I define an ordinary super power as any useful ability that very few humans possess. For example, having a spectacular voice that commands attention is like a super power. So is being ridiculously attractive, insanely smart, highly energetic, artistic, and so on.

I don't have any of those super powers. I'm an example of someone who has good but not great skills that work well together. I write okay, have a good sense of humor, draw better than the average person, and understand enough about the business world to pull it all together in the form of comics. No super powers needed.

But I often wonder what it would be like to have one or more of the ordinary super powers. And I also wonder which one I would choose if I had my pick. Knowing my shallowness, I would probably choose to be ridiculously attractive. But if I were to be more rational about it, and choose an ordinary super power with the greatest career utility, what would it be?

Realistically, attractiveness probably trumps most other super powers. So much so that in my opinion the men-versus-women way of seeing the world will soon morph into a political model in which attractive people of every gender and ethnicity are seen as advantaged while unattractive people are struggling. Gender and ethnicity will seem trivial compared to attractiveness. We're about halfway there.

This is a long way of getting to my point, and yes, I have one. I would nominate for my preferred ordinary super power the ability to not feel embarrassment.

My observation is that people such as Richard Branson or Elvis, or just about anyone famous, has willingly taken on a career that promises a lot of raised eyebrows, shaming, humiliation, and ego attacks. Some people shrug off that sort of stuff. They have that ordinary super power. And it makes success more likely because they get to compete against a smaller field.

My hypothesis is that people who display a lack of embarrassment are seen by others as natural leaders. I suppose a lack of embarrassment looks like a form of bravery, and we're wired to respond to it. When someone gives a speech to thousands, and shows no signs of nervousness, their confidence affects us. We assume good things about a person who is so cool under pressure. And when someone does something monumentally embarrassing, and shrugs it off with a smirk and a twinkle in the eye, we are in awe.

The good news is that one can learn to control embarrassment. You simply need to experience it so many times that you get used to it. In my case, my natural personality is shy, and as a kid I embarrassed easily. But I've learned through practice to power through most of my embarrassments. And that's a good thing because embarrassment is a routine part of my job.

Take this blog. What I enjoy most about it is that there is no editor between you and me. The downside is that you see my spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and dumbass ideas in their raw form. I barely go a day without embarrassing myself in public. But at this point in my life, blog-related embarrassments don't feel any more psychologically painful than looking in the mirror and seeing that I need a haircut. It's just stuff.

I'm not totally immune to embarrassment, but I'm working toward it. Of all the ordinary super powers, enduring embarrassment is the one that an ordinary person can most easily develop. I will never have a radio-quality voice, or suddenly become tall and attractive. But I can learn to endure embarrassment, and that has a tremendous economic value.

Imagine being able to talk to anyone, and ask for any favor or resource, without fear of rejection or embarrassment. 99% of people you talk to could give you the stink-eye and you'd still become a billionaire because of the few that cooperated.

So I put the following unscientific question to you:

1.      Rank your fear of embarrassment from 1-10 with 10 being highest.

2.      Rank your career success (age adjusted) from 1-10 with 10 being highest.

I think there will be a correlation. That's my hypothesis.

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May 1, 2013
7 and 7 - this article made me think of charlie "winner" sheen haha. On attractiveness, I think many ordinary superpowers can work against a person - I theorize the teenage years and 20s are also the hardest because people are overwhelmed by the sexual energy of it all - people coincidentally become "more mature, less shallow" as their looks are going out the door.. and frankly, I think sometimes it can be a good thing - the most interesting, intelligent and sensitive guys I've known were considered "unattractive" - thats why you sometimes see beautiful women hanging out with "ugly" guys, they compensate with intelligence and bring it in so many more ways.

Have you seen the TV show "misfits"? its on hulu and its a British show about these guys with superpowers that mess their lives, kind of dark humor
Apr 23, 2013
Fear - 5, career - 5, correlation. On the subject of super powers, your sense of humour/irony is pretty much up there and has given you a super level of income/fame/infamy. I am old, bald and ugly but am reckoned some kind of super geek when it comes to electronics/computers. All this means I have a stupid PHB, a low wage and a lousy sex life.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 23, 2013
I work with a guy who is immune to embarrassment. Mostly his "superpower" manifests itself in the form of him making stupid comments without thinking, and him blathering on and on about personal issues that nobody want to know about.
Apr 23, 2013
Fear=7 / Career = 6

Many chances to move up, but ratter say lower (not sure if it is fear, or lazy - not wanting to deal with telling/keeping track other people)
Apr 23, 2013
Fear 2, success 5. I'm a Physician, natural healer, and clairvoyant, so a success of 5 is way too low! In real terms I'm a success of 10, because I have mastered how to affect people for the good, and will cash in on that in the next 25 years. I count your success as 10, because I dearly love your strip! (Yours is the only strip I follow!). Congratulations!
Apr 22, 2013
I think in addition to lacking embarrassment, you also need to have the initiative to act upon it to your own advantage.

