Super Human

You and those you admire have a lot in common, despite how it may seem

When LeBron James wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I wonder if he slaps himself across the chest and raises an arm in victory.

Or, I wonder how cool Michelle Obama is when she trips over the corner of a rug in the living room...

When watching powerhouse people from a distance, all you see is the ‘powerhouse’ part, where they seem to be in control at all times. That’s of course partly because the camera’s not rolling every minute of the day, but what if it was? Presumably you’d find one of two scenarios:

  1. Your role-model figure is in powerhouse mode 100% of the time, because that’s just who they are. Between the moment they leap out of bed and the moment they cannonball back into it, there’s nothing but one ass-kicking moment after another. No problem that’s more than a speed bump, no hint of self-doubt -- just unstoppable forward momentum, all the time.

  2. They’re just like you in many ways: flawed and human, with pet peeves and garden-variety frustrations, and an insecure asshole who lives rent-free in their head.

Your proximity to people has an interesting effect on how you see them. Anyone you’ve ever lived with, for example, is in category 2 -- full stop. Extending a bit farther out, your close friends are great, but you’re well aware of their flaws. Farther still: that colleague of yours almost always has her shit together, notwithstanding the odd moment of weakness…

The greater the distance, the more your exposure to a person is subject to a heavy sampling bias, in two ways. First, you only see them at their best; second, you only see their external demeanor. Both things add up to you getting to see less of their humanness, their inner struggle and so on. Think about that stranger you look up to, from down the street or across town or in another part of your company: never not smiling, always in control... man, what a special breed. Then you have your LeBrons and Michelles, etc., who are nothing short of superhuman -- from a different species, basically.

Of course, if you actually stop and think about it, you’ll realize pretty quickly that every human is in category 2, because of course they are. Rich or poor, powerhouse or trainwreck -- everyone indeed puts their pants on one leg at a time. You know this intuitively; you just don’t always get to see that part of the people you look up to. (And actually, that’s probably part of the reason why you look up to them.)

If you don’t stop and think, though -- i.e. if you let your instincts guide you -- you’ll draw some false and unhelpful conclusions. For some reason, your brain is convinced by default that people you admire from a distance somehow fall in category 1: all powerhouse, all the time. This has a couple of shitty consequences.

First, because that same brain of yours is all too aware of your own flaws and insecurities, it makes you seem inadequate by comparison. Second, it gives that little voice in your head fuel whenever you’re outside of your comfort zone and facing the possibility of some failure: you are not like the people you look up to. They succeed because of who they are; you would have to succeed in spite of who you are. And with that narrative running through your head, it becomes tempting to give up at the first sign of adversity, or before getting started in the first place...self-fulfilling prophecy at its finest.

If there’s anything true about ‘them’ (the people you look up to) relative to you, it’s probably that -- whatever other talents they may have -- they faced versions of all the same fears and self-doubt that you do, and they had to come up with some way of working around them.

So when you find yourself frustrated by your fears and insecurities -- i.e. by your unshakeable humanness -- and by the sense that that role model of yours doesn’t have the same struggles, look closer…it’s just an optical illusion.