Superheroes and Self-Reliance

“I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Let’s assume for a moment that you have a couple of funky superpowers: You can melt steel with your laser glare. You can jump a thousand foot high. You can lift a ton of weight with your little finger alone. What the heck, you are immortal!

Now, the tough question: Do you use your powers to become a superhero, or a supervillain?

This question is neither as hypothetic nor as ridiculous as it first seems. Much to the contrary, I believe how you answer it is deeply related to the core of your being – and as such, it plays a vital role in your day-to-day life and happiness.

Here’s how I see it: Human beings are better than their reputation.

The main problem isn’t that they are egomaniac, selfish, and power-hungry – actually, it’s almost the opposite:1 It’s that they don’t trust themselves enough. It’s that they are afraid to follow their gut feeling and express their true self; it’s that they are scared so much that they feel powerless. They are scared because they aren’t conscious of the superpowers they possess.

Which brings me to my second point: You possess superpowers! Dare to use them!

Maybe you cannot cut through steel with your gaze. Maybe you cannot jump onto the Chrysler building, or carry your car home if you run out of gas. And, most probably, you are going to die.

This doesn’t mean you are doomed to be a (super)powerless person, though.

You may have heard the same old stories for decades: “Play it safe! Do what you are told! Do what everybody else is doing – or you’ll suffer. You won’t be able to sustain yourself!”

If Spiderman believed this kind of stories, he wouldn’t be able to shoot webs from his wrists and fly through New York City. He would just be Peter Parker, sitting at home alone, wondering about how he could invite Mary Jane to a date.

The good thing is that he doesn’t believe these stories anymore. The lesson is a tough one for him2 – but ultimately, there are two things he understands:

  1. He is far more powerful than he first expected.
  2. He can use his powers for good – and this is more than a possibility, it’s a duty.

Think about it: Once Peter gets conscious of his powers, he doesn’t join the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus to terrorize the city! He realizes that “with great power there must also come great responsibility” – and he acts accordingly. Instead of abusing his powers to dominate the planet, he assumes his responsibility to make the world a better place. His choice is clear: Superhero, not supervillain!

The basis for it?

Trust in himself.
And self-reliance.

Self-Reliance: Chance or Threat?

What if everybody became aware of their superpowers? Would they use them for good, or would they use them to do harm? Superpowers are often individual talents – is there any way for all of us to let them out, and still live in a world of community and friendship?

One common fear when it comes to pursuing a self-reliant and sovereign life is this: What if everybody did that? Wouldn’t we drown in chaos, hate, and adversity? In a world of so many opposing views and forces, how could we possibly live as personal sovereigns, friendly anarchists, and self-reliant individuals without permanently fighting each other?

On the other hand, think about the alternative: What if people continued to ignore their powers? What if everybody conformed? Wouldn’t that be much worse?

And isn’t that precisely the reason why so many people live unhappily, way below their personal potential?

Peter Parker understood the problems that lie in conformance, in distrusting ourselves, in not tapping our superpowers.

And so did many people before him. Take Ralph Waldo Emerson: For him, self-reliance means doing what has to be done, speaking the truth, and living an authentic life. But it doesn’t mean disrespect for others and mere egoism. For him, the radical action that follows from listening to our true self and acting accordingly is a way of collaborating with the universe, rather than fighting against it. Superhero, not supervillain!

The truth is: (Super)Heroism and self-reliance are really two sides of the same coin! If we want to live our life truly and authentically, it’s of central importance to discover our superpowers – and use them for good.

In order to do that, we have to listen inside, trust our judgment, and get moving. And today is the best day to start: Because today is the beginning of #Trust30, an online initiative and 30-day writing challenge that encourages you to look within and trust yourself. It’s an opportunity to reflect on where you are currently at, identify your superpowers, and to create direction for your future.

Starting today, 30 prompts from 29 inspiring thought-leaders (and one friendly anarchistic dilettante) will guide you on your writing journey. Join us here! Because self-reliance is a chance, not a threat. Let’s use it to become superheroes, not supervillains!


The illustration for this post is based on a wonderful photograph CC-BY-ND by Iain Farrell (Thank you for granting me the permission to alter it!) and a public domain image from the Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Okay, I am probably being a bit naive here. Some people indeed are egomaniac, selfish, and power-hungry. But as far as my experience goes, most of them are not. []
  2. Spoiler for non-comic readers: He loses his uncle because of neglecting his responsibilities at first. []

Comments 9

  1. Janet June 1, 2011

    so stoked to see you’re one of the contributors! when i was a kid, i used to think of myself/imagine i was superjanet and that i DID have super powers.. to get things done and be productive! i think i was a pretty wise kid and i should think about my superpower mojo more often ;)

    • Fabian June 1, 2011

      Wow, GTD superpowers for a kid – sounds pretty extraordinarily! All I wanted to do is fly, but it never worked. Probably because people were looking! :D
      Anyway, you certainly have plenty of superpowers, and I love to see how you are using them!

  2. Milo June 1, 2011

    Hilarious picture Fabian, and I’m a sucker for all things superhero so have to agree with your argument here. I was also delighted (and a little jealous) to see you included as one of the contributors – you’re in extremely good company!

    p.s. I wonder how many location independent bloggers dreamt/dream of flying?

    • Fabian June 1, 2011

      Thanks Milo. I shopped the picture half asleep yesterday, but I also like how it turned out! :)
      And you are certainly right that flying might be a popular wannabe superpower among LIPs! :D

  3. Shanna Mann June 1, 2011

    Yes! This. This isn’t precisely how I would have worded it, but this is exactly why more people don’t step into their power. They don’t trust themselves. And they need to.

    Trust 30 sounds like an interesting thought experiment (and congrats for being included!) I am definitely up for some insight

    • Fabian June 1, 2011

      Hope you enjoy the Trust30 challenge, Shanna! Thanks a lot for dropping by! :)

  4. Lindsay June 6, 2011

    Fabian,

    Thank you for your inspirational and challenging thoughts. I look forward to your posts and take time to consider your words. I appreciate you!

    :) Happy Day To You

  5. Pingback: Imitation is NOT a Dirty Word (it isn't even four letters)

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