Jim Kwik – Find Your Superpower
Jim Kwik went from being teased as “the boy with the broken brain” to becoming a world expert on learning. He now trains everyone from Elon Musk to Will Smith on how to fully utilize their brain. If knowledge is power, then learning is your superpower, and Jim shows you how.
Well, I wanted to make my family proud and I don’t understand why I’m different from all the other kids. A lot of people don’t know that I had a brain injury when I was a child. One day at school, somebody says, “Hey, look at all the fire engines outside.” Most of the kids in the class never saw a fire engine and firefighters were like my heroes. I want to see it. I take my chair and I carry it to the window so I put it down here and I climb on it. I can just kind of see the outline of it and I see the firefighters and I’m in like bliss. Just when I had the highest moment, one of the other kids is grabbing my chair. I go back to turn like this to see who’s doing it and I fall head first right into the radiator. I was bleeding everywhere. There was a pool of blood and my parents, the way they describe it, it was very traumatic.
They said that I was never the same, especially when it came to learning. I mean, I became painfully shy, I wasn’t myself and where it really showed up was in school because I didn’t understand things very well. Teachers would have to repeat themselves over and over and over. I became so introverted and not talking to anybody. The big thing was like also I couldn’t read. I would just look at pages and I’d just see letters and they didn’t mean anything to me. We would get in circles and the teacher would give a book out. One by one, you would have to read out loud to the other students. My heart’s beating out of my chest right now even thinking of it because every time somebody finished, it would get closer, the book would get closer and closer and closer to me. I would just … because I couldn’t read. Then, when the book got to me, I just didn’t know what to do. I would just stare at it and I would just start crying. The teacher would come and take the book and then pass it on to the next person.
I remember my teacher pointing to me, talking to another adult, saying, “That’s the boy with the broken brain.” I always thought, you know, it really pushed something deep inside of me saying that I’m not enough. There’s something that was wrong with me, that I wasn’t like everybody else, that I couldn’t be like them. It took me actually an extra three years to learn how to read. I taught myself by reading comic books while my parents thought I was sleeping. I would be under the covers with my flashlight every night looking at the pictures. My favorite comic books growing up were the X-Men, not because they were the strongest or the fastest, it’s just they didn’t fit in because they were mutants and they were bullied like I was bullied. They were pushed aside and told that they weren’t worth anything. It was a metaphor for me of what people were capable of and what humans are, their potential is.
At night when I was doing my nighttime reading, I found out that School of the Gifted, Professor X school for the superheroes was in Westchester, New York and that’s where I grew up, in the suburbs of New York City. The next day, I got on my bicycle and I started riding around my neighborhood trying to find this school for the X-Men. I did that consecutive, every single weekend that’s what I did. It brought the words to life and I learned what reading was for me. I remember though, we had a parent/teacher conference where my parents came in. I had one chance to really succeed and it was this book report. They were willing to make this like my book report and count it more because I was not doing well. We decided on a topic and the topic was on Leonardo da Vinci. I had this heart to heart talk with my parents saying, “I know I haven’t measured up up to this point, but I’m going to make you proud.” I picked up every single book on Leonardo da Vinci and I just dreamt about Leonardo and at breakfast I would read about Leonardo. Everything was about this person. This is going to decide if I was something and that [fact 00:03:29] it was more than a book report.
When we get there, it’s in class, the teacher said, “Okay, Jim. I want you to give a presentation in front of the class about it.” My life just, right now my world just crumbled because growing up with learning difficulties I was painfully shy. It was like going back to that reading circle again where I had to talk in front of a group of people because at that point, I never did that. I looked her right in the eyes because my heart was beating out of my chest. I was sweating so much and I said, “I didn’t do the book report.” I basically lied. She just took me for my word and I got a zero while I had in my backpack, like bound, this book report, which signified all my dreams, my potential there. I remember to this day walking up, out of the classroom, and there’s a trash can right there. I threw the book report in there and along with that, everything, in terms of my hopes and my abilities, my pride, my promises, it just felt like it just went in the trash. I still look back with regret and sorrow that I didn’t step up being able to do that, but I was a product, at that moment, of my conditioning. I was believing my self-talk that I wasn’t enough.
