Women’s history month honors the trailblazing women of history. All around us, the triumphs and life stories of women leaders are being honored in the media, in government, in museums, and in learning institutions. I took a moment to reflect on what this means to me. In addition to the women before us who found the courage to step outside their comfort zone, I continue to learn from and be inspired by present-day women all around me who skillfully use their well-honed superpower abilities to leave a mark on the world.
Every woman has a superpower. It’s your biggest personal asset, something you can’t not do. Superpowers are not just reserved for superheroes or famous people. They come in all sorts, colors, shapes, and sizes. Young girls, mid-career women, seasoned wise women all have them. Powerful and impactful women show the courage to identify their superpower and use it. It is not vain to consider your source of power, rather, the more you understand it, the stronger it becomes. I reiterate it takes courage!
As a young girl, I did not fully understand how to appreciate and cultivate personal power. Rather than looking within, I tended to look outside of myself for it. I looked to the approval of others as an acknowledgment of my value, to external standards and measures as proof of my success. While I performed very well academically and my well-respected performance carried over into my professional life, it wasn’t until my 30’s that I began to truly learn about myself and discover my own power. I made the connection between cause and effect in my own life, and that it was my power that created my results. I realized that following the rules and studying hard and doing the right thing were all great habits, and had gotten me far - however, I had not permitted myself to explore, identify and practice what it was that made me tick. On some level, I ignored my instinct in favor of following the rules and what I perceived as the way things were supposed to be done.
Today I know that I am a highly creative person; that is my superpower. If you look up the word creativity, you’ll find a range of definitions from broad to narrow. The one that resonates most with me is the power to use imagination to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and relationships, to create meaningful new ideas, methods, and interpretations to generate useful alternatives in problem-solving, communicating, and entertaining. The keywords that grab me are “imagination”, “transcend”, and “alternatives”. I love using my imagination to spin the traditional and come up with new ways. That’s me in a nutshell – it’s my go-to.
Somehow as a young girl the duty to always follow the rules translated to me as disregarding or discounting my own ideas, generating an inherent disconnect with my natural ability to be creative. I realized that as I began to exercise my creativity muscle, things began to show up all around me - in my personal life, professional life, as a mom, as a friend, as an advisor - because I allowed my power of creativity to flow. I encouraged my kids to color outside of the lines. I motivated my staff and colleagues to look at work through a new lens, seek original interpretations, and throw new ideas at problems. I was also inspired by clients and managers who entrusted me to bring my creative solutions to the table.
As a Learning and Organizational Development leader, my goal is to creatively design and lead learning experiences in ways that will be unforgettable to participants. I bring a concept to life by presenting the basic principles, underlying psychology and science in an interactive and relatable way. I enjoy expanding upon what has been done and introducing innovative activities, analogies, tools, and techniques.
In leading a workshop to a group of patient-facing medical professionals (doctors, nurses, CNAs, PAs) in a large health organization, I used a creative visualization technique to demonstrate effective listening. I led the participants to visualize one of their recent conversations with a patient – where were they, what time was it, what did they say, what did they hear, how effectively did they listen based on the principles I had just taught? Then we did it again, the second time leading them to intentionally apply the effective listening techniques and consider how the result might be different. I was cautious in leading this technique - a type of non-technical mindfulness exercise - with these professionals as I knew them to have traditionally scientific, technical, and methodical training and was less certain of how they would receive an imaginative type of exercise such as this one. All participants appeared engaged, except for one gentleman who had joined the session late and missed the opportunity to introduce himself, so I did not know much about him. He spent most of his time looking straight ahead, appearing borderline bored, leading me to assume he had no desire to be there and didn’t think there was anything he could learn from me. Near the end of the workshop, I asked my usual concluding question to participants: What’s one takeaway you will leave this workshop with and apply to your work? This particular gentleman began to stand, and as he introduced himself as Dr. X, a surgeon, I braced myself and held my breath, expecting the worst. “After listening to your visualization exercise, I realize that I don’t listen to my patients,” he said. We were all floored! He proceeded to describe how, before entering a patient’s room, he reviews the patient’s chart for recent updates and test results and begins to formulate the diagnosis and what he would do, say, and prescribe to the patient – all before he enters the room. He shared that he had stopped asking how his patients were feeling, and most importantly he had stopped listening to them. So, in answer to my question, he now planned to enter a patient’s room before reviewing their chart, ask and listen to how the patient was doing, and then proceed to review the chart with the patient in his presence and incorporate what he just heard in his evaluation of the patient. He was motivated to act differently in the future, and that will impact the patients he interacts with, the level of communication in his office, and perhaps even the colleagues he may choose to share this with.
