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.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +87
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2013
Fear of embarrassment: 6
Success: 6

I could be doing better in career, but it's related to confidence (and maybe that is fear).
Apr 19, 2013
4, 7 (BTW - the way you framed the questions will set up a negative correlation)

The "normal" superpower I would choose would be to be the guy that is so friendly and charismatic that everyone who knows him smiles when he walks in the room. I know a few people like that, and I always think what a fun way to go through life.
Apr 19, 2013
As a side note to my previous post. Walking into the boys locker room shower in 7th grade and being prepuberty while nearly everyone else is well into puberty was embarrassment off the charts. At that age you feel incredibly inferior and inadequate. No matter how many times you expose yourself in that manner the embarrassment never lessens. Then top it off to not start puberty for another 3 years after that was a recipe for emotional disaster especially for relationships with the opposite sex. I'd be very interested to find out how life turned out for that handful of other kids in that locker room that were in the same boat as I. There were other factors that contributed to low self esteem, this one was a biggie though. And all of them combined helped create a perfect storm for what was to follow.
I don't know how relevant this is to your post and question, but I just felt compelled to express this one time publicly.
Apr 19, 2013
Well, since I'm doing this anonymously , I started out a perfect 10 on the embarrassment scale and have slowly worked my way down a bit. I even embarrass myself by some of my anonymous posts on this blog. My career success is a one. I got by here and there on good looks, but that quickly faded. I am at this point unemployed and since I'm past 50 I may very well be unemployable. I measure myself daily based on my failures and rarely on my successes, Attributing any success to luck or having just a minimal level of competence.
I immediately wondered if an innate lack of embarrassment would be defined in psychiatric circles as sociopathy or narcissus.
The first superpower that comes to mind would be the ability to poop gold. That would pretty much take care of the need for any other superpower, especially good looks.
Excellent blog,,as always.
Apr 19, 2013
I've always thought that one thing actors really need to lack is the ability to become embarrassed. Once you don't have that, you can do anything.

You once wrote that you are whatever the opposite of a procrastinator would be called. That would be your super power. It may not be uncommon in the circles you travel in, but, believe me, it's a generally uncommon trait.
Apr 19, 2013
This probably explains the existence of nude executive retreats.

I wish I could remember, but wasn't there a mini-scandal a few years back at one of those retreats? It was a Fortune 100 company and they had their male execs romping through the woods doing kinky, naked stuff in order to be initiated into some kind of inner circle. One guy said "No I'm not doing that" and spilled it to the press. I don't think he got into the inner circle.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2013
I'd say 7 and 7. I have a decently high fear of embarrasment... but I've still been pretty successful in my field (for my age). But, a big part of the success is being smarter than average and ending up working closely [partially by choice and partially by chance] with people who are extremly driven and smarter than I!
Apr 19, 2013
Timothy Ferris in "4 hour work week" has a number of tasks that are designed to accomplish exactly what you propose for exactly the same reason. Once you get over embarrassment, it frees you up to act more.
I'm probably 8 on both scales. 9 for embarrassment resistance. Hell, I took a stand-up comedy course and have been on stage for that a few times, so maybe 10.
I'm not rich (that's more a lack of discipline than because I am reserved) but am doing pretty well over all. According to http://globalrichlist.com, I am in the top .05%...number 3 plus million on the Forbes list....hey, maybe I AM rich.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 19, 2013
Even though this forum is reasonbly anonymous, don't you think asking people to respond publicly skews your sample set?
Apr 19, 2013
Embarrassment fear: 3, Career success: 7,
Both extraordinarily unscientific, since I have few tools with which to compare. I'm above the 90th percentile in income, but I'm in a field (software development) that trends high to start with. And then, Jesus Christ, I'm on the blog of a multi-Millionaire celebrity, so... pretty much 9 and 10 are off the table for me, and 8 probably isn't right, since I don't manage a big organization. 7 almost seems dishonest...
Apr 19, 2013
Fear of Embarrassment: 3 (I drank out of a bidet to win an corporate video competition).
Career Success: 7
Apr 19, 2013
Am I alone in thinking it will be very hard to rate themselves? I would guesstimate myself to rate 7 on fear of embarassment but could easily be off by a couple points. Career success is harder. How do you define that? Suppose you have no desire to be an executive or a manager. Could you then rate yourself a 10 if you have a middle class income and a job as an ordinary worker? From my POV, Scott, you look like a 10 there, but it would not surprise me if you rated yourself at an 8 on the grounds that there have been even more successful comics, you have few employees and are not a billionaire.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog