here, but Google it….

    We so often don’t believe in our own power and significance. We think and feel we don’t matter, but we DO. We matter to our family, community, friends. And every action we take further reinforces how much we matter and passes along the message that we are ALL superheros.

    • Chris Brogan

      I watched it a few weeks ago when Lisa Petrelli shared it. I think I spelled Lisa’s name wrong, but you know who I mean. : ) 

  • Daniel

    Very inspirational… I love the Ani DiFranco song mention!

  • Ryan Hanley

    “Superheroes don’t worry too much about belonging. They’re too busy working on what needs doing.”  Very powerful little nugget here Chris… I’m going to bottle this one up.  Thanks!

    • Chris Brogan

      Bottled nuggets. You might be on to something. : ) 

      • Ryan Hanley

        Ha! That’s a Blog Post title if I ever saw one!

  • Don Lafferty

    Thanks for the pep talk, buddy.

  • Ivan Bickett

    “You don’t need a benchmark, you just need to rock – and you do!” ~Victoria Jones in response to a question I asked about what benchmarks I should compare myself to.

    I think simply comparing ourselves to benchmarks is relevant to the superhero discussion.

    If you compare yourself to benchmarks you are simply comparing yourself to others. You very well may be ignoring your true potential. What if your potential is a 9, on a scale of 10, but the bench mark is a 5. Are you then “pleased” with a 6 b/c you’re “better” than others???

    I find this is frequently the case with myself and with others when comparing against benchmarks.

    But a superhero… a SUPERHERO IGNORES BENCHMARKS!!! They don’t care that others are a 5. THEY KNOW THEY ARE A 9 AND FREAKING GO BE 9′S!!! The whole time trying to figure out how they can be a 10!!!

    So I think we should all ask ourselves, are we presenting our SUPERHERO selves in our businesses and in our personal lives or are we simply doing a little better than a benchmark.

    Love this post, Chris! You’re getting me FIRED UP for the day!


    • Chris Brogan

      Benchmarks are made by superheroes. Make your own. 

  • Matt Tillotson

    Don’t forget that super heroes succeed by understanding and leveraging their superpowers. The (highly underrated) Iceman doesn’t run around trying to be The Human Torch.

    • Chris Brogan

      Also true. And when they team up, it makes me cry a little bit. In the bad way. 

    • Ryan Williams


  • Dan Whitehouse

    Great post. Applies to all walks of life too. 

  • Kelly Tirman

    Great pep talk. Thank you!

  • Alina Hueckelkamp

    true. thanks for reminding. lets get dressed.

  • dotcompals

    No matter before or after 9/11 – you are definitely YOUR OWN SUPERHERO

  • BobPoole

    Brilliant post. Thank you. I have to remember that my superhero’s first responsibility is to self. Trying to save everyone else and not always being able too is a recipe for hopelessness.

    Going to write on my whiteboard. You Are Your OWN Super Hero!

  • Rick Manelius

    I think sometimes we’re also our own super villain… sabotaging our potential.

    The trick is the choice between the two. The question: which cape will we wear today?

  • Hildy Gottlieb

    I appreciate this, Chris – and it has me wondering a sort of “yes and…”  And the “and” is that I think we are each other’s superheroes, and that that is our greatest strength – the collective strength of what happens when we bring out the superhero in each other.

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  • Anonymous

    Fantastic post! And not even about boring geek stuff ;)
    You know my story, so obviously I don’t need to tell you the personal connection I feel to this concept. I only wish my eyes opened sooner

  • Rick Bjarnason

    Thanks Chris, really appreciate this post :) I have been trying to explain to my kids how you have to responsible for your own actions and the Superhero analogy came up there as well.

  • Don Rhoades

    I’m an Aquaman, Chris. You’re right we never really fit in, but even Aquaman could save the day sometimes. We’re both kinda clutch like that. Besides, Aquaman had a way cooler suit than Namor the Sub-Mariner.

  • Maarten van Leeuwen

    It’s cool to be the superhero. Not so cool to talk about it yourself.
    But we really need more heros / leaders.
    Just came back from an evening with Paul Gilding. Former Greenpeace man who is now helping us to prepare for The Great Disruption. The title of his book with the subtitle How The Climate Crisis Will Transform the Global Economy.

    During this evening many great minds talked about climate change, financial crisis and so on. The problem is that if all these people believe that they are a superhero the chances are that their egos wouldn’t fit in one room.

    So confidence and taking controle in your own life is great and will be of great help to achieving personal growth and dreams. But leadership means stepping back at the right time to give others room to grow. Is your superhero Chris able to do so?

    Anyway just a thought, combing my own experience and observations from today with your post. 2.15am time to get some sleep. Let’s see what my own superhero can do in my dreams.

  • Claudene

    Wow, this post knocks it out of the park!. So well done, and well said.  And incredibly helpful…just the compilation and dot-connecting of your related post links alone make this post a terrific stand-alone reference. Your illustrations are awesome, and really relevant to the message here.  Love that video for the message, too.  Excellent post!  

  • Henry Louis

    Agree with you Chris but it does not work all the times. We are all human beings & we do come under pressures which does not allow to think & do the right things in the right time.

    Even in the superhero movie SpiderMan3 he needed a support to fight against two in the climax.

    The thing I would like to convey is you also need to have some luck.

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  • Ricardo Bueno

    Loved this part: “Superheroes don’t stand around to take praise. Praise is just as poisonous as criticism. Forget that. Just do the job and get back to your secret identity.”

  • Nilofer Merchant

    I agree with this post. I just want to add one element. We rarely do anything just by ourselves. That puts too much responsibility on the 1 “hero” but as Batman stories taught us, all great things happened with others. Alfred was the enabling leader buying all the gadgets. robin was the sidekick that picked up friend off the floor when he needed it (and who doesn’t this kind of friend in our lives) and the police commissioner signals needs. All of our great work is a compilation of our own good work + who we surround ourselves by. More “caped crusaders” than just “the guy / gal in the cape”.

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  • Joan Stewart

    Hi Chris,

    Taken in a light note, message full of advice, great article.

    Love this part – “However, superheroes do their very best. They realize that they are the
    only ones who are going to answer the call. YOU are the only one who
    will answer the call to save yourself. They pick themselves up after
    every failure. They rethink things as fast as they can. They seek the
    next best approach if Plan A fails (and it always does).”

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