Guest Column: The Superhero in us
Look! In the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane… no it’s Superman! Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, the character created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster in Action Comics No 1 has become something of an icon for our times.
I spent my adolescent years wanting to be Man of Steel, gelled my hair in a curl at the front and tried to save my annoyed Mother from burning buildings many a time. I will always remember watching the Superman movie with Christopher Reeve when I was 10 in Malawi. The John Williams theme and the bright red S made an impression me. I mean the film poster was so right – “Do you believe a man can fly?” I just thought it was so super cool!
The mystery behind the Man of Steel has always been around his contradictory characteristics. This contradiction truly resonated with me. Being 13 and realising I was different to the other kids turned my sense of awe into empathy toward Superman. His dualities i.e. the superhero and the façade of Clark Kent suddenly became part of everyday life and indeed a struggle.
In 1991, at 18 I finally came out - during a period when UK Law was very restrictive and the age of consent was still 21. Many of my peer groups at University found out and stopped talking to me. Like Superman’s adopted parents in Smallville, my family and friends insisted that I kept “my identity” a secret. Superman assumed the identity of Clark Kent, while I assumed an alter ego of “the straight acting guy”. He chose to wear a pair of glasses so that people would think he was quiet and reserved – I did the same and became cautious (to the extreme) about everything I wore to ensure I did not give my secret away. I assumed two identities – one that was deemed “appropriate” at work, while the other real me “came out” on the weekend.
I joined my existing workplace in December 2003 and created an imaginary Lois Lane in the form of Tanya Irwing. My colleagues were curious and wanted to meet Tanya at the Christmas parties functions – but as “she” worked in retail, she was never really able to make it! Little did anyone know that I was in fact dating Jimmy Olsen! Like most, I’d witnessed idle banter amongst the guys over drinks, including the stereotypical ‘queer’ jokes many a time and became paranoid of being discovered and made a conscious decision never to come out at work for fear of rejection and lack of progression. This translated to a lack in confidence and rigidity in my approach, particularly in my demeanour on client engagements which continually reflected in my year end reviews. I recall one statement in particular - summing me up as “overtly conservative” (anyone who knows me will see the irony). Assuming dual identities was exhausting and each Sunday evening I would invent stories, events, clubs and people that I had socialised or visited over the weekend.
The death of my Mother in 2011 was a pivotal moment in my life and I realised the last son of Krypton has the perfect grounding as a leader, so why not me? Beyond his super powers what struck me the most about Superman was his unrelenting ability to see the positive in every situation. Despite continuous plots and scheme by arch enemies from the likes of Lex Luthor to General Zod – the guy still managed to behave and act with the utmost respect and integrity. Superman was often lonely and troubled, yet, regardless of circumstance, he strived toward positivity and fought for a purpose. During the summer of the same year, I finally brought my date (now my husband) with me to the UK Summer Ball. The “sex change” had turned Tanya into Norbert!
Throughout history, there has been a powerful charisma, trait or energy that draws people to successful leader. Superman is no exception and neither is any one of us - regardless of creed, colour or sexual orientation. Although many of our leaders nowadays have charismatic abilities, there is a large difference between if they are maintaining the status quo, or if they are truly direct leaders who wish to innovate the times.
Successful leadership requires much more than just personal “gifts” and some type of motivation. Superman is a consummate leader because of his passion arising from his alter-ego, Clark Kent. Similarly, there is more to each and every one of us than our orientation. Ultimately, like Superman, our acceptance needs to be that we are human and we cannot do everything alone. Without support from people around us – Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and in some cases Wonder Woman and Batman (for those who are die hard fans of the Justice League) – Superman would never succeed.
Superman is a superhero due to his many powers. However, even with all of his strengths, Superman has a vulnerability – Kryptonite – therefore, he is not perfect. He has a flaw. The greatest temptation many of us face at work is to appear perfect, flawless, impenetrable and invincible. If we were to admit otherwise we would ask ourselves “Why would anyone trust and follow me if I’m flawed and vulnerable?”. Like Superman, we need to accept and live with our own personal Kryptonite.
As our lives become a whirlwind of increasing responsibilities, being positive becomes more difficult. Now I see more than ever that being leader, means you have to stay positive and lead by example. When things get tough, I turn back to my childhood and remind myself of the role models of my imagination. Calling to mind the Man of Steel is my catalyst to accept myself without conditions, see the positive, allowing me to be what a younger me had always hoped for: - something of a superhero.