21 Jan 2022

What’s your superpower?

by John O'Brien

Me, I’m a believer. Not in any deity or theism. I believe in humanity. My superpower is to believe in myself. Not as a god or island, not as being better than others. More, investing in the one thing that I have true control over – me. Believing in myself also unlocks the upgrade power of believing in others. Helping them affirm their own potential is then a top tier power.

Self-belief is a potent thing. Too much and the ego clouds judgement. There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness after all. The former powerful, the latter foolhardy. But too little conviction and it’s easy to wallow in mediocrity, never accepting the challenge to move forward or upward.

Like assuredness, power is a fickle thing. Over-endowed and it can go to your head – there is a litany of autocratic dictators, both state and commercial, throughout history. Under-endowed and you are perpetually left on the bottom of the heap – another nameless serf providing grist for the mill.


I used to follow the maxim that ‘all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ but I’m not sure it holds entirely true. A lot of that rests on the motivation for seeking authority in the first place. Some seek power for its own sake or to feed their ego and will inevitably end up (more) corrupted. Some abhor power and only reluctantly accept, knowing (or hoping) that they can make a positive difference in their time ‘holding the stick’. If they stay altruistic, all the better. If not, my argument fails… 

The power of positive thinking

As a believer, I’m also an optimist and try to find the silver lining. Without delving into the 1950s Norman Peale simplistic, quasi-religious self-help schtick of the same name, positive thinking is a way to find the upside when it all seems down.

Here is a fitting example: as I was writing this, a dear friend and neighbour called.

Me: “How’s it goin’ old fella?”

Him: “Chugging along. Got a different brand of nappies now and I’m much more comfortable!”

This illustrates the real power of positive thoughts. 62-year-old man above is facing down T4 bowel cancer. It’s all a matter of perspective. He won’t wallow in self-pity but uses the extreme humility of laughing at himself as a strength. And more power to him for it.

Turning your gaze up helps when all you can see are downward facing chasms. The last year or so has taught us much about that concept.

The power of responsibility

Another adage I’ve wrestled with is: ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ As a CFA office-bearer, I am privileged to certain powers under statute. If I am the senior officer on scene, I can legally close roads, divert traffic and force entry into private property. These are not decisions taken lightly as their outcomes affect others. Further, the role also confers the responsibility for keeping a township of 300+ people safe. During the hellscape of Black Summer NYE, I had just that burden on my shoulders. It didn’t rest easy…

Yesterday, I spent six hours running drills, training new recruits, then filing all the admin updates that went with them. As brigade training officer, I have the power to reject their applications or deem them (non-)competent in various tasks. I also have the power to certify them, even if they are not ready. I do not do this, as my responsibility is to the safety of the greater brigade (and community), and incompetent team members make our job more difficult and dangerous than it already is. Which is very relative.

Raw power

As I travelled through SE Asia several decades ago, I was confronted by the power of military might. Two instances stand out. First, in Thailand’s far northern hamlet Tha Ton (in the then still active Golden Triangle), I was having a quiet drink in a bar when a Thai army major sat next to me and insisted on practicing his English. No big deal, except when I politely tried to extricate myself, he signalled to the grunts blocking the door and they stared menacingly at me as they fondled their AK-47s. I took the hint and stayed another three hours until set free. I left town first thing next morning, fully aware of the power of guns and the establishment behind them. Two tourists had disappeared without trace in the area a month prior.

Later, I ventured further into the unknown and entered (the only recently opened to foreigners) Laos. It felt like Thailand might have generations prior. But the guns were no different. Travelling inland to the heart of the country, our public bus went through a zone of insurgency. As there had been recent attacks along that route, armed guards joined us for a portion of the journey. If the precipitous slopes and poorly maintained roadways weren’t scary enough, having a bunch of teenagers brandishing AKs sitting atop and inside the bus was not confidence inspiring. These kids had the responsibility of keeping us safe and their sole power was an automatic weapon. I’m not sure who was more nervous.

With all deference to the awesome legend that is Iggy Pop, this was real raw power in action.

Virtual power chargers

Safely back in the first world, I discovered PC games, particularly of the 4X variety. Over the time since, I’ve logged thousands of hours immersed in digital warfare and intrigue. To what end? Mainly escapism, but also brain training and occasional life theory sandbox.

This month’s virtual warfare alone has delayed a few items on the to-do list. However, I justify it this way: while conquering virtual worlds, it has helped me mull concepts in the back of my head and released some stress at the same time. I feel energised afterwards and better able to tackle the day.

In gaming land, I have both the power to do what I want (within the constraints of the game mechanics) and the power to restart any time things aren’t going as planned. Unfortunately, in the game of life, we don’t have the option to reload. Instead, we must take time out to reset.

Everyone has their unique way of energising their own batteries. Take a holiday, play sport, gaze at your navel, potter in the garden, veg in front of the teev, surge endorphins at the gym, or bash monsters like me – just regularly do whatever it takes to replenish the tank. Even superpowers need topping up. Maybe that’s why Batman and Superman chill in civilian life between capers.

Authorise your own dominion

Everyone has latent power in them. Working out what it is and then unlocking that capacity is far from easy. Finding your personal superpower might take a lifetime, but is a worthy pursuit nonetheless.

You don’t have to wear your undies on the outside to be a super person. When you believe in yourself, your confidence radiates. It is the good type of infectious and others will feed off it, raising their own bars in the process. Like all things good, finding your inner bastion will take patience and persistence. Refining it, even more so.

Next time you press the button to make the little LED on your device glow, you know it has power. Then flip your own personal switch and unleash your individual power.


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