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Secret Lives of Superheros

Superhero's ..... (198/365)
Credit: flickr / Steve Tolcher

The wonderful Serena invited me to join her for a panel at a women/tech conference in October. We’re still working out the details, but essentially we’ll be talking about role models – our own personal superheros. if you will.

Some points that I’m thinking about:

  • It’s great to see really successful women in tech, I adored Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement speech and the WSJ had an article about women at Google recently which was encouraging.
  • But what about the superheros you know who not only inspire you, but you can call in a crisis?
  • What about the superheros who call you in a crisis? I know a lot of awesome people, many of them women. I know all of them have setbacks, periods of doubt. I know all of them have failed. Knowing this, doesn’t make me think they are any less awesome, it makes me appreciate what they achieve all the more.
  • There’s always a flip-side. Failure. Weeks living on Cherios. Days with too much wine/vodka (what’s your poison?). Mornings where getting out of bed is just too much. Mostly, we don’t see them – and so being a superhero looks easier than it is.
  • Recent talk I gave, someone fabulous gave me quite an introduction. Honestly, I didn’t think I could follow it. She says, “here’s this amazing thing about Cate” and for each one I think about how that was really the result of me screwing up in some way (the flip-side).
  • So what’s your super-power? My friend Maggie called it on mine. She said, “I think the main thing you got out of grad school was learning to make the best of a shitty situation”. It’s true, my super-power might be the pursuit of an interesting life. Good things have come as a result of that – and bloody hard work.

Core messages:

  • Superheros are everywhere (and, actually, they are human).
  • Get to know as many superheros as you can.
  • Don’t underestimate yourself – being a superhero doesn’t mean that it’s not hard, or that you won’t fail.

Looking for feedback and ideas. Particularly, I’d love to know:

  • Tell me about your superheros. What do they do that makes you think they are extraordinary? In what ways have they struggled? What have you learned from them as a result?
  • What’s a key piece of advice you’d like to tell you at 20? (or at any point?) For me: those arrogant boys are not as good as they think they are, and you are doing better than you think.
  • What’s your super-power?


8 replies on “Secret Lives of Superheros”

My father is my superhero. His call in life is to ensure justice is available to those who cannot afford it and to help normal people realize that it is OK to mess up and get help – that things can get better even in these moments of shame. 

There is this weird underbelly to this calling. Often my father would represent family members, in a very discreet way, helping the cousin arrested for drunk-driving the third time from going to jail, seeking a mediating resolution for divorcing relations (and my father is a criminal defense attorney, so taking on a divorce case is reserved for the seriously in-need friends/family).

We would walk into a room, and you would see faces turn to red, remembering how my father helped them, but no one actually talking about it, praising him, saying openly how much they admire him.

It amazes me, his kindness, his ability to deal in such a dark world. It has taken its toll on him – he hasn’t had the easiest life, and he has made some pretty big mistakes. And I look at those mistakes, the big ones even, and appreciate how they have allowed me to be more forgiving on myself. How they have made me the empathetic person, even to people in their darkest moments.

Thanks, Cate, for this article – I needed it this morning.

I love this description of why your father is your superhero – this is *exactly* the kind of example that we were thinking about and looking for. Thanks so much for sharing it! It is interesting, how people react to people who have done them a favor.

Tell me about your superheros. What do they do that makes you think they are extraordinary? In what ways have they struggled? What have you learned from them as a result?- I think the discourse around heros isolates them from those who support them. Like, no one ever talks about Ghandi’s wife and kids, you know? Or Nelson Mandela’s daughter, who spent 4 decades without her father.  I feel really inspired by the stories of those who surround the people we admire, because they, in a lot of ways, sacrifice so those they love will can succeed. I had to do a big research project about Ghandi in the 12th grade, and it changed my perspective on how we talk about success. There’s this thing people do, I can’t remember the actual name for it, but basically, when someone succeeds, we don’t analyse cases of other people who did what those people did and failed. We only look at the successful situation, and say “oh, they must be better people, instead of them perhaps being lucky, or knowing the right people or having more money for longer, or having a class/gender privilege, etc./whatever”. And that’s why I admire those that surround a successful person, because they are often the linchpins. Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t have been Sherlock Holmes without Watson. Now, that all said, my personal hero is Ayn Rand, even though I hate absolutely everything she said. The woman took the adversity of the dark side of communism (in the same way that there is a dark side to capitalism!) and rose through it, and created something bigger than herself from it, and used her pain in a constructive manner. She was creative, and I know I can admire people who did things I actually enjoy, but that’s sort of the easy way out when looking at the world. I want to do spin adversity into glory with my life one day, and Ayn’s story taught me that nothing can oppress you unless you allow it to do so. I don’t think you have to like someone to respect them, so that’s why I have so much admiration for Rand. I can’t stand her philosophy, but I would be foolish to deny what she has done for a liberal/libertarian thought that has undeniably strengthened me throughout my life (albeit while oppressing others…) and the strength of will with which she did it. Also, her philosophy of sex is pretty boss, everyone should look into it! :PWhat’s your super-power?My energy. It’s always high, never fails and is always positive. I had to fight hard to win it, but my positive attitude is the strongest thing I have going for me!

I have been chanting ‘Dagney Taggart’ to myself running up every hill since I can remember :-).

I had to look that up! Been trying to mix up reading list lately, perhaps Atlas Shrugged should be on that list.

“I feel really inspired by the stories of those who surround the people we admire, because they, in a lot of ways, sacrifice so those they love will can succeed”

– Thanks – really useful point.

Yeah absolutely! 

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as well. The importance of seeking out mentors is frequently stressed, but I think too often we focus on looking for mentors in a hierarchical way. (Answering the questions: Who is someone with a career that I’d like to have in 5 years?)

I’ve often found that the people who help you are the mentors you make around you–sideways, up, and down in the hierarchy. As great as it is to talk to someone older than you and with more experience than you and gain their insights from their years of work/experience, it’s also invaluable to offer feedback to peers that are frequently in similar, if not the same, situation as you! I also love talking to people who are younger than me and having their enthusiasm power me! It’s nice seeing something old from fresh eyes.

So–superheroes? all around! in so many ways! Not just people far away, in a hierarchical, geographical, or temporal sense (although those are still important too!)

Thanks Maggie, I really like the point about mentors you find sideways in similar situations. That’s so important – remembering when you struggled 5 years ago and sharing that may not be as helpful as someone who struggled last week.

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