Many moons ago, I spent the bulk of my working hours as a teaching artist for various theater companies in Philadelphia. One of my favorite classes to teach was called Storycrafters — designed for 1st and 2nd graders to act out their favorite picture books. In addition to seeking out the picture books to reenact, I had the freedom to create my own curriculum and invent new activities for the kids. Not only did the kids become characters from their favorite stories, I could give them the space to create brand new characters, ready to be in their own story. For this activity I gave these kids prep homework: I told them to design what their character would look like and bring in some sort of visual representation and be ready to talk about who they are. The plan was to act them out in class the following week.
Flash forward to the next class. All of the kids were abuzz, talking about the character they had created. Of the fifteen students, fourteen of them brought in drawings of the character. Each drawing showed what their personality was like and what superpowers they possessed. What about that fifteenth student? She sat quietly in the circle with a look of horror and embarrassment on her face. And she was clutching a shoe box.
We went around the circle, each kid sharing the character they had come up with. When it came time for the girl with the shoebox to present, she burst into tears. Through her cries and sniffles (and with some encouragement from the teacher), she mustered up the courage to open up the shoe box and show everyone what was inside. Out of the box emerged what was once a Barbie doll. She had painted her plastic body with bright colors and glitter and draped her in metallic scraps of fabric. She had given the doll an asymmetrical haircut, dyed it with food coloring and drizzled the hair with glitter glue. The inside of the shoebox was also covered in glitter — made to be the headquarters for this character. It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen explode from the brain of a seven year-old. And it was such an amazing interpretation of the homework assignment!
Sure all of the other kids were imaginative with the way they drew their characters on paper. And crayon on paper was the medium I assumed every first or second grader would work in. The fact that this one student's first response to the assignment was to make a 3-D model of her character was next level.
What broke my heart was the fact that this student thought she had done the assignment wrong. Because no one else had rendered their character in the same way, she assumed she failed. Was she going to be teased or bullied? Would she get in trouble for her interpretation of the assignment? And how could she hide when she did something that inherently stood out? Luckily she was not teased or bullied. No, she did not get in trouble. And she couldn’t hide. And because she doubted herself, none of our support and encouragement mattered. No matter how much we expressed joy and interest in her work, I could sense that she wished she had come in with a drawing like everyone else. That way she would have something to hide behind.
Why do we often feel like it’s so bad to stand out?
Sometimes I am fearful that my unique viewpoints and creative business practices will alienate me from those who follow the rules of the run-a-business-like-usual assignment. Every time I start to question my own artistic choices, business practices, or how I communicate my imagination and values, I should think of that doll. If I connect to my story of that day in Storycrafters, and how I wished that she could see that she stood out in the most magical of ways, then I can wish this for myself.
It’s okay to stand out. Showcase your strengths and your superpower set of values and talents.
One of the main resources for alleviating that worry and trusting my inner voice is to tap into my superpowers. I know this sounds a little woo-woo - but it's actually grounded in the story structure of comic books. In my Crafting Your Personal Narrative workshop, I work with clients on crafting their Origin Story. We spend a lot of time talking about an Origin Story as the way to answer the question "How did you get to where you are now?" But the origin of the Origin Story is from the world of comic books. Every superhero (and villain) has the tale of how they got their superpowers. And connecting the dots between the life experiences that got you to where you are now and your unique set of strengths and values (your superpowers) will get you to the story worth telling.
How do you figure out what your superpowers are? I do it through a series of worksheets (either in a workshop or 1-on-1 with clients) but you can also just list them out on a blank piece of paper. Start with ten.
In the last session of CYPN, I filled out the worksheets along with everyone else. Here's what I listed as my superpowers:
voice (my actual vocal cords and my worldview)
peculiar imagination (this is why I connected to my Storycrafters student so deeply!)
my ability to recreate something visually in my mind
my feet: Fibby and Capwell* (walking, tap dancing, grounding, balancing)
my morning routine
my ability to build out and stick to a habit
I'm glad I held on to this list. And it felt good to write out these superpowers again in this blog post. The more I can tap into them, embrace them, and use them, the more I can show up as my full self whether in a professional or social situation.
The next step for this list: choosing the three superpowers that you would hold on to forever, if you could only choose three. There's a good reason for this next step and those who have been through Crafting Your Personal Narrative discover this reason in their Story Strategy session at the end of their workshop experience. Once we have the stories to illuminate these superpowers, we are showing up and communicating in a truly authentic way. Dare to show up with the glittery Barbie in shoebox. It's worth it.
* When I was little I named my feet Fibby (L) and Capwell (R). Not sure why I did this, but now I think it’s pretty cool! I talked to them. I referred to them by name all the time. And now I can channel that moment from my life and connect it to one of my superpowers - my feet! Fun fact: My mom had a kids toy company for awhile and she named it Fibby & Capwell!)
Joint the next session of Crafting Your Personal Narrative. It runs six times a year and there might just be a spot in the next one waiting for you!