What You Can Learn from Stan Lee

Mike Vardy


On December 28th in 1922, Stan Lee was born. While many people will recognize the name Stan Lee from his numerous cameos in superhero films featuring the characters he had a hand in creating, there was much more to “The Man” than that.

In his 95 years, Stan Lee crafted a legacy that will continue to stand the test of time. It seems fitting that he got his start at Timely Comics, which eventually morphed into what we know today as Marvel Comics. He oversaw a change in the landscape in comic book culture, evolving it from a simple comic strip in the newspaper into a multi-million dollar industry.

Even if you’re not a comic book fan, there are a few timeless lessons you can learn from this legendary creative genius.

Don’t Quit

I had no idea that Stan Lee was ready to quit the comic book business many years ago. After watching this 1996 documentary about him, it turns out he was ready to step away from the industry that would make him a legend before he created any of his iconic superheroes and supervillains.

It was only after his wife Joan suggested to him to “make what you want” that he decided not to walk away since the risk far outweighed the consequences. Frankly, if his creations didn’t work, then the worst thing that would have happened was losing a job he was thinking about quitting anyway. Stan listened to his wife and created four characters that would be a springboard for what was to come. Those characters were The Fantastic Four.

The lesson here is that if you’re ready to quit something — a job, a vocation, whatever — before you do, make what you want first. You never know what may come of it. It could be something… fantastic.

Build Your Own “Marvel Method”

I’m a believer in frameworks. They speed up processes that are repeatable and free you up to do deeper work around those frameworks.

Turns out Stan Lee was too.

Stan built a framework that allowed Marvel to constantly create new characters and stories at a breakneck pace. The crux of the framework is described as follows by comic book writer-editor Dennis O’Neil:

”. . . requires the writer to begin by writing out a plot and add[ing] words when the penciled artwork is finished. . . .[I]n the mid-sixties, plots were seldom more than a typewritten page, and sometimes less,” while writers in later times “might produce as many as twenty-five pages of plot for a twenty-two page story, and even include in them snatches of dialog. So a Marvel Method plot can run from a couple of paragraphs to something much longer and more elaborate.” — Write Ways: An Unruly Anti-Treatise, The Education of a Comics Artist: Visual Narrative in Cartoons, Graphic Novels, and Beyond.

The Marvel Method wasn’t traditional by any means. It was a different way of approaching the creation of an illustrated story. And it required a different mindset to use it. As with any method, there are pros and cons, but the fact that Stan Lee put something in place that allowed creative artists to approach comic book creation differently is to be commended.

Sometimes you need to take a completely different approach to take things to the next level. Stan Lee did that. You should too.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

Not everything Stan Lee did was great. He was human and had his faults.

One of the things he reportedly didn’t do was share credit very easily — if at all. The family of comic book artist and Stan Lee collaborator Jack Kirby felt that Kirby didn’t get the credit he was due largely because of Stan Lee’s lack of sharing credit.

Stan Lee was the face of Marvel for many years and, in that role, those who also helped craft the Marvel Universe were obscured by his shadow. Many comic book fans and those in the industry have always felt that Kirby was also in that shadow. Lee didn’t exactly shine a spotlight on Kirby without being prompted, either.

Out of all the things Stan Lee could teach you, giving credit where it’s due is actually the easiest. So start doing it today.

Keep Moving Forward

This lesson lies in the motto that Stan Lee shared as often as he could: Excelsior. Here’s what the term means, from The Man himself:

”That’s an old word that means ‘upward and onward to greater glory.’ It’s on the seal of the state of New York. Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever.”

Even as I type this, I think about missed opportunities and mistakes I’ve made. But then what that phrase means comes to mind. I can’t do much about what’s behind me. I can do a lot about what’s to come. So can you. Let’s move upward and onward to greater glory as often as we can.

Too often we look to those in our own line of work or area of study as beacons of inspiration and wisdom and fail to explore beyond that. That is a mistake. I used to invest my time and attention on writers and experts in the time management and personal productivity space alone, but once I expanded my horizons to the world of sports, entertainment, and beyond I discovered there was plenty to learn from those worlds as well. In order to live as rich alive as possible, you need to diversify your knowledge and wisdom portfolio; you'd do the same with your investments to become financially rich.

Stan Lee explored things widely and deeply over his time on this planet. He wound up not only living a rich life but he left a legacy that will live well beyond our own time on this planet as well. I'd even suggest that the legacy he's left behind is,in fact, as timeless as the lessons you can learn from him and apply to your own life. The kind of lessons that will help you craft a legacy that will live well beyond your time on this planet.

Take these lessons and start making them work for you today. If you do that, it'll allow you to keep moving forward to greater glory.


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I'm Mike Vardy, better known as The Productivityist, and my goal is to offer ideas, insights, and information that will help you craft your time better and become more personally productive.


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