If you’re here reading this, you know who Stan Lee is, you know what he created, and you know why the geek world mourns this week. You can find lists of his greatest achievements and his influence on the comics industry in a billion different places, but I’m not here to do that. I choose to remember my hero Stan Lee through the lessons he taught me. Every character he touched and created influenced all of us who read his work. We were lucky to have a storyteller, worldbuilder, and teacher like Stan Lee in our lives.
Family Is Important
Whether your family is the one you grew up with, the one you chose, the offspring you’re raising, or something else entirely, you should be there for them and they should be there for you. Sometimes we don’t get along with them. Your brother is a hothead. Your dad gets lost in his work duties. Mom sometimes just disappears. Your best friend does things that make you wonder if there are just rocks in his skull instead of brains. They’re weirdos, but they’re your weirdos. No one knows you like they do, and even though they piss you off sometimes you know you’ll work through it. Many of us don’t have large families. It’s our duty to make sure that they’re safe and well, because they do the same for us.
Life is hard. It’s easy to go about your day thinking only about your needs and keeping your lights on. However, every so often life gives us the opportunity to do good. Maybe you take a case to trial for a client pro bono because you know she can’t afford it and you believe it’s the right thing to do. A stranger’s car breaks down on the highway and you help to jump it even though you’re already running late for work. You hire someone with a checkered past and nearly no marketable skills because you see that they want to turn their life around. Do good, even if it gets you nothing in return, for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.
Manage Your Emotions
Everyone has bad days. Even the most polite, kind, warm people have days where they just want to take a sledgehammer to some drywall. We are not defined by our emotions, but rather how we react to them. People might not like you when you’re angry, but you have the choice to direct that energy towards something good, something productive. Anger and passion come from the same place. They can both consume you, or you can take control and use that energy to do things that seemed impossible just minutes earlier. Emotions have a purpose and you have the ability to do great things when you acknowledge what you feel, and channel it towards being productive.
Your Past Need Not Define Your Future
We’ve all done things that we regret, and said things we wish we could un-say. Everyone has experienced that moment at 2:15am, when you do nothing but stare at your ceiling and constantly replay that one moment the way you wish you’d handled it. These are moments that we carry to remind us of our mistakes and what we’ve learned from them. Our mistakes might taint our past and they may even taint our legacy, but they do not need to affect our future. We always have the choice to do better, to grow, to learn, and to leave our past behind. And someday, if we’re deliberate and mindful about changing our behaviors, we’ll see that our mistakes gave us the skills we need to be our best selves in the future.
Know Your Value
You worked hard to get where you are. Life threw you obstacles that you dodged, hurdles that you jumped, and pitfalls that you avoided. And now you’re here, at a point in your life where you feel like you underachieved. Or maybe someone holds you back from your potential. When you find yourself in these predicaments, there is one thing that you know better than anyone: your value. You know best what you bring to the table, and someone somewhere will see that too. It’s not enough to know your value. Have the strength and courage to fight for it even if the opposition seems insurmountable, and even if you are scared beyond measure.
Sometimes you’re content with where you grew up. Most of us can’t wait to move away. Whatever your path, take the time to travel. See different places, do different things. Learning from unfamiliar cultures enriches your life, your mind, and your soul. John Donne said that no man is an island, and if that’s true then we owe it ourselves to see what life is like outside city limits. The best explorers are the ones who learn and change by the time they return home. If you have the opportunity to go somewhere new, do it. Explore the next town, the next city, the next state, the next country, and the next experience. The people you meet and the things you see will be worth the while. You never know if that opportunity will ever come around again.
Embrace Our Differences
One of the great things about the human race is that there are so many different cultures and traditions that enrich the human experience. Just because something is different does not necessarily mean that it is bad or even that it is incorrect. People might look different, speak differently, think differently, or value different things. They probably think the same thing about you. Everyone provides you a chance to learn something new if your mind is open to hear it. We are stronger together than apart, and only by holding hands with our neighbors can we truly make the next leap in our evolution.
Be Worthy of Your Legacy
You don’t need to be born great in order to have a legacy. Your actions each day affect the people around you and one day when they recall you, their memories are your legacy. Even if your name is not passed down through the family, take care to deliberately craft and shape how you want to be remembered. Only you can decide what you want to be remembered for, and only you have the tools to become the person you want to be. Legacies are more than just fame & fortune, more than a dynasty, and more than a name inscribed on a building or relic. Only a few make it to history books or have songs sung to their memories. Your actions build museums in the hearts of the people who know you.
Just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean it is perfect. It doesn’t have to be your computer, your car, or your television. You can innovate and improve nearly anything in your life if you have a will to create and the drive to see it through. Attentiveness, careful thought, and a radical idea or two can improve your job prospects, your home life, and your spare time. Everyone has something in their life that isn’t working just as it should. You have the power to change it, fix it, improve it, and redefine it. Be aware and proud of your past achievements and current situation, but do not stop looking at the future. If you do not take the steps to make your life better, no one will. You are your own best advocate.
Most of us wonder why there are so few good people in the world. The truth is, there are plenty of good people in the world; we just don’t show it. Maybe it’s because we’ve been socialized to mind our own business, or maybe we just don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. However, the next time you wonder “where are all the good people?” to yourself, volunteer yourself to be the good person. When you see situation turn south, don’t ignore it. Stand up for the kid being bullied. Be the ally your friends want you to be, especially when they aren’t around to see it. Be kind to strangers, and give people the chance to connect to you. Commit to honesty, keep your promises, and honor your duties. You don’t need to run towards a burning building to be a hero. Small acts of courage every day mean more to most people than you think. Good acts beget good acts. When you lead by example, the people closest in your life will follow.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Be smart. Make informed decisions. Consider the ramifications of your actions beyond how they affect you. We all have great power to affect the world around us. It is your duty and obligation to act with care, kindness, reason, and compassion.
Whatever You Do, Do It With Gusto
The most important thing I ever learned from Stan Lee wasn’t a singular thing he said or a singular panel in a comic he wrote. I had the privilege to see him speak at comic book conventions in New York, Seattle, Portland, and San Diego. Every time I saw him, Stan filled the room with enthusiasm and love. He was a man who always smiled, always laughed, and never had any shortage of energy. He loved what he did and even the last time I saw him at the age of 94, I was still bowled over by the child-like enthusiasm he exuded. Stan Lee taught me that if something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing enthusiastically and with nothing less than your very best effort. He showed me that love for your craft keeps you young. Of all the lessons that Stan Lee taught me through the thousands of comics of his that I read, the way that the man lived his life with zest and wonder will always be the most important to me.
Excelsior, Stan. Excelsior.
Stan Lee. 1922-2018