By Dee Williams
If you saw an ad that said, “Superhero Wanted,” would you feel qualified to apply? Most of us would say no. And I think that needs to change.
You can be (and likely already are) a superhero in your own life, simply by the way you show up – by waking up in the morning, listening to the people and natural beauty around you, bravely letting go of your own agenda when needed, and helping where you can. Maybe it looks more exciting to leap tall buildings, but it is equally powerful to keep your eye on the things that you love and contribute to your world.
Being a superhero in your own life might look totally different for everyone – we all have unique powers to offer, and a distinct set of challenges that call on our super reserves. I want to share what kind of super powers I’m trying to exercise right now, and share some stories from really amazing people I met recently so you can imagine yourself into your superhero role a little more clearly – no mutations required.
I first started experimenting with my invisible super hero cape at last year’s World Domination Summit, and got some practice more recently at The Vine, a fairly intimate event that kick starts the west coast’s biggest home show, the Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference (“PCBC”).
The Vine was founded on the idea that inspired people create inspired spaces, and offers architects, contractors and other building professionals the chance to think past the usual business of home building. I was humbled (and totally excited!) to be one of a dozen artists, filmmakers, authors and activists speaking at the event, and was equally impressed by the attendees, who were interested in much more than creating million dollar homes. They were just as curious about emerging trends like tiny houses, cottage communities, resource-efficient designs, and exactly the stuff that PAD is supporting through the Build Small Live Large Summit.
I was there to talk about how to cultivate a new understanding of yourself and your community by imagining that you’re a superhero. But what I noticed was that all the other speakers had each done that already, in their own totally unique ways.
John Francis did it with incredibly simple things: walking, and silence. John is an environmental activist with a fantastic story about (literally) exercising his environmental ethic – he refused to use gas-powered transportation, and ended up walking from San Francisco to Montana, to New York and back, for the next 22 years. For 17 of those years, he did not speak; he listened. And he discovered the spaciousness that comes by seeing the world one step at a time. Here’s a short excerpt from his new book, The Ragged Edge of Silence:
“Amid the clamor of the day and the quietude of night, it waits for discovery. Like the wilderness beside an asphalt road, in a vacant city lot or park, silence is the refuge and the void to which we are both drawn and repelled. At its edge all creation begins and ends.”
Nirvan Mullick did it by spotting something worth sharing, and helping create a movement to empower kids to create and invent. In 2012, he released a short documentary called “Caine’s Arcade” about a nine-year-old boy who created a cardboard arcade in his father’s auto parts shop. The video became a viral phenomenon, achieving international media attention and launching a worldwide movement of cardboard creativity. Nirvan’s advice to us was, “When in doubt, always go for the Fun Pass,” It’s somewhat intuitive, but will make even more sense if you watch the awesome documentary.
Courtney Ferrell, a creative consultant and one of the funniest, most energetic people I’ve ever met, has probably done it a million times, but my favorite example was when she took an unexpected approach to a mundane problem. She explained that she was invited to a fancy women’s lunch when her family first moved to Houston from Virginia, but on the day of the event, she ran late and didn’t have time to take a shower or poof her hair – an important requirement for many Texas women. She was determined to go anyway, so she threw on a gorilla suit, grabbed a banana and raced off to the brunch. When she walked into the room, she took off the gorilla mask and gushed with fake surprise: “Wow, ‘dressing up’ in Virginia means something completely different than it does in Texas!” And her improv comedy worked on the amused crowd! She saved the day by sidestepping convention and fearlessly doing something “outside the box,” and made some friends for life.
Super Showing Up
Imagining myself as a superhero offers me different powers at different times – because what it means to show up and be counted is always different. Right now, as I sit in my parents’ house in the Midwest, it means getting my dad to his cardiology appointment. It means sitting through dinner where my folks ask me the same question fifteen times, and it means helping my mom put her shoes on. It means going for a walk in 90-degree heat, and noticing there’s a snapping turtle hanging out under the willow tree on the swampy end of my dad’s property. It means slowing down, and simply being present.
It can be hard to let go of your personal agenda and be present for others, which is why I’ve traveled to the Midwest with my invisible superhero cape for a boost. I’ve been wearing it for nearly a week now, and I haven’t yet gotten it caught on furniture, closed it in the car door, or had someone step on the hem and drag me backwards, coughing. Instead, I’ve found myself standing slightly taller. I race in when my mom calls, and I sit with good posture when my dad tells me (again) how to start the lawnmower.
Sometimes what the world needs isn’t super speed or super strength, but super patience, super kindness, or super understanding. Sometimes it needs John Francis’s super silence, Nirvan Mullick’s super intuition, or Courtney Ferrell’s super humor. Whatever your world is asking you for, it’s in there. Just try on your cape, stand a little taller, and see what happens next.