In this podcast, I explore the concept of identity as a critical tool for a successful pivot. I use the term “superhero formula” because of the analogy of the superhero, Clark Kent aka Superman, who goes into a phone booth with one identify and emerges with a different identity. As children, we are programmed to believe the following “success formula”: You DO certain things in life in order to HAVE certain things to then BE someone whom others would respect as a result – DO-HAVE-BE. The superhero formula recognizes the flawed sequence of this. Many of us never find our true purpose and therefore “doing” is not the right first step.
The superhero success formula is BE-DO-HAVE in recognition that success lies with the concept of identity. The more you focus first on “being” the person you want to become, the more success you will have in your pivot!
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The Superhero Formula: BE, DO, HAVE
I am at present sitting out looking out on the ocean, the Pacific Ocean, at sunset and I’m thrilled to be able to spend some time with all of you in this way, a great format, a great way in which for us to connect and for me to be able to share some information that I truly love and that inspires me. I want to take you back in time to share with you a little bit about my own transformational process. I started out as a lawyer. Before I was a lawyer, I was a teacher. I taught junior high school English in the New York City school system for a couple of years and that was an incredible experience. I had 150 students, five classes a day, 30 kids, 30 plus in some of those classes, so at least 150 kids. It took me three months to remember all their names, and then the end of the year comes and you’re in love with them because they’re all amazing. Second year, same thing. I knew that that was not a long‑term solution for me and what I wanted to do with my life. In fact I did it without a teaching license because back then in New York, they were so hungry for teachers that if you had an English degree, they’d make you an English teacher.
What was really challenging for me was the fact that my colleagues, the other teachers that I got friendly with and would see them in the lunchroom and in the teacher’s lounge, were constantly telling me “Adam, you got to get out of this profession.” They said “Don’t go back. Don’t get your education credits. Don’t go back and get another degree. Don’t spend any more time doing this because it’s a dead end.” I didn’t understand that. I thought they were cynical at the time, but it had an impact on me because the people that I was spending time with, the people that were my mentors, people who had been there and done that and had experience and people that I thought I could learn from, weren’t sending me a subtle message but a very direct message to get out of the profession because it was one that would steal my life, my energy, and my joy as it had theirs. That was disturbing, so I ultimately went back to law school.
My reasoning for going back to law school was because I truly wanted to create a life that I could support my family with, have a business or have an occupation that would provide me with some opportunities to earn a lot of money. I wasn’t kidding myself about what it costs to raise a family. I My wife, Randi, and I wanted to have a house. I grew up in an apartment and never had a house. My parents didn’t have enough money for that. I wanted to make sure that we were going to be able to support our kids and do great things together. We wanted to have four kids, a big family. I went back to law school for the money, to call it for what it’s worth. I thought “I’m a pretty good arguer. I know how to have a good argument and I certainly have a knack for talking so being a mouthpiece seemed to make sense.” Three years later, I was a newly minted attorney.
It was interesting because I like to use this analogy. I talk about each one of us having an inner superhero, that we’re each given and born with certain superhero powers. It’s crucial during our lifetime that we discover what those superhero powers are and that we use them because if we don’t use them, we lose them. That’s the way the universe is. That’s the way God is. We were given gifts and we were given a sufficient amount of time and sufficient number of opportunities to be able to make use of those gifts. If at some point we don’t take the hint and don’t use them or we decide to stop using them, at some point they atrophy, just like a muscle when not used atrophies. It’s the same thing with our gifts. It’s important that we learn and become aware of what those gifts are and then we own them.
I didn’t know what my gifts were at that time. All I was doing was playing the safe card. To me, the safe card was I’ll go back, get an education and a profession. In my case, it was the law profession and then come out of that process of three years and $100,000 dollars of ed costs and earn a living, and that’s what I did. For many years, that was the superhero I was creating for myself, this identity. We’ve been on Facebook a number of times speaking about the power of identity and how important it is to know what your true identity is. When I think of your inner superhero, to me, that is your true identity. Each one of us, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a single mom, you’re a person with an education, a person without an education, you’re older or younger, it doesn’t matter what your religion is or the color of your skin or anything like that, everybody to me is created with that same innate superhero power, and that is your true identity. To discover that is part of the calling of life. It’s what calls us to greater service. It’s what calls us to discontent. It’s what calls us to know when we are not at our best and we’re feeling the pain of that.
