What's your superpower?

This is the second in a series of blog posts that will provide a preview of the Amplify women and gender initiative. Each post will vary in format (writing, video, photos) and will include an interactive component. This week, you’re invited to respond to an anonymous online poll. The results of the poll will be shared in the next post.

I was about to go on stage, and I was frustrated. “What made you think this was a good idea?” I silent-screamed at myself in the mirror.

The TEDx event had loomed on my calendar for months. I’d written and rewritten my talk. Rehearsed it over and over. But still, I didn’t feel ready. I felt terrified.

The green room was empty, and I could hear my fear loud and clear:

  • Who do you think you are, Brené Brown or something?
  • Speaking of Brené Brown, she’s way funnier than you.
  • How can you be so afraid if your talk is on bravery?
  • (That’s called “irony,” BTW.)

I wasn’t doing the talk because I had “an idea worth spreading.” Rather, I was doing the talk to practice bravery. To willingly make myself vulnerable to everything we fear most as women.

Judgment, failure, shame. All of it.

As the last speaker on the agenda, my day had been torturous. I channeled each speaker’s anxiety as they stepped onto the stage. My heart stopped whenever they lost their train of thought. And when the crowd applauded at the end, I envied their relief.

I had only a few minutes left, and I knew it was time. Time to tap into my superpower.

My superpower is my top value in life. Love. And in this moment, it was my love for women and girls. A love that developed over many decades of lived experience as a woman in this world. A love that burned hotter when I became the mother of a little girl. A love that is focused and clear and powerful.

I meditated on my superpower. Let it fill up my lungs as I breathed in. With each exhale, I sent it out to all of the women I hoped this message would reach. And then, with the calm that comes when the inevitable has finally arrived, I walked through the doors and onto the stage.

Click the image to see me flex my superpower

You, too, have superpowers. They are the values that you’ve developed over the course of your life, revealed during times of challenge, moments of inspiration, and the like.

We don’t typically think about our values, but they’re always in the background, gently informing our decisions and guiding our lives. We may even take them for granted, so much so that over time, they become invisible.

That is, until they’re challenged. Then they rise up from the background to the foreground of our consciousness and they become all that we can see.

Let’s take the 2017 Women’s March. The largest single-day demonstration in recorded US history where an estimated 4 million people marched in solidarity and protest. Sister marches in countries ranging from Antarctica to Zimbabwe drew hundreds of thousands more.

While there were many different reasons people participated in the march, it’s safe to assume that each person was inspired by their values or a perceived threat to their values. From the grandmother whose poster said, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this (insert expletive),” to the men who were supporting the women they loved, personal values were the inspiration for their activism.

Values are catalysts for incredible change. They are the foundation upon which nations, religions, and whole societies are formed. Without trying to be overly dramatic, people are willing to live and die for their values. So it’s not much of a stretch to consider them superpowers.

In my diversity work, I’ve learned that values are very much tied to identity. For people with marginalized and minoritized identities, values are sometimes passed from one generation to another as a way to survive and thrive. Or they are the result of life challenges and hurts associated with these identities.

In last week’s post, I asked the question, “What one skill, strength, or perspective have you developed because of your identities?”

Here are the responses:

  • Resilience
  • Perseverance
  • Assertiveness
  • Empathy
  • Adaptability
  • Wisdom
  • Confidence
  • Strength
  • Authenticity
  • Compassion
  • Integrity
  • Passion
  • No-nonsense
  • Courage
  • Driven

It does not take much to translate or reframe these words into values. And when they are activated – whether that’s by challenge or choice or in service of something else – they become incredible forces.

They become superpowers.

What are your values? It may have been a long time since you thought about this, but take a second to reflect:

  1. Think of people you admire. What values do they embody?
  2. Recall a time when you were frustrated. What values were being challenged?
  3. Look at your calendar. What values can be discerned by how you spend your time?

Once you’ve identified a few values, write them down on a piece of paper. Review them in their totality and as individual values.

These are my top 5 values/superpowers

This is the first step to transforming them into superpowers. The next step is using them. And by that, I mean reflecting on them before you do anything that scares you. This simple act – reflecting on your values – is a proven (as in empirical-based-research-proven) way to manage things like Impostor Syndrome and other challenges that disproportionately impact women.

Values inspire action. They shield us from attack. They give us courage and remind us to be brave.

They are our superpowers.

Amplify contends that a hidden force undermining women is internalized oppression. This plays out as the oft-cited Imposter Syndrome, where women feel like frauds regardless of their competence, to the conflict women experience around their identities and life choices. Amplify will provide tools to recognize and change our perceptions of ourselves and other women. We hope you will join us. Click here to learn more.
Participate in Amplify. Answer the question, “What descriptors or adjectives come to mind when you think of the word ‘leader’?” Results will be shared in the next blog post. Click here to participate in the anonymous poll.
Share Amplify. Forward this to another person. Post it to your social media account. Like it on LinkedIn.

Alexis Kanda-Olmstead is a lover of books, Beyoncé, and really sharp #2 pencils. She leads talent management and employee engagement efforts at Dartmouth College and coordinates Amplify, a CASE D1 venture-funded women and gender initiative. Alexis holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Studies from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University, and a certificate in Organization Development from Colorado State University. She is a certified StrengthsFinder Educator and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Practitioner, TEDx speaker, and feminist mommy blogger. She doesn’t have any hobbies per se, unless you count trying to change the world for women and girls.

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