Original Title: The Power Of Being A Superhero (Currently How To Be A Real Life Superhero)

The TEDx talk was given at TEDxGainesville

TEDx Talk at TEDxGainesville

TEDx Talk Transcript:

Hi, I’m Mike!! It’s so nice to meet you. Thank you so much for coming to see me and my fellow speakers, that means so much to me!

Today I would like to discuss the power of being a superhero and how it has improved my life and the lives of those around me.

And so what is a superhero? Some traits that come to my mind are someone who takes action, is kind, does the right thing, uses their abilities to help others, and many more. What are some traits that you can think of? I’d love to hear from you!

My core definition of a superhero is someone that helps people. And by helping people I don’t mean you have to donate your life savings but even just a simple “hi” or holding a door open for someone can make a massive difference in someone’s day.

The other day I was walking into the grocery store and I offered to return a lady’s cart for her. I couldn’t believe how happy and grateful she became. She was just beaming with happiness. And what work did I do? I was going that way anyway. Being a superhero is more of a change of mindset than actual work. The focus is on being good to others, and yourself!

And is there anything more important than being good to others, and yourself? (repeat)

Being a superhero has so many benefits that I could do an entire talk on all of them. Psychologists have known for years that one of the best ways to make yourself happy is to help others. Interestingly enough, many of the benefits of being a superhero actually align with healthy versions of psychological models like Maslow, KWML, and Spiral Dynamics – and I’m discovering more and more all the time. My favorite benefit is that every day I get to wake up knowing that I’ve made a positive difference in the world.

A wise man once said, superheroes represent our best selves and can be a tool to discover who our best self is. (repeat) There is a lot to unpack there but let’s save that for another time and get to the really fun stuff – the stories!

Several years ago I was hired as a media teacher for grades K-5 on the very poor side of town. Many of the kids came from tough family situations and were suffering academically. To make things even more difficult I found out that the previous teacher had actually been murdered and that many of the students knew about it. I asked myself, how am I going to be able to connect with these kids? Especially since it was every single kid in the entire school!

I had recently come across the Socrates quote “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”. That quote helped me to realize that even if I taught the kids every single thing that I knew, it was nothing compared to getting them excited to explore the content on their own. I had used the concept of the superhero to connect with students in the past and I wondered, could the concept of the superhero actually be powerful enough to connect with all of them, and to light all their flames?

On the first day of school the kids came into the classroom and sat down. Many retreated to the back of their seats, crossed their arms, and had frowns on their faces. I went around and asked each kid “What are your superpowers?” Instantly I saw their eyes light up. They shot to the edge of their seats and raised their hands in excitement to share their superpowers.

I had them write stories about themselves as superheroes to learn Google docs, animations with Google Slides, and pictures with windows paint. They created so much that I had to scrap the idea of doing a digital school magazine because the file size would have been too massive. Instead they did portfolio websites. I found out that many of the kids were actually working on their projects outside of school and that they were going to the library because most didn’t have a home computer. Two of my 5th graders wrote over 40 pages worth of story in just a few months. To this day many of them are still working on their projects. How incredible is that? And what work did I do? I just asked a question, listened to them, and fanned their flames.

The question “What is your superpower?” has proven to be just as powerful with adults.

My Dad and I were never really able to see eye to eye. It made me sad that we weren’t closer and I thought maybe no one had ever asked him, “What are your real life superpowers?” So I invited him on my YouTube show to talk to him about his superpowers. I never thought he’d say “yes” but he did! He let me know that he only wanted to stay on for a half hour and I agreed.

When we reached the half hour mark he wanted to keep going and we ended up talking for over an hour! It was such an overwhelming experience to truly connect with him that I ended up passing out for hours. For weeks I had trouble sleeping because so much pent up energy had been released.

My Mom said that it seemed like a huge burden had been lifted off my Dad and he was much happier. She said that he keeps saying “Mike is changing people’s lives” over and over again. Now we have weekly Zoom calls and his eyes are beaming.

It blows my mind how just discussing his superpowers was able to have such an impact on his way of thinking. And now he’s even trying to help me find people for my show!

