What M. Night Shyamalan Can Teach You About Finding Your Superpower

The director M. Night Shyamalan has a new movie out. I heard it's pretty good. But the movie I want you to watch was released way back in 2000. It's called Unbreakable and stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

Unbreakable is about an unhappy man who finds his happiness when he discovers he has amazing powers that can be used for good in the world. The realization comes at a terrible price. But you'll have to watch the movie to find out more. I won't spoil it for you!

The Story of David Dunn

The movie opens with David Dunn, an underemployed security guard, who is traveling home by train from a business meeting in New York. David is downcast. He perks up when a pretty woman sits next to him. But when he slips off his wedding ring we know David isn't a contented man.

Seconds later, the train speeds off the tracks. Everyone else on the train is killed except David. Amazingly, he walks away from the crash without a scratch.

A few days later when he's leaving a memorial service for the victims, David finds an unsigned note on his windshield: "How many days of your life have you been sick?"


The note leads David to Elijah Price, an owner of a high-end comic book store called Limited Edition, who's on a crazy mission to find an "unbreakable" version of himself. Elijah has a genetic disorder that makes his bones brittle, from which he's endured horrible pain, suffering and embarrassment.

"They call me Mr. Glass at school," he explains to his mother in a flashback to his childhood. "Cause I break like glass."

But as a comic book expert who's studied the divide between superheroes and supervillains, Elijah is convinced his polar opposite exists in the world. A man who is as durable as he is vulnerable, as strong as he is weak.

The fact that David survived the train crash is one clue that he may be that person. But both men are skeptical, and the rest of the movie focuses on their search for the truth about each other. 

Unbreakable isn't a superhero movie. David Dunn isn't Clark Kent and he doesn't become Superman. The movie is about an ordinary man who discovers the extraordinary within himself. In doing so, he finds his purpose in life - and reclaims his happiness.

David Dunn's journey is one we can all make. And what we discover about ourselves can be as dramatic and life changing as it was for him.

It Begins with Awareness

David Dunn is miserable. His career is stalled. His marriage is on the rocks. He's struggling and looking for answers. Elijah's note gave him hope. That's why David tracks him downs at his store.

"Did you know that this morning was the first morning I can remember, that I didn't open my eyes and feel that sadness... Do you know what I'm talking about? That little bit of sadness? I thought the person that wrote that note had an answer for me. For why I survived that train. For why my life feels so out of balance..." - David Dunn

You may feel the same way about your life. Adrift. Stuck. Out of whack. And, yeah, sad. But your awareness that you feel this way - and that it's not normal or acceptable - is the beginning of wisdom. Coupled with action you can begin to drag yourself out of the hole your in.

But you may not be able to get out by yourself.

It Helps to Listen to Strangers

David Dunn is suspicious of Elijah Price. And with good reason. Elijah has some crazy ideas about who David may be. Though to be fair to Elijah, he sees comic books as much more than the adventures of Jughead & Veronica. They are modern-day cave paintings with deeper meaning. 

"I believe comic books are based loosely on reality - I believe there are real life equivalents of the heroes in those books that walk the earth." - Elijah Price

Despite David's reservations about Elijah, he senses some truth in what Elijah is saying. 

What do people say about you that feels true? I'm not just talking about what your family and friends say to you. What do strangers say to you, especially the crazy ones?

My point is to listen to the people around you - and I mean everyone. Your superpower will be noticed most by those who have it least. The blacker the sky the more the stars shine through. 

When You Think You Know, Test It

Is David really Unbreakable? Neither Elijah nor David are convinced. But from the moment David hears Elijah's theory he begins to conduct small tests.

He asks his employer, "How many sick days have I've taken since I've worked here?"

He asks his wife, "When's the last time I was sick? You remember?"

A major breakthrough happens when David is lifting weights in his basement. David's young son, Joseph, overloads the bar. He believes his Dad has special powers. 

Struggling through a set of bench presses, David asks, "How much did you put on there?" A quick look at the the bar confirms it's the most David has every lifted.

Despite David's protests, Joseph continues to overload the bar. But David himself is now curious, "How much can I lift?" After using every weight in the basement and strapping cans of paint to each side of the bar, David gets his answer: a lot.

David's success in the weight room encourages him to test his powers further, which leads to the climax of the movie and David's realization that he is indeed Unbreakable.

Like David, you can neither fully rely on your own awareness or on the hunches of family, friends and strangers. You have to find out for yourself by testing your powers, first in small ways.

When I was a kid I always thought I would make a good public speaker. I used to watch my father speak to large groups and daydream about speaking on stage. All the careers I considered when I was younger involved public speaking. When I was studying to be a college professor I even taught public speaking to undergraduates.

I always knew that public speaking was one of my superpowers, and the people around me from family to friends to strangers all confirmed this, especially the latter since they weren't obligated to be complimentary.

But that wasn't enough. I had to test my power with bigger and and bigger challenges. I taught public speaking in college. I joined Toastmasters and was a divisional winner of their annual speaking contest. I spoke frequently as part of my fundraising work. Finally, in 2011 I started my own business, which included professional speaking. Speaking makes me happy and is one of the ways I communicate my life's purpose.

Fortunately, I don't need someone to tell me my life would be poorer without it. But if you have that little bit of sadness when you get up in the morning, you may need more than coffee. You might just need to find your superpower.