As I had practiced law for more than fifteen years and getting up each day not enthusiastic about what I was going to be doing, not enthusiastic about my job, feeling even dread in the morning when I start the day, put my feet on the floor, feeling that anxiety, that anxiousness, that agitation, it was because I knew inside, in my core, in the deepest place of my own knowing, which to me wasn’t something I was conscious of at the time, but in that deep place, there was truth. The truth was that I was not living my true identity. I was not living into my true superhero, so I’d gone into this phone booth, to use the analogy of Superman and how Superman was disguised as Clark Kent, because his truth was Superman. His disguise was this mild-mannered news reporter named Clark Kent. When there was a problem, when there was something that was calling Superman to take action, meaning somebody was robbing a bank or doing something else that was pretty awful, Superman was going to come to the rescue. He first went into the phone booth as Clark Kent and he transformed into his true identity which was Superman and came out of that phone booth ready to fly off into whatever direction he needed to serve.
That’s a powerful analogy for ourselves and our lives. This is the experience that I can come from. I went into that phone booth in my twenties, wanting to earn money. I went into that phone booth wanting to learn something that would help me to support a family and I came out as a lawyer. I went in as a young kid that didn’t know very much other than that I was in love, and I found the woman of my dreams which was magnificent, and we got married and wanted to have kids, and my identity as the young man wanting to create stability for my wife and for our new family. I came out of that phone booth as a lawyer dressed in a suit and tie and briefcase in hand, and then I went about creating a life based on that assumed identity. Then I got into my late 30s and started to feel that pain, started to feel that lack of fulfillment, lack of energy, lack of feeling good about what I was doing with my life in regard to my profession and my occupation.
It reminds me of that that old Henry David Thoreau quote that, “Everywhere people lead lives of quiet desperation.” I understood what that meant in that time, that I was leading a life in many ways of quiet and maybe not so quiet desperation because I was not actually living my truth. My true identity was disguised and I started to take some personal development training programs, attending workshops, and reading books. The first book that popped me wide open in terms of thinking about these things was The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Scott Peck’s famous book, an absolutely amazing read. It had me thinking differently and considering quite seriously what it was that I was here to do, what was my work to do, and was I actually the most authentic version of myself. When I began that exploration, it took several years but I got it deep inside of me that I needed to make a pivot and I wasn’t going to jump ship. I wasn’t going to quit my job.
At that time, I worked for myself, so I wasn’t going to quit my business and put my family at risk. What I knew I had to do was to create some shift, some change in the direction, so that I didn’t close my eyes and find that I’d be 70 or 80 years old as many of the lawyers that were around were still practicing law in their 60s or 70s and some in their 80s, and they were unhappy guys, unhappy women, unhappy men. I didn’t want to be one of them, very similar to those teachers that I met when I was in my early twenties.
This time around, second time I pivoted I said, “This is not going to be the long-term solution for me.” I started going down that path of creating a Plan B, as in who am I going to be versus the person that I currently am pretending to be. This façade, this image, this identity that I assumed in that phone booth came out as a pretend superhero, and that superhero was dressed like a lawyer.
This is profound work that all of us and any of us can do. I want to share the formula that is a part of that superhero identity. When I grew up, I was taught that I needed to do certain things in my life. I was taught this by my family and I was taught it through examples I saw all around me, including what I saw in the media, on TV, and things in the movies. It was that you do certain things in your life in order to have certain things so that you can be someone. You get a good education, you study hard, you go to college, you come out, you get a good job. By doing that, you’re going to have things, you’re going to have money, house, car, prestige, those kinds of things. Then you will be somebody that you’ll be respected in your community, you’ll be respected in your family, you’ll be respected among your peers, among your friends, and all those things. It’s interesting and captivating and it seems to make sense except it’s backwards and it’s a real problem.
At the root, so much of the dissatisfaction, the discontent and the actual pain that many adults experience in their lives is because they start out thinking that they got to do things. That’s where I was at. I was coming from a place that said to me “You better do something if you want to have something, and then you’ll be able to be a great father.” If I do this, if I go to law school, if I become a lawyer, I’ll be able to have the respect from a great profession and a great occupation, I’ll be able to have lots of money, and then I’ll be somebody in the eyes of my family, my kids, my wife, the people that I would call colleagues, all those things. I ended up going down that road and I played it full out. I ended up unhappy and unfulfilled because it was not the truth of my identity. You and I are kin because you wouldn’t be listening to this and you wouldn’t be called to want to pivot or to learn what it means or what it takes to consciously make changes in your life unless we have something truly in common.
When I started to do this work, I discovered that my identity is as a teacher. I also ascribe to the belief that teachers are leaders. I’ve always wanted to be a leader. I’ve always wanted to lead and to be somebody that has something important to share with others. When I was young, I used to counsel all my friends. I’d counsel people on their problems and stuff, and it’s always easier to give other people advice than it is to take it yourself. I became a teacher ironically for a couple of years teaching English to kids who were twelve, thirteen, or fourteen years old. Much later in life, I found that even as a lawyer, the best work that I ever did or the work that I enjoyed was the work of counseling, giving advice, and helping people to find solutions to their challenges. It was profound for me to realize in my 40s that my true identity is that of a teacher. I got to make a conscious choice, a conscious pivot, in other words, to go back into the phone booth, like Clark Kent, but this time me, Adam Markel, going back into the phone booth as a lawyer and coming out of that phone booth as a teacher and leader.