What are your superpowers? What are some things that you’re good at? Write them down! If you need help, ask someone. I love helping people find their superpowers.

I find that question to be such a powerful tool for self discovery, self awareness, and seeing your value. Finding my value alone has had so many incredible benefits. No longer do I need validation from others and I have no need to perform. Life has become so much easier when I learned to just be myself and not worry about if people like me or not.

I’ve personally discovered many of my superpowers through helping others. Powers such as facilitation, being good with kids, patience, ability to listen, etc. Some people have said that my superpower is kindness or caring. I’m not always so sure about that but I do really care about everyone having a happy and healthy life, especially kids because I think every kid deserves to have a good childhood. The world would be such a nicer place if that was the case.

Now let’s talk about how to be a superhero. I’d like share with some of my favorite ways to be a superhero. I’ll start with listening and the power of being in someone’s corner.

While working as a teacher, there was a boy put in my afterschool program that was known to have a really bad temper. If someone even looked at him wrong he would go into a rage and be ready to fight. When he would get upset I would pull him aside and ask him why he was upset. Listening to him seemed to really mean a lot to him.

I made a deal with my students that I would include them in my superhero stories if they wrote stories. That boy wrote so many stories that I couldn’t keep up! I wrote him letters telling him how incredibly proud I was of him. Later that year his family invited me to Thanksgiving. When I arrived he showed me his room and the letters were taped on his wall. I don’t know how to put into words how incredible of an experience that was to see those letters taped on the wall – I still don’t fully comprehend it.

Towards the end of the school year another boy hit him in the face but the boy didn’t hit him back. He understandably wasn’t happy, but he was able to have restraint. How incredible is that? And what did I do besides just being in his corner and listening? Can you imagine how different his interactions with people will be now vs how they would have been?

My favorite way of being a superhero is simply to say “hi” to people because it is so easy and has made such a big difference in so many people’s lives. Can you think of any reasons why just saying “hi” could be so powerful? How does it make you feel when someone says “hi” to you? How does it affect your day?

Can you imagine if everyone said hi to you when you went to the supermarket? You’d feel like one of the Beatles! I had that experience when working at schools and I can assure you, it felt incredible.

Someone might not say “hi” back but is that a reflection of you, or of them? You never know what someone is going through. They might not have ever had anyone say “hi” to them before.

I think the key is to not have expectations and that not having expectations could be the greatest superpower of all.

My most powerful “hi” experience was when I was being wheeled through the emergency room with appendicitis. I was in incredible pain but I wanted to make sure to say “hi” to everyone anyway especially since everyone looked so somber. I waved to people in the lobby and even people in the rooms.

Suddenly before me I saw the most broken human being I had ever seen. Her body was collapsed over itself and she looked lifeless. She looked to be around 20 and both her legs were amputated below the knee. I said “hi” to her and she seemed to come alive. She looked up at me and into my eyes. We shared a moment of pure connection and seeing each other. Sadly I was quickly wheeled by and I never got to see her again. I asked my Dr. to please give her my contact info, because I wanted to do anything I could to help her but sadly they couldn’t because of HIPPA.

Ma’am, if you are watching this talk I would love to hear how you are doing!! I’m always wishing you the best and I’m in your corner.

I’m so excited to have shared with you a taste the power of the superhero because my favorite thing is when we can all come together and combine our superpowers. And isn’t that what this conference is all about? Aren’t we coming together as superheroes that want to improve our lives and the lives of others?

And even with my talk I had so much help from so many amazing people that I can’t thank enough.

There is almost nothing we can’t accomplish when we come together. After all, it wasn’t one person that put a man on the moon.

Before I go, please remember that being good to yourself is just as important as being good to others. I think that being good to others is a great way to learn how to be good to ourselves. But let’s save that conversation for when we talk next and my inbox is always open.

Until then please keep in mind that I am in your corner and I’m always rooting for you. I hope you have the best EVERY day, EVER – and during the break, please take a moment to say “hi” to those around you.

Thank you so much!


I hope you enjoyed my TEDx talk!

– Your friend, Michael Tomaino