Super You

Release Your Inner Superhero


By Emily V. Gordon

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From Academy Award-nominee Emily V. Gordon, creator of the blockbuster movie The Big Sick, comes a super-powered guide-to-life with comic-book flair and real-world wisdom for living your best life Superheroes don’t start from glorious beginnings. Their origins are almost always marked by traumatic events that leave them helpless and scared. Batman witnessed his parents’ murder. Superman was sent away from his dying planet with no one to guide him as he grew up. Orphaned Catwoman was forced to steal food to survive on the streets of Gotham.

What makes these superheroes super is their determination to not be defined by helplessness. They embrace their origins, their flaws, and their mistakes, and strive every day to become the best versions of themselves – for the benefit of themselves and others.

Super You is a fun, friendly, and unabashedly geeky guide to becoming the superhero of your own extraordinary life. Author Emily Gordon examines comic book tropes to find lessons that anyone can apply toward overcoming tragic events and adversity in their own lives. With activities in every chapter to help identify each person’s superpowers, special tools, personal kryptonite — and weapons against it — Super You is the perfect sidekick for every growing hero, empowering everyday people to transform into the most kick-ass versions of themselves.



Identity: Who Would You Like to Be Today?

In my thirty-six years I have had many different personas. In fact, having personas has kinda been my thing—at least, I thought it was until I started talking about it and writing about it. As it turns out, we all live our lives under some persona or another.

Meet the Incarnations of My Super You

I was a kid with a constantly spinning, anxious mind and a sensitive disposition. Though I would cry at the drop of a hat, I was generally happy—I just couldn’t seem to quiet my mind, ever. When I was three my mother took me to a neurologist because I kept complaining I had “swirlies in my head.” He hooked up a bunch of things to my head and talked to me, and the meds they gave me to go to sleep made me seem drunk, which had to be hilarious to the workers at the fast food restaurant where we stopped on the way home. The diagnosis? Precocious. I clung to this label fiercely. I wanted to present myself as clever, hoping that identity would help anchor me in the constant swirling in my brain, would help explain my weirdness. I loved being my family’s precocious baby girl who had elaborate backstories for all of her stuffed animals. I was Clever Girl.

Then I had an early growth spurt, and from the age of eight on, my size became my private obsession. I towered over the boys and girls in my class, hating myself for sticking out when it seemed most important to be just like the other kids. I shrunk down in school pictures. My posture was terrible. On the school bus one day, while I was sitting with a good friend, our knees propped against the seat in front of us, she casually, innocently commented: “Look, your legs are like, twice as big as mine.” I was mortified and heartbroken—she had called out my secret. I quit taking dance classes, furious that my body had betrayed me and made me such a target. Every day my panic and self-loathing grew. My size seemed to be my identity now, as I was teased by friends and playground jerks alike. I wondered if it’d be like that forever. I had good friends and a lovely family, but none of that seemed to matter anymore. I felt cast out by my own looks. I was Monster Girl.

By the time I hit my teenage years, grunge was in full swing and my anger found a new home. I saw that I could express myself with the music I listened to and the way I dressed and adorned myself. I felt somewhat relieved that there seemed to be an escape valve for my self-loathing. Not everyone dyes her hair and gets piercings because she’s angry with herself, and it certainly wasn’t the only reason I was doing it (it also looks damned awesome). But for me, dressing like a dead baby doll gave me control over my looks and my body, which had felt so out of my control for so long. I was still going to be ugly, sure, but I was going to be ugly on my own terms, thank you very much. I became Freak Girl, and I relished making others uncomfortable. I relished being unique. Of course, in my quietest, most private moments, I had some awareness that I wasn’t actually that unusual—I was dressing exactly like all of my “freak” friends. It’s just that what I really needed at that point was a community. After feeling so alone for so long, I needed to see myself reflected in the eyes of my friends.

A few years down the road, with a few terribly unhealthy relationships and a few misunderstood women’s studies classes under my belt, I felt the need to project that I was independent and incredibly cool with anything. If I looked punk rock on the outside, I reasoned, my look would protect me from people knowing how squishy and sensitive I was on the inside. I had been hurt by boys who were careless with my heart, and frankly, I had been pretty careless with my heart, so I decided to put up an enormous wall around my heart and my feelings and pretend it didn’t matter. And I told myself that to acknowledge other people’s ability to hurt me was to acknowledge that they mattered, so I refused to do either. Outwardly, I was the party girl who would carry your drum equipment while you flirted with other girls. I was just going through the motions. Inside, I was numb. I wasn’t like the other girls. I was the Punk Rock Stepford Wife!

