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Are You A Superhero? And why pretending you are could be contributing to Burnout

Are You A Superhero?

I am not a superhero, and yet in the few years before I burned out, many of my friends, family, and colleagues would describe me as one.

“Hey Superwoman”

“Hey Wonderwoman”

“You’re like a superhero, I don’t know how you do it all”

And on the back of my leaving card as I moved from my penultimate internal role to my final internal role, the Head of Comms and Marketing, Simon, added to the messages of praise for my high-performing, over-achiever ridiculously high standards with this image.


Whilst I have never considered myself to be a superhero, a wonder woman or a superwoman, I can’t deny that the views of others, who saw me as a superhero of sorts, drove me to keep performing at the level I was performing at.

The endless juggling.

Each promotion came in very quick succession to the next.

The non-stop project work and continuous improvements.

The increased performance stats and the targets were all met, way before they expected and always to budget.

The life and soul of the party on a night out.

The cool Mum.

The hardworking daughter.

The role-model sister.

And yet the biggest pressure of all was the pressure I continued to put on myself.  Because I simply could not be any less than I was, because part of me didn’t feel anywhere near close to being good enough anyway.  I’d be enough after the next promotion, when I hit the next salary bracket, when I won the next award, when I’d hit the next target, or completed the next project, and so I kept going, and going, and going.

And whilst it wasn’t this pressure that ultimately led to my burnout, it had been a huge factor behind the scenes in it happening. And if I had felt that I was enough, been able to celebrate and recognise at least some of my achievements, and not felt like I still had so much still to prove, I wouldn’t have pushed so hard in such a toxic environment to make a difference.  I would have done what my gut was screaming at me to do, and got the hell out of there before it nearly killed me.  And I wouldn’t have seen putting my wellbeing first, or as a failure.

We do love superhero analogies and questions though, don’t we?!

“If you were a superhero what would be your superpower?”

“If you had a superpower what would it be and why?”

“If you could be a superhero for a day what would you do first?”

“Who is your favourite superhero?”

I’ve been asked these questions at interviews, yes really! They’ve been part of ice-breakers at training and away days, which of course my introverted self LOVES (not) and I spent many years having these conversations with my sons each time we went out for dinner, after every single Marvel movie we watched at home, and on the way home from every single cinema trip to watch the latest superhero movie.

Like many, we’ve debated the Superman vs Batman championship for years, and the conversation ended when one of my sons refused to even entertain it any longer when the discovery in their minds that ‘Batman is just a man, he’s just a man with some weapons and a suit’ apparently discounted him from all further superhero debates.

And yet, we still love a superhero, and we’ve all watched more than once, the latest Batman film, however dark it comes across, and we’ve put him back into the superhero category, after many years!

 Many of us who reach Burnout, are seen as superheroes, and yet we’re not. But, we do have similarities of sorts.

  • We put the need to protect and save other people over the need to take care of ourselves
  • We jeopardise our relationships to put other people first anytime they are in need
  • We hide behind the suit so that nobody sees just how much we are struggling underneath
  • We see our purpose of changing our small part of the world as THE most important thing ever
  • We see it as our job to fix and change everything, even making excuses for the ‘baddies’ who do all they can to jeopardise everything behind the scenes
  • And we go over and above, without being rewarded for our true contribution because people believe we should just give our all because it’s important.

Before I say too much more, I’ll say this.  Some of you are at Burnout, or beyond, are in fact superhumans, and you are out there actually saving lives.  The majority of us who are at or near Burnout, are not.

Most of us who are at the point of Burnout, are providing a service, adding some value, and making a difference to our organisations, but you are not saving lives whilst you are jeopardising your own wellbeing.  In a LOT of cases, all you are doing is trying to prove you are worthy of keeping your job whilst lining the pockets of stakeholders and shareholders.

And before you start bombarding me with all of the reasons that you love your job, and how you make a difference and help people, you don’t need to.  Really.  I get it.  I LOVE my work.  My career and my work have always been important to me, and as sad as it may seem to some of you when asked “if money were not an issue what would you do for work” I would do exactly what I’m doing now, with the addition of a charitable foundation to help more and more people access the support they need to develop themselves to prevent burnout. 

So, I’m not saying don’t love your job, I think it’s important to love your job.

I also think it’s important to recognise that you are not your job.  That if you left, you’d be replaced tomorrow. And that whilst so many leaders still don’t care about your wellbeing, it’s important that you do.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Just because you are not a superhero, does not mean that you can’t have a superpower.  My superpower, my zone of genius is seeing things that others can’t, and asking questions that others won’t, and these two things make me an extraordinary coach who works with extraordinary clients.

And I’m sure that you have your own superpower too.  And when you find that, and work more with that, and understand much more about who you are, and what matters most to you, and the boundaries that are important to implement and the time that you need to take out for yourself, the further you move away from being overwhelmed and exhausted and the more time, space and energy you have for the things that matter most.

And if anyone is calling you a superhero, take a look at the hours you’re working, and the stuff you’re neglecting, and use your own superpower to regain some of that much-needed control in your busy life.

And of course, if you want some help in discovering your superpower and regaining control of your own busy life, let’s talk.


I’m Kelly Swingler, The Coach for leaders around the world who are done with being exhausted, overworked, and on the verge of burnout.  They hire me to help them regain control of their busy lives so that they have more time and energy for the things that matter.

I'm passionate about preventing burnout and helping leaders to live and lead a life where they stress-less for success. My zone of genius is seeing things that others can't and asking questions that others won't, and this makes me an extraordinary coach with extraordinary clients.

Find out all you need to know including my FREE resources, books, programmes and coaching at


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