On ‘Avengers’ & Life

It was the end of the school year, a little over a week left and I wanted to plan one last lecture. Talking about life is built into the freshman curriculum via their Human Condition unit. However, I found I didn’t always have the same sort of opportunities with my juniors. But I could change this. We’d made it through our “list” and I wanted to have a little fun. I stumbled upon an article written by Andrew Daglas entitled What the “Avengers” can teach you about writing. I had a couple of juniors who were sending me very convincing emails, arguing that comic books could be American Literature. After a bit of research, I decided I’d read this article to my students and put my own spin on it. So without further ado, I present to you What the “Avengers” can teach you about writing and Ms. Levi can teach you about life. 

 Captain America: Live up to your principles. Not just anybody could have earned the right to become the world’s first super-soldier. Steve Rogers is defined by his convictions as much as his abilities. The same is true of a good communicator: Your credibility is as fundamental as your verbal acuity. Whatever you’re writing—be it a press release, blog post, or company newsletter—write it honestly.

Dear class of mine, I hate to say it but life will present to you a plethora of opportunities to bugger up. In fact, I promise you’ll do it over and over so many times you’ll lose count. You will fail and you will succeed and you will fall and you will get back up. All of this is okay. You’re not always going to get it right. No one expects you to. BUT there’s one thing I want you to remember through life’s trials and errors, integrity once lost, is hard to earn back.  Let me say that again.

Integrity once lost, is hard to earn back.

Integrity is about having a set of morals, unwavering principles, and the wear with all to stand up for what’s right. If you make a promise, keep it. Like Captain America, live up to your principles. Where do you place value in life? If you can’t be honest with yourself and those around you, don’t expect others to be honest with you. There will come a time where the only thing you have left is your word. You will likely hit rock bottom at some point and if you don’t have integrity to stand on, life will become that much harder.

Whether you are writing, in school, working, in a relationship, building new friendships, working on old ones, it doesn’t matter – integrity once lost, is hard to earn back. Be like Captian America, put your values first and communicate that in such a way that no one ever questions your principles. I promise you are worth the extra effort. You are worth the honesty. You are worth your integrity.

Iron Man: Never stop improving your tools. Tony Stark’s powers don’t come from gamma rays, nor from the bite of a chunk of radioactive iron; they come from his ingenuity. Like any knowledge worker, he constantly refines his skills to maintain a competitive advantage. In “Iron Man 2,” Stark must upgrade his armor to survive both the technology’s deficiencies and the adversaries trying to one-up him.

Your skill set, too, always has room to improve. Take classes, try writing in an area outside your comfort zone, and read as much as you can—or risk being bested by those who do.

You are not special. You are not some superhuman who has no room to improve. You are replaceable. You are a warm body and there will always be someone who can do your job better then you can. I know, I know, but Ms. Levi, what do you mean? I’m special and I’m amazing. I hate to be the one who has to break this to you, but in the real world, there is ALWAYS someone who can do your job if you’re not willing to grow, learn, and admit when you are wrong.

I beg you to keep learning. I’m not suggesting you all tack on thousands and thousands of dollars in student debt. What I am suggesting is remaining humble enough to know when you don’t know something. Always be willing to learn, even from someone who is younger, less educated, and less experienced than you. Technology moves fast my friends. Moore’s Law says that technology doubles every 18 months. Think about that for a second.

I was not much older then you were when I got my first digital camera. My parents, aunt, and uncle all went in together to buy me one for a graduation gift. I was stupid excited. Talk about saving money on film. Plus, it was digital! The first memory card I got was 64-megabytes. Stop and think about that for a second. They paid roughly sixty dollars for a 64mb memory card. I just bought an 8 terabyte drive for like a hundred dollars. There are roughly 1000mb in 1-gigabyte. There are roughly 1000gb in 1-terabyte. Think about that math.

This world moves fast and you will get left behind the moment you decide you’re the best at something and no longer have room to improve and grow. Stay humble my friends. You can do anything you set your minds to. Just remember to keep learning.

Thor: Back up your talent with purpose. God of Thunder. Son of Odin. None of it meant much until Thor acquired one other designation: Defender of Midgard (a.k.a. Earth). You have a gift, but do you have goals to match? Your writing is meant to convey information, make an argument, or deliver a call to action. Only when you’re confident in your purpose can you wield your words like Mjolnir.

What makes you excited? What do you want to spend forty hours a week doing? 86 days of your life every year will be spent working. That’s not taking into consideration those of you who will work two jobs or jobs that have longer work weeks. You will spend so much of your life working for other people. Even if you own a business someday, your working for your customers. There is always someone you will have to impress, someone who will decide if you get to keep doing what you’re doing every day. So I ask, what is it that gives your purpose?

For some of you, it won’t be work. Work will be the thing that gives you money to do whatever it is that excites you. I’m here to tell you, there is NOTHING wrong with that. I know plenty of happy people who bring home a paycheck so they can do fun things. But if you are among us less fortunate, who feels the need to do something that gives you purpose… take the time to think about it.

And then don’t let anything or anyone stop you from living your dreams. I believe in you.

The Hulk: Don’t be afraid to turn your passion loose. Some situations demand pure, unbridled emotion—or at least, the bursts of inspiration that can result when you quit censoring yourself. Many writers edit themselves prematurely, putting the brakes on potentially powerful ideas. Take it from Dr. Bruce Banner and his alter-ego: There’s a time for precision, but there’s also a time for rampaging (creatively speaking).