I packed my emotions down tight for a few years, refusing to let myself feel anything. So after Punk Rock Stepford Wife came a slew of emotions, and once I started feeling again, I felt hard. It felt good. I put myself in therapy and tried taking care of myself a bit more. I married a very nice man. I devoted myself to my education, and then to my career as a therapist, and I became Therapist Girl. I loved my work, and I loved being seen as an even-handed, emotionally in-touch person who could still rock combat boots. “I’m a therapist,” I’d say, “but I’m not one of those hippie therapists.” The distinction seemed important to me. During this period I moved to a big city for the first time, after which my husband and I divorced, amicably. After so many years of being part of a unit, being newly single in a new city was exhilarating and terrifying. I obsessed over how to introduce myself to people. I briefly became Divorced Girl.

I fell in love again, this time as a truer version of myself, and threw myself into my career and my social life with every ounce of my being. Everything seemed rosy for a while until I became incredibly sick in my late twenties. I was hospitalized for a few weeks, during part of which my survival was in question. The entire thing hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been taking better care of myself, but clearly not enough to see how sick I’d been getting. On top of all that, suddenly everyone was clucking over me and my fragile body, giving me sad “poor you” eyes. I hated it. My illness briefly brought back the Punk Rock Stepford Wife, as I was unable to fully process how scary the entire ordeal was, as well as unwilling to accept other people seeing me as weak. I pushed myself hard, desperate to pass as “well”; it took some time before I actually started listening to my body, giving it the space I needed to recover. Once well again for real, my heart was no longer in seeing therapy clients. I wanted to write full-time, but felt terrified and unmoored by the idea of starting over. I no longer needed Punk Rock Stepford Girl, but I wasn’t sure what my next persona was. I became Confused Girl. I took every gig offered me, sometimes for free, and introduced myself weirdly to strangers. Slowly, and especially as more and more work came in, I started getting more comfortable with calling myself a writer. And here’s where we are today. I suppose I’d call myself Entrepreneur Girl these days.

How Do You Make an Identity?

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Whether or not you can distinctly identify your personas to the point of naming them, if you look back at your life, can you see the different values and beliefs you held reflected in how you projected yourself and how you thought about yourself? For a long time I believed that I adopted personas because I wasn’t ready to be myself, that I felt too vulnerable to just “be me.” This led to a mini existential crisis. Oh my god, what does “being me” even mean? Am I the same person alone as I am with friends, or relatives, or strangers?

I no longer believe those personas weren’t me. They all were the real me, just with varying personality traits dialed up or down based on what life called for at the time. It is my belief that who we are is constantly in flux—that every single person actually encompasses multitudes. To see more of what I mean, try answering these questions in your Super You companion notebook:

             How would you describe yourself if you were a contestant on a competition show where you wanted the home audience to feel sorry for you, and therefore vote for you?

             How would you describe yourself if you were a contestant on a dating show where you wanted someone to choose you over two other potential dates?

             How would you describe yourself at a family reunion where you’ve been asked to introduce yourself to relatives you don’t know?

Your answers to these questions all describe accurate versions of you. Presenting, inhabiting, or inhibiting one version over another is something we all do throughout our lives—think job interview versus going on a date—but somehow that technique has been lost on us internally. If we contain multitudes, why don’t we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt when we’re alone instead of claiming somewhat unflattering versions of ourselves as the real versions? The truth is that who you are when you’re alone is and isn’t your real self. Every person has flattering, positive qualities as well as less flattering, more private, funky qualities—and all of them are useful.

I say this because I went down a rabbit hole of soul-searching, from which I eventually came to a few vital realizations.

Realization 1: Who I Am Depends on a Lot of Factors. One of Those Factors Is a Group of Core Values and Beliefs About Myself.

I approach how I define myself as building a recipe. Your core values and beliefs are the ground beef/chicken/tofu/protein that you start off with; your identity is everything else you add to make that protein a meal. You might go in one direction and end up with tacos, or in another direction and end up with lasagna. There’s a pretty excellent quiz online at that can identify your character strengths after you answer 120 questions. It’s like a BuzzFeed quiz, but slightly more useful.

