This blog originally appeared on the Nipissing University Student Learning & Transitions department blog in June 2015, while I worked for their department as an Orientation Assistant. It was a fun, challenging, and extremely beneficial summer for me.
Do you know why it’s so hard to make a good Superman movie?
Superman is essentially perfect. He has more superpowers than any other superhero. He historically gets the bad guy, gets the girl, saves the world and does it without a hair from his iconic front curl getting out of place. He’s the Alpha superhero, unflappable and unbeatable.
Which also makes him unattainable and hard to relate to.
Superman is what I aspired to be in all of my University experiences. I attended Nipissing for 5 years, graduating this year after attaining my two degrees. I was involved in campus, specifically in Residence Life. As a Don and a Community Advisor, I attempted to be Superman. I wanted to give off the appearance of being able to complete all of these difficult tasks and balancing my time with no visible stress. I thought since people looked up to me, and since I was in a position of influence on first-year students, I should present myself in this way. I had seen my Don while in first-year and she seemed superhuman. Constantly smiling despite a chaotic and high stress lifestyle. It was what I aspired to model myself after. I was going to be Superman.
Mind you, this was not a conscious decision that I made. I didn’t wear blue spandex and try to fly. I did, however, not let those around me into what I felt was my human side. In private and only with my closest of friends was I able to let down my guard and talk about any issues or problems I had. The rest of the time I was busy attempting to put out fires in my student’s lives, or helping my friends and forgetting about everything else.
Being Superman is not a very productive way to live your life as a University student because Superman doesn’t need to learn anything. He has all of the tools he will ever need right in front of him and is able to save humanity without expanding his knowledge. I can’t do that. None of us can do that.
In the summer before my fourth year I had Residence Life training like every other year. A new session being run that year was ResTalks, a version of TEDTalks that were given by returning staff members about topics they felt important. One stood out to me about how all Dons want to be Superman, but how it is so detrimental to their learning and to their own mental well being. I very quickly realized the parallels between this presentation and myself.
The presenter went on to talk about how instead of aspiring to be Superman, all of the Residence Life staff should aspire to be Iron Man. Tony Stark (the alter ego of Iron Man) is flawed, like all the rest of us. His hubris is his achilles heel, and his alcoholism his crutch. Yet despite all of these things that are seen as his flaws, Iron Man still does good for the world. He still sacrifices his own happiness for the betterment of the world, but also faces the repercussions. Stark accepts his shortcomings and asks for help.
For a long time, I continued trying to be Superman. It was what I had done, and I felt it was totally attainable for me. The message of the speech refused to leave my mind though, no matter how hard I had tried. I started to accept that maybe, just maybe, I was more Iron Man than Superman. I had flaws. I had gaps in my knowledge. I had lots of other great things to offer to Residence and Nipissing students, but I was quickly learning that it was okay to also need things from them too.
I also quickly learned how relatable and enjoyable the Iron Man movies were. You could see yourself in him. He tries hard, he shields himself sometimes, but in the end he is a vulnerable hero. Most of us also fall into that category: strong and capable, but fragile.
Once you accept your inner Iron Man, your journey into constant education is considerably smoother. No longer is there a fear of being seen as less than perfect, instead there is an acceptance of that as a human condition. I know I can bring different experiences and ideas to the table in my next interactions with students.
Embracing your inner Iron Man allows you to find your own Avengers. People who compliment you, bring things to the table that you are learning, provide you with direction and education, and appreciate your talents and skills. There is mutual learning, mutual caring and mutual understanding of the overall goals.
Over time, we all find our Avengers. Sometimes it takes like nine movies though. We all have skills, talents, goals, ambitions, dreams, and fears. On these teams, there is support, and no fear of not being perfect. Failure makes us stronger, and our flaws make us our own. Our strengths and our passion define us, and will allow us to save the world. Avengers, assemble.