The power of removing our superhero capes

Recently, my friend Manal posted this beautiful message on LinkedIn: “They say, ‘Check in on your strong friends.’ These are generally people who are in a good mood, uplift others, prioritize supporting others over seeking help for themselves, and people who never seem to struggle, but we all know we all struggle.”

Manal tagged friends and colleagues in this post, including me. She received many replies from her network around the world. It reminded us to check in on others and to show her some love by checking on her — someone we’d all consider to be in that same category of strong people. The feedback she received from this act of kindness was incredible, and I loved reading the responses people wrote.

The day before she posted this check-in, I had experienced a difficult moment. My reply to Manal was to thank her for checking in and ask about her wellness. I was also prompted to fess up that the day prior to her timely outreach, I had taken off my superhero cape and my friend Mimi held it for me.

I use this analogy because many of us so-called “strong people,” as we appear to others, have moments when we need support or a simple check-in from a friend and/or colleague. It’s often hard to let others know this because we see ourselves as needing to be the superheroes who can juggle our professional careers and personal lives with relative ease. After all, aren’t we the very people others are used to relying on when they need reassurance, care, support, and positive feedback?

My small setback happened when Mimi simply asked how I was doing. We were having a business conversation and I burst into tears. I blurted out some things that had caused me to place unnecessary pressure on myself. They had very little to do with work, but once the dam burst, I had trouble quelling the water works. Mimi very simply asked how she could help. She was checking in on me. This, of course, made me realize I wasn’t asking anyone for support. I had my superhero cape affixed squarely on my back. I handed it to her. We talked about those pressure points. Guilty — all self-inflicted. I walked away from our conversation feeling seen, heard, and understood. And grateful. The stress I had placed on myself was replaced with the energy I needed to tackle the things that were important to me and let some others go. It was freeing. I’m feeling like my superhero cape has lost its shiny-ness and I don’t need it back. Actually, I don’t want it back.

As a professional leadership coach, I check in on my clients often. I also encourage them to set aside their own superhero capes and know they don’t have to handle life’s many challenges alone. So, why would I expect that of myself? Having friends and colleagues who check in from time to time is not only needed, but a gift. It’s not something I feel ashamed to talk about. In fact, I hope my clients see me as being authentic and walking the talk on engaging resources, including friends and colleagues, to deal with the challenges life throws at me.

Sometimes we need those small kindnesses, those timely check-ins with each other. Many of those who responded to Manal said they were good — even great — but some admitted to experiencing times when they weren’t. Admitting this doesn’t mean we aren’t strong people. I think we’re stronger when we’re not afraid to lean on others when we need them. That small kindness of checking in? Well, it meant the world to Manal’s community, including me. And that small but profound question from Mimi — “How can I help?” — created the space for me to be vulnerable.

Those superhero capes can be heavy. We’ve all put them on at times. Mine is now in the recycling bin. Where’s yours?


The honest talk