If 120 feels like too many questions, I’ve come up with a few of my own to help guide you in understanding your core values and beliefs. As you answer them, reflect on your entire life, not just how you’re feeling right at this moment. If you struggle with any question, answer it the way you think someone you’re close to would, and then consider whether that answer resonates for you. No one else will see these answers, so try to dig deep, continually asking yourself whether you’re answering how you’re “supposed” to or if it’s how you actually feel. (If you already feel pretty solid on your core values, please feel free to skip these questions.)

         Who in your life is important to you, and why?

         What news stories do you gravitate toward?

         The last few times you felt happiness, what were you doing? Whom were you with?

         Think back to when you last felt fulfilled, useful, and competent. What were you doing?

         What is ideal downtime for you?

         When do you like yourself the most?

         When do you like yourself the least?

         What are you proud of?

         What are you afraid of?

         What do you try to protect within yourself?

As for my own answers to these questions, and when I reflect on the entirety of my life, I see a few clear recurring themes. I am loyal to my family and my close friends. I am incredibly, perhaps overly, fond of animals. I believe there is power in a group of people coming together as one, which is why I think of church, comedy shows, and movie theaters as spiritual places. I am passionate about social justice, and I get satisfaction out of seeing tasks completed, almost to the exclusion of quality. I sometimes believe that I don’t deserve good things. I have confidence in my abilities in a few key areas and tend to avoid things I’m not confident in. I have a fear that at any time people will discover I’m incompetent—I also believe I’m incompetent in a lot of things. I’m both extremely sensitive and embarrassed about how sensitive I am.

Now, given that these are my core values and beliefs, it’s easy to imagine that they all derived from me. But it’s interesting to note that it’s possible just to inherit values and beliefs from other people, taking them on without questioning whether or not they apply to us. So let’s poke around a bit and see if we can figure out where each of your beliefs originated, how much you believe them yourself, and how emotionally healthy each self-belief is for you. Here are a few of my own examples.

             Belief: I believe that I am pretty competent in my work as a writer.

             Where did this belief originate? From editors and people who read my work online and tell me that they like it.

             Do I agree with this belief intellectually? Most days.

             Is my agreement/disagreement emotionally healthy for me? I would prefer to agree with this belief every day.

             Belief: I believe that I should be a good southern girl and not let anyone make too much of a fuss over me, because I don’t deserve it.

             Where did this belief originate? From the women in my family, who put everyone’s needs in front of their own, often to the point of personal harm.

             Do I agree with this belief intellectually? I disagree with it, but old habits die hard.

             Is my agreement/disagreement emotionally healthy for me? It is healthier for me to disagree.

The examples above are my own, but I’d like for you to try this exercise for yourself. Just because you believe something deep down in your bones doesn’t always means it’s your belief. A Super You does her best to challenge the beliefs that don’t work for her. See if you can do the same.

Once you’ve gained a sense of your core beliefs, where do you go from there?

Realization 2: Identity Is a Construction That Evolves over Time.

Okay, so we have the protein base of our meal, but what recipe are we currently making? What factors influence what we make? Millions of things—like how competent we feel, our close relationships, socioeconomic status, body image, and life changes—can influence both how we think of ourselves and how we define ourselves.

Here’s the important thing: your identity isn’t some mystical ball of energy handed to you like a gift from the mountain. You construct it, and you’re constructing it all the time whether you’re aware of it or not. So since we’re working on living with more intention, let’s put a bit more intent in how we construct ourselves. I can’t tell you how helpful it was for me to look back at all the versions of myself and realize that, like it or not, they were all my design. The same is true for you: this boat you’re driving is under your control. Some of us try to abandon it when things get rough, throwing up our hands and saying we’re just doing our best to stay afloat, but even if our choice is to abandon control, that is still a choice. Some of us may be allowing our parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, or others to construct our identities for us—but even if that’s the case, that’s a responsibility we gave them, and it’s our job to take it back. We’ve always been in charge, even if we haven’t always realized it.

Creating a Super You is how we get ourselves comfortable with the idea that we’ve always been creating ourselves. Making internal changes is how we come to grips with our own power over ourselves. Since changes are always happening to us anyway, wouldn’t you rather be proactive about them?

