Look! In the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane… no it’s Superman! Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, the character created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster in Action Comics No 1 has become something of an icon for our times.
Like many, I spent my adolescent years wanting to be the Man of Steel - gelling my hair in a spit-curl and and this sense of awe began after watching Richard Donner's version of the 1978 Superman movie and at the bright, young age of 5 - Christopher Reeve's screen persona suddenly became everything I wanted to be. I still distinctly recall the movie poster emblazoned outside the cinema - A silver insignia with the caption: You'll believe a man can fly. This is where my adventure began...
At the age of 11, I realised I was "different" and not like the other kids and my initial sense of awe turned into empathy toward Superman. In many of his incarnations, the mystery behind the Man of Steel was in part associated with the ongoing struggle between his conflicting characteristics and identities. His dualities (i.e. the superhero and the façade of Clark Kent) eventually became a part of my everyday life and his inner conflict started to truly resonate with me.
In 1991, at the age of 18, I finally came out as gay. During this time, UK Law was very restrictive, and the age of consent was still 21. Many of my peers at University found out and stopped talking to me and I became a bit of a loner. Like Superman’s adopted parents in Smallville, my family who were of a conservative South Asian descent, insisted that I keep “my identity” a secret.
I joined Capco in December 2003 and created an imaginary Lois Lane out of my ex-boyfriend in the form of Tanya Irwing. My colleagues were curious and wanted to meet Tanya at the Capco Christmas parties – but I always made excuses given she worked in retail. Little did they know that I was in fact dating Jimmy Olsen. Superman assumed the identity of Clark Kent, while I assumed an alter ego of “the straight acting guy”. He chose to wear a pair of glasses so that people would think he was quiet and reserved – I did the same and became cautious (to the extreme) about how I personified myself. I made a conscious decision not to come out at work for fear of rejection and lack of progression. This translated to a lack of confidence and rigidity in my consulting approach, particularly in my demeanour on client engagements which continually reflected in my year end reviews.
The death of my Mother in 2011 was a pivotal moment in my life and made me question mortality and the journey I was on. Who was I? Beyond his super powers what struck me the most about Superman was his unrelenting ability to be authentic in front of every obstacle and adversary. Superman was often lonely and troubled, yet regardless of circumstance, he strived toward good, purpose and positive change. That change emerged from within me and during the summer of the same year, I finally brought a date (my ex-boyfriend) to the UK Capco Summer Ball. With nerves of steel that was my first stepping stone to freedom. Freedom to embrace myself, my imperfections and my sexuality.
Throughout history, there has been a powerful charisma, trait or energy that draws people to popular icons. Superman is no exception, and neither is any one of us - regardless of creed, colour or sexual orientation. These characteristics don’t define who we are, but they’re a piece of us – many colours of the rainbow that make us shine brighter.
Superman is a superhero due to his many powers. However, even with all of his strengths, Superman has a vulnerability – Kryptonite – therefore, he is not perfect. He has a flaw. The greatest temptation many of us face at work is to appear perfect, flawless, impenetrable and invincible. If we were to admit otherwise, we would ask ourselves, “Why would anyone trust and follow me if I’m flawed and vulnerable?” Like Superman, we need to accept and live with our own personal Kryptonite. Our vulnerability is also our greatest strength and offers us the greatest growth. We are all open to judgement - so why not just be judged for the person we really are?
When things get tough, I turn back to my childhood and remind myself of the role model of my imagination. Calling to mind the Man of Steel is my catalyst to accept myself without conditions, embrace my imperfections and see the good in people - allowing me to be what a younger me had always hoped for: something of a superhero...