1. fear of embarrassment = 3

2. Career? = 3

#2 depends on how you define career. I have had a string of jobs only related because of the experience I consecutively, and somewhat unintentionally, racked up at each.
Apr 22, 2013
Embarrasment -3. Career - 4. I guess I'm an overachiever.
Apr 22, 2013
I call this Tony Blair syndrome.

The press nicknamed him Teflon Tony as anything horrid slid off him. Even though he was right up there as one of the worst leaders the UK has ever had, he still tries to advise Obama on policy.

Even though he illegally fabricated a document to lie to the British and American parliaments and get them into an illegal war, he has the front to be a Middle East Peace Envoy (who gave him that?!!).

What made his case so severe is that his wife has it too and they self-reinforce.

Now people are writing books about his techniques. Be afraid - be very afraid.
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Apr 22, 2013
Fear: 8
Success: 5

Although I'm not sure, if this embarrassment-thing is a super power. I'd rather think 70% learning, 30% power.
Apr 22, 2013
Ambition would be my choice of super power.

My lack of drive (AKA laziness) has stopped me pushing for improvements in my work and personal life.

Don't get me wrong. I have a great family life and decent job, but with a bit more drive it could be more.
Apr 22, 2013
Great post. I think it is so funny about the "grass is always greener" phenomenon. We are acutely aware of what we lack, but relatively unaware of our strengths. Your productivity and focus and drive in a creative field is remarkable. Clearly a superpower, but you take it for granted. I have no problems with embarrassment and I am considered a leader in my field, but my ability to focus and complete things is so low that I feel I am constantly underperforming. I would trade a little embarrassment for a little of your ability to produce. Also, amazingly attractive sounds good too.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 20, 2013
Well, somebody is already on his way to develop this superpower: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-07/rejection-therapy-a-hundred-days-of-no, so you might be onto something.
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Apr 20, 2013
Zero and 0. I also have incredibly low self esteem.
Apr 20, 2013
Fear (of most things): 8 Success: 9
Apr 19, 2013

1. Fear of embarassment - 3 (Not very scared)

2. Career success = 8 (15 years experience helps)

Normal superpower that I would like to posses - Patience.
Apr 19, 2013
Fear of embarrassment 2
Career success 0

That being said I'm still a student ATM, so I don't really have a career (please don't start with the BS of student being a career). Hrmm, now that I think about it, my success as a student is around 7-9 (depending on the year) - damn you might be right (at least for me)! I suppose this means I will one day have a successful career.

This is borderline fortune telling (and just as unscientific) but on top of amusing and flattering me, you *don't* pretend it's 100% accurate and legitimate. I like it :D
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2013
I think this is a brilliant post. Not caring what people think of you is a huge advantage in every area of life. I think it's the true definition of confidence. Without fear of failure/shame/embarrassment, you can do anything.

However, when I want really badly to be good at something (like public speaking), then I do care what people think of me. How do you overcome that? Scott gives the example of his blog, and how people could criticize him for spelling mistakes or sloppy editing. But I doubt Scott's ego is tied up with how well he writes. He probably thinks he's a good enough writer and isn't sensitive about it. But how would he feel if no one thought his cartoons were funny? I don't mean once in awhile, I mean consistent negative feedback. Would he have been motivated to keep going if people said he was bad? Because I'll bet he cares about his cartooning a lot. That's why he's so good.


[For learning to speak without fear, the Dale Carnegie courses are as close to magic as you can get. I saw it work on 100% of my fellow classmates. No other speaking class I took had any real value.

As far as taking criticism for Dilbert, you really should see my email someday. I've gotten more scathing criticism about my job than anyone I know. About once every week -- for 20 years or so -- I have received a passionate email telling me I used to be funny but in the past year I lost it. What keeps me going is that the positive comments have always outnumbered the negative. -- Scott]
Apr 19, 2013
I think you framed the question oddly. Previously, you said people need one "super power" or two "good but not amazing" skills to be successful. Likely, most of the people on this site have good technical skills and are hard workers. Thus, the "super power" of lack of embarrassment or self-consciousness would be redundant. However, for people who lack the less rare skills, not feeling embarrassment would allow for success alone and without any other real skills, which might explain management.
Apr 19, 2013
Fear 7, career 6
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Apr 19, 2013
I got exactly the job I want (I love programming and I think I'm good at it) and I hope to be able to do it until I collect my pension.

On the other hand, if you have any exercises for being less embarrassed, I'd really like to hear about it.
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