I know Lisa Nichols says this and I’m trying to remember who it was that first coined this phrase, a “servant leader.” What I do or aspire to do each and every day of my life is to be a servant leader, to be a teacher of the things that have made a difference for me in my life and the things that I am inspired to share. That’s my true identity. That’s my truth. Emerging from that pivot phone booth as a teacher gave me great clarity about what I wanted to do with my life. It’s the same for you. We have to change the formula, so that instead of having to do certain things and being someone, you work on being the person, being the identity, being the truth that is you, the true identity that is you. You be that, and you’ll be then inspired to do certain things with your life and then you’ll have the fruits of that. We always reap what we sow. The key distinction here is that you have to work on being what it is that you want in the world and that requires some inquiry. What is it that you want to be? What is your true identity? Those are profound questions. These are questions that we’re going to continue to explore.
I’m going to have a number of different friends and guests on this podcast to share their thoughts. In fact, in the last episode, we had Joel Roberts, who was formerly KABC radio primetime talk show host, very famous in the radio capital of the world, which is Los Angeles, California. He had an accident where he was rendered partly deaf. He ended up with tinnitus. He was standing in front of a bank of speakers at a large event and they were testing the speakers and turned them on. In an instant, his life was changed. He discovered, even through that tragic process of losing part of your hearing and having to leave your chosen profession, that part of his real gift was not being expressed.
His true identity, as it turns out, is as somebody who is a transformational teacher, somebody that has a gift for helping people to find their true voice and articulate it and to be able to do that in a very compelling way so that their message can be heard in a very loud and crowded marketplace. Joel would never have been able to discover that gift inside of himself had it not been for that event. I shouldn’t say would never have, he just wouldn’t have then. His having to pivot not by choice but by default, by having that accident occur, he was able to discover that identity or that other part of his identity.
He went into that pivot phone booth as he had said, “Depressed, unhappy,” and he came out of that pivot phone booth hard of hearing, having to wear hearing aids, and yet knowing that he was a genuine talent and that his true talent, his true gift, and his true identity was to be able to facilitate, process, and work through a process with people who were yet unable to articulate and voice their gift and voice their value. That’s what he’s done for many years and helped thousands and thousands of people all over the world. What he understood through that process was that he wanted to be something. He got more clarity about who he wanted to be in the world and then he was inspired to do certain things which ultimately led him to teaching, training, doing workshops, speaking, and being invited to speak all over the world. He ended up having a life that he always dreamed of having, which is one that is fulfilling of his greatest gifts, sharing his love and his special talents with the world, and one that is very prosperous financially as well.
All of those things are magnificent as real world examples of how we can pivot our consciousness or awareness so that we can have better lives, happier lives, healthier lives, richer lives, more prosperous lives on every level to be able to have this sufficiency versus scarcity. That abundance, that sufficiency, that prosperity comes from becoming aware of our gifts, understanding our gifts, and then living into our gifts. If we do not live into our gifts, our gifts leave us. The last thing in the world that any of us want is to get to the end of our days and find that we have somehow squandered the opportunity to live out those gifts and to express them fully in the world.
I am looking out on the most magnificent evening sky, incredible colors, so many variations of orange and yellow, and the ocean blue sky in this gentlest of blue tones, light clouds, and such a beautiful evening. I’m so happy to have been able to spend some time with you and sharing a little bit about your pivot superhero and understanding that you’ve got to be the person first that you want to be. You’ll do the things, you’ll be inspired, you’ll become aware of what it is that you are called to do in the world, and then you’ll have everything you want. That is a superhero formula that we ought to be teaching to kids when they’re five years old. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t learn it when you were five and you didn’t learn it when you were ten, fifteen, or twenty. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be learning it now so that you can actually re-enter that pivot phone booth to come out knowing a little bit more about who you are or what your true identity is, because that is your superhero. That is your superpower the moment you know that.
What a blessing to be with you wherever you might be. I want to send out my gratitude to all of you wherever you are. Hand on the heart, what a blessing it is to be alive. What a blessing your life is regardless of whether things are going well or they’re not. I once heard somebody say that at all times, we’re either coming out of a storm, going into a storm, or we’re in a storm. That’s fairly true that in most times in our lives, we are in some way in a storm, coming out of one, or going into one. Wherever you are, whether things are calm or they’re chaotic, your life is a blessing. I am sending you all of my love. I wish for you peace. I certainly wish that you love your life fully and that you wake up every day, put your feet on the floor, give thanks for the fact that you are breathing and alive in that moment, that you are fully awake, and that you are in the process of becoming even more fully awake, and that you stand up if you’re able and blessed to be able to do that, and you say those words “I love my life.”