Overcoming the Superhero Syndrome at Work

“I’m not happy with how my job is going. At every job I've had I’m expected to fix my co-workers’ problems,” Jo* said. “I’m tired of being the hero.” 

Jo was a potential coaching client telling me about her job. A job she had once loved was now just a heavy burden and the cause of burn out. She was discouraged but in five words Jo gave me the key to help her overcome her work troubles.

You want to get the recognition you deserve, but no matter what you do it seems like the movie Groundhog Day. 

 Perhaps you’ve been there. You long for more from your job. More autonomy, more recognition, more reward... more satisfaction! You want to get the rewards and recognition your deserve, but no matter what you do it seems like the movie Groundhog Day. Your boss selects someone else for advancement and you’re left doing the same old boring projects and bailing out co-workers. Without you it’s clear that the place would fall apart. Doesn’t the boss see that?

Five words gave me the key to help her overcome her work troubles.

You may be wondering which five words helped me pinpoint Jo’s issue — they were “at every job I’ve had." These few words told me that the issue was not with Jo’s boss or co-workers or even the culture of the company, the problem was with Jo.

How do I know this for certain? Well, because the one common factor in all her jobs was Jo.

If you’re experiencing a situation similar to Jo’s, you may not want to consider yourself at the root of the problem. After all, why doesn’t the boss do something or why can’t the coworkers learn to do their jobs better? You may be thinking that it’s unfair that you have to change because other people won’t. And you are 100% correct. Cry a little, moan a little... are you done? I don't mean to be harsh, but I'm going to give it to you straight... GET OVER IT!

Cry a little, moan a little... Now, time to GET OVER IT!

Life is not fair and work, especially, is not fair. When we sit around whining about unfairness we stay stuck in victim mode with no energy to make much-needed changes. When we accept that we cannot change others and the only person that we can ever change is one’s self, that’s when we become truly empowered.

If you’re experiencing a situation like Jo’s where you feel like you’re expected to save everyone around you, it’s very likely that your issue lies with a belief that got lodged in your mind long ago — so long ago that you don’t even realize it’s there. The belief is likely a variation on, “I’m not enough on my own” or “My worth is dependent on helping others.” You have Superhero syndrome.

The belief is likely “I’m not enough on my own.”

If you've had enough and finally want to change things for good, here are seven steps to help you recover from your Superhero syndrome:

  1. Get crystal clear on your own work priorities. Write them down and keep them in a place you can see them.
  2. For one full week, review your priority list first thing each day and get to work on your priorities. Don't let habit or distractions get in your way.
  3. At the end of each day, review your priorities and see how you’ve done. Give yourself a grade and if it’s anything less than a B+, make note of what kept you from scoring higher. The next day, do your best to address the issues that kept you from being more focused on your priorities. Keep it up each day until you see improvement.
  4. Learn this very powerful word — No. When coworkers come and ask for your help or interrupt you, practice saying “no” in its many variations:
  • “No, I’m sorry.”
  • “I can’t now, maybe later.”
  • “I’m very busy today.”
  • “Try Googling it.”
  • “I can’t. Perhaps someone else can help you.”
  • “I’m on deadline.”
  1. If you have trouble sticking with your plan, ask yourself what underlying belief is causing you to want to give up. Journal about the benefits you’ll enjoy from focusing on your work instead of the needs of everyone else. Talk with a trusted (non-work) friend, counselor or coach about any discomfort you’re feeling about the change, but try to stick with it in spite of your discomfort.
  2. When the week is up, check in with yourself to gauge your satisfaction. Overall, how well were you able to focus on your own priorities? How do you feel? How much work did you complete compared to a typical week? What else happened as result of your changes?
  3. If the results were good, try it for another week and start thinking about what impact you could have by continuing to focus your efforts on your own priorities. Employees who create impact tend to get promoted. By conserving your own energy for your priorities (rather than your co-workers') you should be able to focus on areas of importance.

Employees who create impact tend to get promoted.

For some, merely the thought of saying no can bring on a cold sweat, but that’s a sign that this change is long overdue. You will need to tolerate discomfort for a little while until you get used to it. Discomfort won’t kill you — you’ll survive. If you want to change your situation, this is necessary and healthy.

If you would like to change out of your superhero cape permanently, but need support, contact me for a coaching consultation. I’ve helped many professionals change ingrained habits that once stood in the way of their career goals.

 *The name has been changed to protect privacy.