Superman Syndrome

Sep 2021



“And one day, as she was buried deep in her thoughts, she heard a still small voice ask her “If you could go back in life, what would you have done differently?” And without missing a beat she answered, “I would have chosen me” And finally, she made the choice..”

Henna Sohail

“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.”

Michael Pollan


Superman syndrome is a unique guilt complex that entrepreneurial or socially minded people feel. When you feel like you should always be doing more or be achieving more or helping more people. That there is always something more that you could be doing. Especially during times when you are doing something for yourself. Which leads to feelings of inadequacy and discontentment.

It comes from Superman comic books. Anytime Superman turns back into Clark Kent and continues his life, he feels guilty for doing so. Because in the back of his mind he knows that there are people in the world he could be helping at that moment. So anytime he does something for himself it comes at the cost of something else or someone else.

History is littered with successful people who wished they’d prioritised more the things that made them and those they love happy, instead of the things that made them successful. But I’ve never read about someone deeply happy who wished they’d achieved more.

It’s ok to pick yourself and ignore everything else. Even if it means you achieve less in life or have less impact than you could. Life is about happiness maximisation not output maximisation. It’s hard to be happy but it’s worth it.