What I love most about my superpower is that it motivates me and motivates others to act. I’ve learned from the fiercest women in history how to use my superpower not to rise up, but to LIFT UP. In lifting up others, you automatically lift up yourself. Rising up, advancing, getting promoted, etc. are all side effects of lifting up.
To the young women who are reading this, I urge you to think about what your superpower is. Let it awaken inside you. What’s the one thing you do by default and do well? Appreciate what it is. I invite you to identify and continue to strengthen your superpower every day. In my opinion, it will bring you more joy and more success if you focus more on strengthening your power and less on overcoming limitations. In the above example, I could have invested more time in learning technical medical terminology (= limitation) to prepare myself to teach the medical professionals rather than crafting an imaginative activity (= power) to use as a teaching tool, however, I am sure the result would have been very different and certainly not as impactful.
You may be much more impactful in the world, I believe, if you achieve a level of excellence as a brilliant and remain an average, rather than putting a disproportionate amount of energy towards improving something that is not your natural talent, your, at the expense of nurturing and honing your inherent ability, your. My daughter discovered her ” as she progressed through many years of dance and finally acknowledged that she was a good tap dancer, while she was an average ballet dance (her ). She could have spent hours and hours of additional practice trying to improve her ballet dancing, but it would never have reached the level of excellence of her tap dancing. So, she continued ballet, of course, and she also increased her focus on tap and became even better. She became known as the tap expert in her dance group. Today in college she is the head choreographer of her university’s spring theatre production – not because she is great in all types of dancing but because she knows how to hone talent, motivate others, and lift them up.
The impact that we make rubs off on the people around us. Women learn from women. As a professional, mom, daughter, sister, and wife, I’m a lifelong learner and I continue to draw strength from the superwomen around me. Each of them possesses their own unique superpower. The way we command and use our superpower is unique to each and every one of us and will make its own distinct impact, different from that of someone else who may possess a similar quality.
I polled a cross-section of inspiring women in my life ranging from personal friendships to professional relationships, from college age to retired grandmothers, and asked them to share what they identify as their superpower. As you see from the attached visual, their responses are truly inspirational.
Those who report the great ability to CONNECT, COMMUNICATE, RELATE, and EMPOWER say they were practically born with the ability to do this genuinely and effortlessly. They use their superpowers to connect people, build networks, and lift one another up in their personal and professional lives. Then there are those who are killing it with their ability to be CREATIVE, master SPEAKING, and PROBLEM-SOLVE, MULTI-TASK and ASSESS with near flawlessness. They use their natural abilities to get things done, teach and lead others, and garner attention by producing results. Those that use their unwavering RESILIENCY, LOYALTY, FAITH, and HUMOR have demonstrated the ability to overcome, to stick with it, to adapt, and move forward. They build relationships, gain trust, provide comfort, and de-escalate tense situations. They are role models to their children, staff, clients, and colleagues.
I was thrilled to notice how all these superpowers fall under the category of “soft skills”. Soft skills are non-technical skills that relate to how you work. They include how you interact with others, how you solve problems, and how you manage your work. They include interpersonal (people) skills, communication skills, listening skills, time management, and empathy, among others. Hiring managers typically look for job candidates with exceptional soft skills because they make someone more successful in the workplace. More importantly, everything I read and everyone I talk to regarding talent management say that soft skills are what differentiate us from machine-generated processes. Artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technology have come very far, and they enable the accomplishment of mundane, methodical, repetitive tasks with much greater speed and efficiency than humans can. What AI cannot do as well as humans is replicate and excel in soft skill capacities. Yes, my friends, these superpowers are what employers look for. They will lift you up in your career.
All these women have lifted me and inspired me, and I am grateful to them for sharing their superpowers so that you may get a glimpse of what makes women powerful. So, as you’re reading this have you begun to think about your superpower? Were you able to name it immediately, or has this gotten your wheels going? Is your superpower a soft skill? Is it one of those named above, or something different? How will you utilize it?
As we close out the month of March recognizing the past and ongoing contributions of women, let’s keep in mind both the grand and seemingly subtle powers that we all have. Let’s #ChooseToChallenge and seek out and celebrate women's achievements and superpowers - so that collectively we can all help create an inclusive world.
Alessia A., college student
Arianna G., human resources manager
B.E.S., college student
D.A.F., former banker and present educator
D.M.G., fundraiser and franchise owner
Gina P., retired seamstress, immigrant, widow, grandmother
L.M.C, wealth advisor
Marisa G., “The Great Communicator”, retired elementary school principal
Naheed K., grant director and Ph.D. candidate
Tina P., licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)
T.L., psychologist and contact tracer
V.B., certified public accountant (CPA)
V.S.S., community development liaison/instructor