As I mentioned before, all my major external life changes have sent me into minor identity crises. This doesn’t mean I question the very core of who I am; it’s just that I rearrange all the parts of me that are built on that core so I can adjust to my new reality. In short, I have to change the recipe, and that is stressful. Life changes that can alter how you think of, and therefore construct, your identity can include:

         Beginning therapy

         Being diagnosed with an illness

         Changing jobs

         Changing your appearance

         Coming out

         Getting married

         Having a baby

         Learning new information

         Leaving any type of relationship

         Losing a job

         Losing a loved one

         Moving far away

         Starting a new hobby

         Starting any type of relationship

The environment we’re in affects how we construct ourselves. Changes, even when they are positive, can throw how we think about ourselves into chaos and uncertainty. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable and unmoored, often it’s because your current identity isn’t serving your needs, and needs to be restructured. Identity crises aren’t signs that something is wrong with you; they’re merely signs that things are changing—and that it’s time for you to change with them.

Here’s an example of how a few even minor-seeming life changes can affect your identity. Growing up, I preferred hanging with guy friends. We liked the same stuff—horror movies and sketch comedy—and if I’m totally honest, hanging out with girls often reminded me of how unattractive and “weird” I felt. So I stuck with the boys, and ended up rejecting many feminine things about myself, deciding that anything “girly” was synonymous with “stupid.” I refused to wear skirts. I hated most other girls on sight. This construction of myself was based on my insecurity about the feminine parts of me. Then, in college I reconnected with an old friend who had, in the years since we’d been kids, both come out and started performing as a drag queen [new relationship]. That friendship, combined with a class in gender studies [learning new information], opened my eyes to the importance of feminism—and of my own femininity. I went from never wearing skirts to only wearing skirts. (Seriously, I only wore skirts for about two years, if we’re including a pair of pants with a built-in skirt that I rocked for a time. It was the nineties.) My identity as a self-loathing female who wanted to hang with the guys was changing, and my old identity, which had served me well when I didn’t believe in myself, was no longer useful to me.

So essentially: your identity = your core values and beliefs + the environment you’re in + how you respond to that environment.

Realization 3: Every Identity We Construct (Whether We Mean to or Not) Serves Us in Some Capacity.

In my life I’ve been a Monster Girl, a Punk Rock Stepford Wife, and a Confused Girl, and though it would have been nice not to have gone through those ebbs and flows of self-loathing, I appreciate each of those Girls. Those were my proto-superheroes, trial versions of my Super You. Parts of them have stuck with me, and parts have been discarded, but again, I appreciate all of them as part of the process. I’ve talked with many women who think of themselves as “broken” or “stupid” because they’ve made choices that seemed self-destructive, but I think they’re neither broken nor stupid. To my mind, every choice they made likely reflected how they were doing their best with what was available.

Let me repeat that, because it’s important: every choice you make is a reflection of you doing your best with what you have in front of you.

For example, my Punk Rock Stepford Wife was a hard, walls-up kind of girl, but at that point in my life I couldn’t handle being vulnerable to other people. That persona protected me until I felt ready to exist without those walls.

So let’s say you get involved with men who treat you terribly; that may be your clue that you don’t believe yourself worthy of a quality mate. Or you may have everything you thought you wanted and still be unhappy; that may be a sign that you feel you don’t deserve happiness, or that your ideas of your “dream life” weren’t entirely your own. Take a minute now to acknowledge that, regardless of whoever you have been in the past, and whoever you are right now, those identities did and do their best to help usher you through the world. Plus, we can learn lessons from how they protected and enabled us, and take those lessons forward. We’ll talk about that a bit more later; for now, just acknowledge them as a valuable part of yourself.

Realization 4: Self-Esteem Only Partially Comes from the Self.

Self-esteem is supposed to be the esteem in which you hold yourself, right? And absolutely, your beliefs about what you deserve in life, and the values you hold, are a vital part of determining how you feel about yourself. But it’s a disservice to pretend that other factors don’t also play a part, because they absolutely do. Research has shown that, as children develop, how they initially think of themselves is a reflection of how their parents regard them. As they age, the regard of additional people—teachers and other adults and eventually their own friends—gets added to the mix of how they feel about themselves. So does that process just stop when we become adults and are expected to rely on ourselves alone? I don’t think so. I have my core values and beliefs, I have my thoughts on how to respond to things, but I don’t exist in a bubble. I am affected by someone praising me on Twitter, by making huge mistakes at work, by my parents telling me they’re proud of me, by my husband whistling when I get dressed up.


On Sale
Sep 29, 2015
Page Count
312 pages
Seal Press

Emily V. Gordon

About the Author

Emily V. Gordon is a former couples and family therapist and current writer and producer. She has written for Rookie, Hello Giggles, the Huffington Post, and The Daily Beast. In addition, she hosts a podcast about video games and produces a weekly standup show called The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail that is also a Comedy Central series. Emily lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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