You're not a Superhuman

Writer’s note:

This post is from 2013 and is something I still think about often. A couple of things to share before you read this:

- my pops six years later is still doing remarkably well. He exercises daily, travels, and remains a Super Human. This is due in large part to my mother’s continued strength, focus, and optimism. She too is a Super Human.

- this post has its foundation in a few survey questions in particular from School Workplace Satisfaction Survey. What would you and your colleagues say to questions such as these?

  • I ask my colleagues for help when I need it.

  • I avoid competing with others in unhealthy ways.

  • I maintain a balance between work time and personal time without feeling guilty.

So thanks for reading, take good care of yourself, and be well.

- Nathan

The people I work for are passionate. They’re passionate about their jobs. They have a mission. They work long hours, sometimes under amazing stress, and do it year after year. They come in early to work and stay late. They volunteer for extra work almost constantly. They’re driven by purpose and a calling. “All hands on deck” is a daily reality. They’ll do just about whatever it takes to get the job done. You’d almost think they’re superhuman. Almost. But they’re not. Either are you. Superhuman only exists in comic books.

Let’s talk about this. We’ll use my remarkable mother as an example.

My parents have been through the gauntlet over the past few years. My dad was diagnosed with Parkinsons. Parkinsons is horrible. There’s nothing cool about it. My dad has handled the news amazingly and has tackled his treatment with astounding energy, grace, and focus. He’s rocking it. My mom and dad do daily exercises together. He works on physical and vocal therapy. He works out at the gym. He’s fit, strong, hilarious, and altogether impressive.

Recently, in order to maximize their time and energy together, my parents decided to sell the house where they raised me and brother and have lived for the past 33 years. Under any circumstance, this is a really difficult decision. Under these conditions, it’s acutely tough. They’re moving into a condo just a couple of blocks away from their house so they can retain their community while streamlining their lifestyle. They’re renovating the new place and after visiting yesterday to see the new construction, I’m sort of thinking we should sell our house and move into a condo. It’s going to be fly.

A few weeks ago, as they were selling their house, packing, cleaning, planning, and preparing for the next steps of life, the entirety of the situation hit my mom hard. Added all together, she was simply exhausted. Emotionally, physically, personally, and probably even spiritually. And for good reason. My mom is a resilient, strong, energetic, generous, and loving person. She has held everything together for years now and is tireless. Like many of the people I work around, she too has something that at times seems superhuman.

But no matter how resilient or how committed we are, we all have our limits. And she had reached hers.

Which got me to thinking: it is quite possible for us to be a “super human.” It’s entirely impossible to be “superhuman.” My mom is indeed a “super human.” Her capacity to help others in need is beyond compare. The world needs people like her. The world needs lots of people like her. But people like her (and likely like you) need to be careful.

Having immense compassion or purpose is a risky thing. A deep desire to work for the improvement of others, while commendable, is also something to be treated with caution. If we start to actually believe that we might be “superhuman,” it’s likely we’re going to miss or ignore sensible warning signs that we’ve reached our natural limits. Our ability to remain a “super human” is almost entirely contingent on our own mindfulness of our personal capacity. And by the way, I don’t care how awesome you think you are – we all can reach unsustainable levels of effort for others. It’s called being human.

I admit that I grow frustrated (and a bit cynical) when I see people responding to exactly this message with either delusional declarations of other-worldly stockpiles of energy or latent guilt from looking out for themselves. Stop it! Get over yourself! You’re awesome. But you’re not THAT awesome! You’re human. And humans are only pretty awesome. Since ancient times we’ve invented mythology to create real superhumans. I’ve never personally met a Thor, Athena, Super Man, or Wonder Woman. They’re the stuff of fiction.