What makes you excited?! What gets’s your blood pumping? I’m here to tell you that passion is hot. Passion is something you can’t make up. There are things that will get you excited in this life and you might be embarrassed to admit what those things are. That’s okay. BUT, when you own it, you will find the people who love you for you.

Be who you are. I know I say a lot of things and sometimes I feel like a walking talking affirmation board. But if you have to change who you are to be liked, then I hate to break it to you kids, they were never going to like the real you in the first place. Why do you want someone in your life who won’t appreciate who you are? It took me a lot of years to learn this. To embrace my inner geekdom. To shout from the rooftops that I love sci-fi and fantasy, and I love reading, and I love rainbows. Guys, I freaking love me some bright colors. I don’t know why I spent precious years of my life denying that. I love who I am. And if someone can’t see how awesome I am, why do I want them in my life?

Don’t lie about who you are. Don’t pretend somethings not “cool” because it might make you uncool for liking it. Who cares what they think. Be yourself. No one else can hold a candle to you. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll find people who appreciate you for you. People who get excited about similar things. You might even find someone who is just happy about how excited you get. I’m one of those people. I love listening to someone tell me about the things that excite them. Passion is raw and passion is hot. Don’t deny who you are. Be you. Rampage!

Black Widow: Take advantage of the element of surprise. A highly trained secret agent, Natasha Romanoff blends into a situation effortlessly until the time is right to strike. Although your goal isn’t to incapacitate the reader (hopefully), the same principle applies. Punctuate your prose with flourishes that catch readers off guard, such as an unlikely comparison or an attention-grabbing turn of phrase. Nothing delights like surprise.

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. You will use English and writing for the rest of your life. You might not need to remember everything from chemistry class, but you will need to remember everything from this one.

You will write for future teachers, here or in college. You will write emails to your boss. Some of you will go on to write a hundred-page thesis paper. Some of you might even go on to write books *crosses fingers* — remember me when you do! The point is, from a teacher’s perspective, it can get old. So stand out. Don’t be afraid to take risks with your writing. Don’t be afraid to add that element of surprise. For real!

In life, I challenge you to say YES. I challenge you to go outside of your comfort zone and try new things. Do something that scares you. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to recognize that something else is more important than fear. This world is a big place and life is short and finite. Some of you know this and some of you won’t really understand this for a number of more years. Don’t waste the ones you have. Strike now why the iron is hot!

Hawkeye: Everyone has a niche. At first blush, an ordinary guy with superlative aim seems out of place alongside a super-soldier and a demigod. (OK, at second, third, and fourth blushes, too.) But Clint Barton is a specialist, not a generalist: He’s the very best in the world at what he does.

Most of us writers are also specialists, more adept at one style or genre than any other. Discover what you’re an ace at, and hone that talent as close to perfection as you can. You’ll secure your role on the right team.

Whatever you set your mind to, give it 100%. I know some of you are rolling your eyes at this. Of course, Ms. Levi wants us to give 100% but I know I can skate by on like 50%. 50% won’t warrant a letter of recommendation.

I learned really young, that if I give something all of my efforts, people notice. When your boss notices that you’re doing an ace job, eventually you’ll be up for a promotion, or a wage increase, or bonus. But Ms. Levi, I’m only 17 what do I care? I was not much older than you when I got my first Letter of Recommendation. I was really good at sales. So good that my manager asked if I would train the other employees in my personal approach to sales. All I did was work hard. I was genuine and I wanted to do well. She saw this and when I was ready to move on, she wrote me a letter of recommendation. That video store recommendation got me my next two jobs. I still have it today. In fact, I have five letters from five people who saw that I worked hard at whatever I did.

Working hard at something, being the best at it, let me travel the United States on someone else’s dime for a year. I used my opportunities and I worked hard. I like being the best at what I do. If you work hard, even if it’s only pouring ice cream, someone will take note. That recommendation might carry you into your next job, or college, or whatever it is you want to do. Make good impressions and work hard. I know it’s easier said than done. I believe in you.

Col. Nick Fury: Ask for help when you need it. Certain challenges demand collaboration. No one understands that better than the man who helped The Avengers assemble. Your writing is inherently limited by your own perspective, so you can always benefit from partners to bounce ideas off, or a fresh set of eyes to catch mistakes. After all, even the most extraordinary individuals on the planet can’t do everything alone.

Admit when you’re wrong, and ask for help when you don’t know. I can’t even stress this enough. I’ve told you guys countless times when I’ve gotten things wrong. Life is a learning curve. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask your friends, ask your family, ask your boss. No one will think less of you. In fact, I admire those of you who ask for help. Truly. Because I know you care enough to get it right. Being willing to admit when we don’t know something can be hard. But it’s only hard the first few times you do it. I promise it gets easier.

If you find yourself feeling low, tell someone. Ask for help. Find someone to trust. I know first hand that the world is not always kind. But it doesn’t have to be lonely. It doesn’t have to be something you fight.

So whether you don’t understand how to complete a task, or you don’t understand your emotions, never be afraid to ask for help.

I know I’ve thrown a lot at you this year. But I have seen each of you rise above. Watching you grow as humans has been my pleasure. I’m the lucky one in this room. So embark on life and every time you think of the ‘Avengers’ I want you to think about life.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.

I believe in you.

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