What’s Your “ness”?

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His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.

Ernest Hemingway

“You have superpowers,” my wife said, smiling as our daughter reclined holding her newly born baby. She proceeded to describe to the new mother all of the amazing things her body would do to accommodate the development of her baby, help him grow and stay healthy, and help her adjust to the new norm post-pregnancy. As an experienced OB nurse, my wife was drawing on her knowledge of the magical capacities of the mother to bring life into this world and effectively nurture it to full development. I have always been struck by her description of a mom’s “superpowers.”

A recent compliment given to me about one of my other children reminded me of “superpowers” as the person described the positive “old soul” qualities of our youngest son. I thanked her and quipped that we had always appreciated his unique “Kellen-ness.”

Je Ne Sais Quoi

Later considering my response, I realized that each of us has our own “ness,” a combination of talents, dreams, attitudes, perspectives, and personality that make us uniquely us. We look upon another and conclude they possess a certain “je ne sais quoi,” a certain “I don’ t know what” that captures the indescribable nature of their gifts. Their “ness.”

In this sense, our “superpowers” encompass far more than the magical capacities of our human bodies. Each of us brings something quite unique to the world. Part of this is born from our ethos, the essence of our moral character, but our gifts go beyond ethos. One’s “ness” is the whole you. The you who succeeds and the you who fails. The you who finds a way to rise in her day and the you who gets back up when she has fallen. The you who is injured and forgives, as well as the you who wakes up determined to make a difference. The you who knows things and the you who is still learning. The you who smiles when greeting someone and the you who grimaces at the taste of brussel sprouts. The you who can perform a specific task flawlessly and the you who stumbles through something new. Your “ness” is your indescribable essence, your “je ne sais quoi.”

For better or for worse, we bring our “ness” to bear on the world around us. Your Joe-ness and Susan-ness is your calling card to the universe and it can be a force for good or for ill. What are you doing with your “ness?” Are you using it fully? Are you using it correctly? Are you using it justly? Do you even recognize the special gifts that make you unique?


Most of us underutilize our capacities. Sound harsh? Perhaps. In reality, it is difficult and demanding to bring our superpowers to bear consistently. Faced with the challenges of self-discipline, it is far easier to fall into the comfort zone of the easier path. Our incredibly luxurious, on-demand world makes it so very easy to walk lightly past what we are called to be. Often, our “ness” gets diluted in that process. Softened and weakened, we shelve our superpowers in exchange for “easier” or “faster” or “more pleasant.” We compromise our unique essence on the altar of the entertaining, feel-good, morally relativistic culture that surrounds us. Here, we frequently forget about our special-ness.

Let me remind you. You see, even aware-ness is a gift. To be aware of your “ness” is to remember there is a purpose to the talents you are given. In fact, they are not yours to squander – they are simply on loan for your earthly tour of duty. Your Phil-ness or Sally-ness is meant for more; it is meant to be shared and multiplied for the betterment of the world around you. Your superpowers are needed. We need them.

Still not sure about your “ness?” Take an inventory. Ask someone close to you. Remind yourself. Are you a good organizer? Are you passionate? Do you care? Do you write? Do you speak? Do you love? Can you smile? Are you strong? Are you willful? Can you listen? Do you see things others miss? Are you aware? Can you understand? Do you forgive? Do your eyes twinkle? Do you sparkle? (Those two remind me of my grandson!) Speaking of which, what do you see in others? How are they using their “ness?” Do they believe in something? Are they good with their hands? Are they helpful? Are they dependable? Are they kind? Are they present for others?

Living Fully

If you don’t think you’ve got a “ness,” you are mistaken. If you think you aren’t called to do more with your “ness,” you are also mistaken. Sound difficult? Yep. Sound demanding? Definitely. Sound fulfilling? Absolutely. Such is the path to living fully.

Awareness is a gift. Once given, it cannot be taken away. Once received, it cannot be unknown. You may choose to ignore it but there it remains. Know this: you have superpowers and they are meant to be shared. Your “ness” is desperately needed in this world – particularly in the smaller part of it sitting right outside your door. Bring the depth and breadth of your capacities to bear and watch what happens. Everything multiplies from there. Everything.

Showing 3 comments
  • Dad

    Your ability to recognize and describes Positive elements of the human condition amaze me Phillip. I was wondering if you thought it would be better to not end with, “May the NESS be with you!”

  • Steve A

    You obviously haven’t tasted my brussels sprouts.

  • Dawn Sparks

    I think I needed to hear this today. Thanks, Phil.

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