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The lessons Stan Lee taught me

The Art of Nerding Out

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Stan Lee entered my life on a Saturday morning back in the ’80s. Lee, in that iconic voice I would come to love, gave important narration to the “Incredible Hulk” cartoon. I didn’t know who this Stanley guy was, but he sure got me excited for the next smashing “Hulk” episode.

He would also come to have an immense impact on my life.

Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher at Marvel Comics, passed away Monday at the age of 95. Along with artists like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood and many others, Lee created a host of characters that became pop culture icons. A partial list includes Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk and the Avengers. That’s a staggeringly massive legacy that continues to impact our world and will continue to do so decades to come.

Yet Lee’s legacy and impact can be boiled down to the effect his work has had on individual people. One doesn’t become an icon without touching individuals on a deep level. Often times, our icons impact us through the lessons they teach us, and Lee taught us so much. Here are a few things I learned from “Stan the Man.”

Don’t dumb yourself down — for anyone

Lee was well-known for his expansive vocabulary. At a time when comics publishers feared confusing or turning off young readers by using big words, Lee trusted his readers to be able to figure out what he was telling them. And if they needed to look up a word or two in a dictionary, that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.

This was a powerful lesson for me. As a nerdy kid who loved space and metal music, I often felt like I had to avoid certain subjects in conversation or simplify how I articulated my thoughts and ideas in efforts to make friends. Lee’s example taught me that being myself is always the best policy. If you don’t dumb yourself down, you’ll eventually find true friends who appreciate you for who you are.

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Your looks don’t make you a hero

One of the greatest Stan Lee creations is Ben Grimm, the Everloving Blue-Eyed Thing. A regular guy turned into an orange rock monster after being irradiated by cosmic rays. Ashamed of his physical appearance, The Thing always put shame aside and threw down when he needed to throw down. He never let his looks get in the way of him heroing up.

As a pudgy, unattractive kid (and later as a pudgy, unattractive adult), I often felt like the whole world was against me simply because of how I looked. Many times I shied away from putting myself out there socially and declined opportunities to serve others because I felt being ugly made me unworthy. Thanks to the example of the Thing, I learned that you’re never too ugly to be your best self.

Different is GOOD

The X-Men stood apart from regular human kind because their genetic mutations gave them powers and, sometimes, altered their appearances. This led regular humans to hate and fear the X-Men. Yet, these mutants proved time and again that sometimes the people you hate and fear are the very people who can help you.

On top of that, each member of the X-Men had their own unique powers. It’s almost as if Lee was teaching us that we should appreciate one another for our differences because our differences are what make us special.

There are so many other things that Stan Lee taught us through his work and his example, from the importance of imagination to the fact that great power comes with great responsibility. Lee instilled these lessons into the hearts of fans the world over through his characters and stories. That’s something for which I personally will be eternally grateful. I’d like to express a profound “Thanks” to Stan Lee from the bottom of this true believer’s heart. Excelsior, sir! Excelsior!