How to change your life
Photo: Matthias Clamer
The dream is a lifetime of smooth sailing, but the reality is that sometimes we run aground. Martha Beck helps three women find the power (they had it all along!) to discover what really floats their boats.
A couple of years ago, pretty much everyone I know became a huge fan of the television series Heroes. The show's premise is that people all over the world begin discovering that they have superpowers—they can hear thoughts, manipulate the time-space continuum, become strong enough to break through steel bonds, etc. The kinds of things that couldn't possibly happen on this planet. Except they do. I watch regular people make these kinds of discoveries just about every other Thursday. Here's a metaphorical but only slightly exaggerated version of my typical coaching process. Some nice, ordinary-looking person comes to me and says, "I'm Clark Kent, I'm Diana Prince—and somehow my life got off course." Sometimes they say that perhaps in childhood or perhaps at work they zigged when they should have zagged, sailed south when they should have sailed north. "One morning," they say, "I woke up thinking, 'Is this really what I'm supposed to be doing with my life?'" "The problem isn't your situation," I always tell them (because it's always true). "The problem is your lenses."

"My lenses?" the person says, looking at me as though the bloom is definitely leaving the rose.

"I mean the way you see," I explain. "Your psychological perspective." I don't mention (yet) that I'm also alluding to Clark Kent's eyeglasses, which disguised his real identity. I know that whenever I can help an "ordinary person" remove a set of distorting perceptual lenses—zap, pow, shazam!—I'll see them levitate right off the floor, flexing steely muscles under neon-colored outfits. When this finally happens, it doesn't surprise me. But it usually shocks the hell out of the client.

"Oh, my God!" says Superman or Wonder Woman. "Who am I? What am I doing? Holy transfiguration, Batman, what should I do next?"

"I have no idea," I say.

And at that point, we're finished.

Because I'm not Batman, or the Forecast Phenom, or the Psychedelic Psychic, or whatever. I was born with just one superpower: the ability to see other people's superpowers. So I can tell you that pretty much everyone (including you) is a superhero, and that every superhero (including you) has an incredibly important life mission. Figuring out what that mission is? That's up to every individual hero (including you).

I'm telling you all this because my assignment for this month was to life-coach three women who were unsure where they were supposed to be in life. Their path forward looked fuzzy. They thought this was because they were in confusing situations. But I saw each woman looking through her own particular sort of distorting lenses; the fuzziness wasn't in the surroundings but in the way they saw. At moments when your life appears bleak and the way forward indistinct, the same thing is almost certainly happening to you.

Most people try to think their way out of these kinds of problems. From my perspective, however, adding more ideas to these three women's heads would be like forcing Clark Kent to add assorted sweaters, parkas, and goggles to his nerdy suit and specs. Finding your purpose and power requires stripping certain thoughts away like street clothes until you hit Lycra. My job with the three women I'd be coaching was to help them peel away illusions until their superhero identities emerged. While we're following their stories, I'll throw in some hints that may help you, too, take off your "normal" disguise and liberate your true, superhero self.

Ordinary Person #1: The Self-Deprecator
Ordinary Person #2: Stymied
Ordinary Person #3: Thinking Small...Too Small


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