Forget the "small talk". Lighting up your superpowers = happier work life

Psychological research has shown time and time again that identifying what I call “superpowers” (others call signature strengths) increases life satisfaction and reduces depression for up to 6 months. Imagine the impact on work happiness if you spent all of your time at work using your newly identified superpowers...eh? Spending time at work doing things that you love doing and are great at? And get paid?

This is the moment that one of my superpowers lit up enough for me to take note. Mid-thirties. Girl’s weekend away. French Alps. Oldest school friends from Northern Ireland. These girls knew me as a teenager, as a student and as a tax-paying grown-up. I vividly remember a wine-fuelled conversation when all of them moaned in complaint at my intensive deep questioning about their/our life goals.  “Bloody hell Lucia…give us a break!”  In truth, they might have used slightly stronger language! They’d had enough of my questions. It was exhausting for them. Not for me though. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been overly comfortable or even good at small talk but I LOVE “big talk”. 

Something lights up within me when I am having a deep conversation with another human. Often, one or more of those involved in this “big talk” exposes something intimate and personal that they hadn’t meant to expose. These moments hit my emotion sensors like an electric shock. I simply feel MORE ALIVE. Once I realised that these “big talk” conversations excited me, I appeared to have loads more of them, either through luck or by design. 

I have some of the most amazing conversations in the weirdest of places – at the supermarket check-out, on the train, at funerals, in the bike shop and very recently in a carpark with an unusually upbeat and charismatic Sussex traffic warden.    I don’t exactly know how I do it. I think it involves asking at least one more question than is socially acceptable in our very polite society.  It also involves having zero fear of the answers. I now know why I do it – it makes me feel alive.  Maybe there are other reasons but I don’t care as this one is enough to drive me towards doing it at every opportunity. I consider this to be one of my superpowers. 

Did I forget to mention that not all superpowers are loved by everyone around you?  My husband rarely wants to be on the receiving end of my ‘big talk’ after a long day at work. Clark Kent didn’t use his superpowers all the time, did he? Just when he needed or wanted to use them. But he appeared to be ‘in the zone’ when he was using them. Would you agree? You can choose when and to whom you show your superpowers.

So what exactly is a superpower?  Here are three major superpower categories:

1.   Something that people often come to you to for help with

 2.   Something that you do better than others, do regardless of others’ opinions (see above) and doesn’t drain the life out of you

 3.   Something that you love doing so much that you would do it for free.

They are all self-explanatory but often clients struggle with this straight off the bat. So, here are some examples from both clients and friends.

1.   Something that people often come to you to for help with

a.   One of E’s superpowers is to speedily put love and warmth into a room by using some internal design eye. The day before the photographer arrived to take photos when we were putting our house on the market, E dropped over with a couple of hastily-grabbed items from her home to transform my minimalistic and slightly cold living room into a warm, cosy want-to-cuddle-up-here-on-a-Saturday-night snug. It took her about 20 seconds and I could see she loved doing it. A pretty obvious superpower to me but she doesn’t really use this superpower at work.

 2.   Something that you do better than others, regardless of others’ opinions and doesn’t drain the life out of you

a.   One of T’s superpowers is her ability to link detailed and accurate numbers to the big picture better than most people in her business. This superpower made her feel great internally when she got to use it and she felt valued by others when they saw what she was able to do. She realised that this superpower wasn’t being used at all in her role at the time. This knowledge helped her to decide to move into a new division of her current business where her superpower would be viewed as critical to the success of many specific projects, thereby allowing her to feel valued every single day.

b.   One of C’s superpowers is the ability to draw stunning images of building designs which far exceed anything his competitors offered. This superpower is now driving his marketing activities to allow him to win more of the type of historical restoration work which he adores. Surprisingly, he did these drawings whilst sitting in his living room, chatting with his wife and children in the evening because they didn’t require absolute silence or absolute focus. Superpowers often don’t. 

c.    One of A’s superpowers was to boldly take what other’s perceived as “knee-jerk/flighty” risks to keep her successful business in constant growth. It transpired that these so-called “knee-jerk/flighty” decisions were all analysed in great depth. The problem was that she could do this 360 degree analysis faster than anyone around her believed was possible. She is now beginning to point those “instinctive” analytical, opportunity-seeking business skills at a new exciting sector – a sector that she has always been interested in but was advised against all of her life. As an aside, if you read my article on the impossibility of taking advice from others (https://www.midlifeunstuck.com/new-blog-1/2017/5/15/the-90s-song-that-caused-me-to-shut-my-career-coaching-business-just-as-it-was-blossomingalmost) you’ll understand why she returns to her youthful goal. 

3.   Something that you love doing so much that you would do it for free.

a.   One of G’s superpowers is a rare ability to get people who don’t want to change to change, happily. G can get people to contribute to big company system and process change projects with absolute ease and sees obstacles as simply new opportunities. When she spends long days convincing senior resistors to jump on board her change bus, she comes home invigorated, excited and ready to take on the world. Her children benefit from this energy. Let me be clear, G would not do this for free – it is work after all. But she would accept lower pay on those days if she got higher pay on the days she had to do all the other pieces of work that she doesn’t now consider as utilising her superpower. What a perfect world that would be!

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To conclude, my personal research is in absolute agreement with the psychological research i.e. using your some of/all of/most of your superpowers at work makes a big difference to your happiness at work. It also makes a big difference to what’s left over at the end of the working day for the rest of your family and friends. 

Some people can just find their superpowers by listing responses to the above three categories but mostly it takes a deeper-dive on those activities to find the under-lying driver behind a skill which then elevates it to a superpower.

If you are interested in lighting up your superpowers in the workplace, have a look at www.midlifeunstuck.com/how-i-work/ or drop me an email at lucia@midlifeunstuck.com to set up a time to speak confidentially. If you’re not quite ready but would like access to a growing body of free resources including articles, book recommendations and an up-and-coming selection of client transformation stories, signup to my newsletter at www.midlifeunstuck.com/coaching-work/.