Your brain is a super computer and your self-talk is the program it will run, so you have to be very mindful of your thoughts. When you grow up with these challenges and you’re the boy with the broken brain, you suffer and struggle and you wonder why. At the age of 18, I wanted to run away. I didn’t know how to tell my parents how I was going to quit school and I remember at that time, my friend said, “Hey, why don’t you come with me over the weekend? I’m going to go visit my family. Get some space, get some perspective.” I go to California and I remember it like it was yesterday. The father is walking me around his property and asked me a very innocent question. A question you would ask an 18-year-old kid, but it was the worst question on earth to ask me. How’s school?
I break down and I just collapse and I just start crying to this complete stranger because of all the pressure that I’m holding in. I tell him my whole story about growing up with learning challenges and difficulties and my brain injury. I’m going to disappoint my parents and be a bad role model to my younger brother and my younger sister. He looked at me and he asked me a question, “Jim, why are you in school? What do you want to be? What do you want to do? What do you want to have? What do you want to share with the world?” I didn’t have any answers because I never asked myself that question before. He pulls out a journal out of his back pocket and he takes out a couple of sheets of paper, tears them out, and hands them to me with a pen. He makes me write down my answers. He looks at me and he says, “Jim, you are this close to everything on that list,” and he spreads his index fingers about a foot apart. I’m thinking, there’s no way. Give me ten lifetimes, I’m not going to crack that list. He takes his index fingers and he puts them to the side of my head. Between that, you know, obviously is my brain, meaning that’s the bridge to everything that I need in life. That’s the key to unlock this, to unlock my dream life.
It made me ask another question again. What’s my problem? I said, “My problem is I have a very slow brain. I’m a very slow learner. Maybe I can learn how to learn faster?” I was like, “Okay, where do I go to learn?” I thought, “Oh, school.” I started looking through all the classes and I started reading every single one. I realize all these classes are on what to learn, but there were zero classes on how to learn. How does my brain work so I can work my brain? How does my memory work so I can work my memory? I made that my study. That was my aha moment. A light switch just went on and I started to understand things for the very first time. I started to have better focus. I started to read faster and I wasn’t getting distracted all of a sudden. I started to make friends. I started to be more confident and [inaudible 00:07:03] being more happy and having more joy, enjoying myself.
I remember when I had that epiphany, I couldn’t help but help other people because why did I have to suffer and struggle, go through all this difficulty, when I could have been taught these easy to learn techniques about how my mind worked, how memory worked. I wanted to start helping everybody. That’s been my quest for the past 25 years and I remember, recently, I remembered somebody’s name in an audience and that person referred me to the Chairman of 20th Century Fox. I get a call from their office saying, “Hey, I heard about your work. I want you to please come in and spend half a day with our executive team.” I go there on a Friday morning and I give one of the best trainings I’ve ever done. When I’m done, the Chairman of 20th Century Fox comes to me and says, “Jim, this was incredible. One of the very best trainings we’ve ever offered.” I see a movie poster of Wolverine and it was for a movie, it wasn’t coming out for a few months. I was like, “Wow, I can’t wait to see that film,” and the Chairman comes to me and he says, “Jim, I didn’t know you liked superheroes. We have another 30 days of filming the new X-Men movie in Montreal. How would you like to go there and be there, just experience it?” I was like, “That’s incredible. I’ve never been on a movie set before.”
He picks me up the next morning, Saturday morning, 8:00, we get on the plane. We call it the X-Jet. Waiting on the plane for me is the entire cast of X-Men. I see Wolverine and Professor X. I’m sitting between Jennifer Lawrence and Halle Barry and I get to share some of my brain tips and speed reading and memory tips to these amazing superheroes. When we get to Montreal, the very first scene took place in Charles Xavier’s Superhero School. I’m still this nine-year-old boy. I’m looking at this school, the place I’ve always dreamed, that I’ve always searched and seeked for. I got to see my superheroes come to life right in front of me. When I go home after that, there’s a package waiting for me and it’s the size of maybe a television. I open it up and it’s this photograph of me and the entire cast of X-Men. There’s a note in there from the Chairman of Fox and it says, “Jim, thank you so much for sharing your superpowers with all of us. I know you’ve been looking for your superhero school ever since you were a child. Here’s your class photo.”
What I’ve learned is this, a lot of people say oh, I’m not that smart or how smart am I or how smart are my kids? They’re asking the wrong question. It’s not how smart you are, it’s how are you smart? A superhero for me is somebody who is on the path of discovering and developing their superpowers. Like, their strengths, their unique ability, their unique talents and I feel like the world needs more superheroes and the world deserves more of us to be able to show up, that there’s a superhero version of all of us. Find your superpower.