What is your superpower?
I don’t mean the ability to crush steel with your bare hands or to leap tall buildings. I’m talking about a gift you were born with, something you do better than just about everyone else. That is your superpower.
Each of us has at least one, maybe even a few. Identifying your superpower(s) is essential, because superpowers can either work for us or against us. In the wrong environment, our superpowers become our kryptonite. But if we play to our strengths, everything becomes easier.
In school, we spend most of our time focused on what we can’t do. That’s especially true for those of us with ADHD. We have a lot of guilt when a teacher or parent says, “If only you’d put as much effort into geometry as you do on the football field!” (or on video games, or whatever our passions might be). What parents and teachers don’t understand is that it’s not an “effort” thing; it’s a “superpower” thing. When an environment or activity allows us to use our superpowers, the task feels almost effortless.
Discover Your Superpowers
Few people can identify their own superpowers. These abilities come so naturally to us that we don’t recognize them as anything special. We almost always need feedback from others to identify them.
> Have you ever received a compliment for something you did, but brushed it off? “Oh, that was nothing; it was simple.” The compliment was probably pointing to one of your superpowers. I had a student who was a gifted painter, but he always shrugged off compliments. “Oh, it was easy.” It was so easy that his works of art didn’t seem special to him. His superpower was hiding in plain sight.
Another example is my father. He’s a great conversationalist. Since childhood, he’s always been able to make friends easily. As an adult, he can start conversations in a room full of strangers, and make someone new to a group feel at ease. I’m shy around new people, so I marveled at Dad’s abilities. In typical “superpower” fashion, he doesn’t think his gift is extraordinary. “It’s easy! Just start with the weather or give a person a compliment!”
> Ask several friends, family, teachers, or coaches for input. “What are some things I do really well?” A pattern will emerge; that’s your superpower. My cousin did this exercise for a high school leadership class. He was surprised when everyone mentioned his gift for asking good questions. He sometimes felt his questions were annoying. He discovered that he asks the questions others are often afraid to ask.
> Ask what gets you in trouble? Chances are, it’s a superpower. Back in his school days, my dad was always getting in trouble for talking too much. That should have been a clue.
Before I thought about superpowers, I had a third grader, Carl, who had a very loud voice. When he walked down the hallway, teachers ducked out of their classrooms to shush him. Classmates told him to be quiet. Carl was frustrated and embarrassed. One day, I realized that his voice was a gift. I explained to him, in front of the class, “Some day, Carl, you will make a great radio personality, a public speaker. Your voice is something special. A lot of people are going to ‘shhh’ you through the years, but don’t apologize for your voice.”
When a Strength Becomes Your Kryptonite
Your superpower is a natural, ingrained gift. It’s so powerful that you can’t not express it.
My dad’s gift for conversation is a wonderful asset in his adult life. However, in school, it frustrated his teachers. Likewise, students who are gifted on the football field often have a hard time sitting still in class.
Sometimes we have limited control over our environment, but the value of identifying your superpower is the perspective it gives you, especially in school. A friendly or athletic student will begin to understand that her behavior is not inherently “bad”; it’s just not right for certain environments.
Types of Superpowers
The tricky thing about superpowers is that most are subtle, not as obvious as my artistic student’s gift for painting. Here are a few examples:
> My son, age 11, has a superpower for mediating. When we say he can’t do something, he asks, “Why?” He’ll chew on our answer for a while. Then he will come up with solutions to get what he wants, while honoring our objections. Sometimes it’s annoying. But mostly, I admire his problem-solving skills.
> My daughter, age six, is a fashion diva. Since she was two years old, she’s been bringing me shoes and purses to match my outfits. I never matched my purse and shoes before, but she instinctively understands style. It might not help her learn how to read, but it will be useful as she grows up. A friend said of her, “That’s a skill people will pay big money for!”
Success in school relies heavily on executive function, which is the usual “kryptonite” for anyone with ADHD. Knowing our weaknesses is half the battle. If we can identify our superpowers, we won’t be defined by our struggles. Our anxiety fades. We can look for ways to let our superpower shine in school through leadership opportunities, elective classes, or extracurricular activities.
One of the best examples is Carl. As soon as I pointed out that his voice was a gift, his behavior changed. He was more confident and less agitated. He still needed reminders to quiet down, but not as often. His classmates’ reactions changed, too. Instead of getting frustrated, they would remind him with friendly, teasing remarks. Changing that perspective on Carl’s voice changed the atmosphere in my classroom.