Lessons you can learn from screenwriter, director and comic book author Joss Whedon and apply to your own career success.

Some of the best Hollywood flicks involve an unlikely hero changing the world.

But in this case, the hero is behind the lens.

A few years ago, the name Joss Whedon may not have rung any bells among non-geek circles. He was a screenwriter for years but has been re-introduced into the public spotlight for writing and directing The Avengers, one of the highest-grossing films ever.

Here’s how you can you take his heroic tale and be your own Joss Whedon:

1. Capitalize on your failures

Whedon is known for creating quirky sci-fi shows that don’t always get critical acclaim but have a huge cult following. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are a couple of examples. One of his shows, Firefly, was cancelled after just one season.

Fast-forward a few years, and he’s the brains behind a superhero movie that has made more than $1.5 billion and received critical praise. His love for comic books and whimsical tales stayed with him.

Joss Whedon’s fame wasn’t instantaneous, but his method is applicable to anyone starting over in their career or launching a new business. It’s going deeper than learning from your mistakes and not repeating them. It’s about learning how to leverage your failures and carve out the successful elements for future use.

Reflect on those failed businesses or the mediocre networking relationships you regret. How can you mine them today for a successful venture right now?

The commercial and critical success of The Avengers is proof anyone can take a sliver of their passions, persevere and turn them into something special that can impact world.

2. Keep bridges intact

The ending of Firefly drew outrage from fans. It was later revealed that some of the episodes weren’t even aired in the right order. Despite the cancellation, Fox still owns the rights to the series. This makes it impossible for Whedon to restart the series on another network.

But you don’t hear a lot of bickering or complaints from Whedon. He expressed disagreements he had with the studio in interviews, but there’s no bitterness. No discontent.

Staying calm under pressure and remaining focused with naysayers at your back can help you down the line. Have you managed to keep bridges intact instead of setting them aflame?

When you encounter tough opposition, don’t come out with teeth bared. Move on and negate the haters in a way that serves you by being the best you can be at what you do.

3. Stay true to yourself and your audience

The “failure” of one television show did not sway Whedon to move away from his geeky passions. In fact, with fan support, he wrote and directed the movie Serenity not long after the cancellation of Firefly to properly close the series.

One striking characteristic about Whedon is his completely unassuming personality. He’s the guy you could pass on the street and not realize he’s famous.

He inspired many fans by staying true to himself and being approachable. Thousands of fans of his cancelled show and his moderately successful film have donated to Whedon’s charity Can’t Stop the Serenity. This is another element of his business savvy that can be applied to your career.

Yes, it helps to be crazy talented. But it helps more to be truly authentic. Willing to laugh at yourself and reveal your personality, flaws and all.

Whedon is known for taking beloved characters and killing them off. Are fans turned away by this? Nope, he’s celebrated because of it. The loyalty of his fans and colleagues emphasizes the importance of community.

Whether you’re starting a blog or a brick-and-mortar business, unwavering support from even a small army of followers means taking calculated risks without fear. After all, the building blocks of a successful business are relationships.

4. Emphasize your imagination

Everyone says there are no more original ideas in Hollywood. To some extent, this is true. But in the Whedonverse (a term actually used), this is not the case. Whedon uses his imagination and storytelling to create relatable characters with depth.

Sure, the space Western Firefly wasn’t a big hit at first, but this didn’t stop him from creating these shows and putting his very best into them. His imaginative personality and love of comic books made him the perfect candidate for The Avengers series.

The quirkiest part? He took a break from Marvel stuff to script, produce, direct, edit and compose a Shakespeare movie.

At his own house.

And with no financial backing from a production company.

You almost forget about the millions he’s pocketed (and the number of powerful movie executives he has in his pocket).

Your takeaway: Don’t flaunt your success, whether it be your monetary wins or talent. Embrace those blessings with a sense of responsibility and a focus on changing others.

Whedon is not a guy to envy or even just to admire. He’s a case study of being successful at doing what you love. Affable. Grateful. Humble. Those are attributes you don’t find often in Hollywood. It’s time to truly embrace them in your own mission for success.

You can help prove that sometimes the good guys don’t just win—they dominate.

What personality characteristics do you feel have led to your success? Are there areas where you need to improve?

Williesha Morris is a freelance writer, administrative consultant and admitted movie snob. When she’s not writing or surfing the Internet, she’s hanging out with her husband.


  1. Kizi

    His action seems to want to do something

  2. Val Matta

    Excellent tips! I particularly agree with point number two, especially as it relates to those who already have jobs, but are unhappy in them. Many careerists make the mistake of burning bridges when they quit a job, particularly if they’re frustrated, but this is never advisable! Even though it can feel tempting to give a nasty boss a piece of your mind, remember that you may need the connections you’ve gained at the organization as a reference for a future job. Always remember to play it cool.

    • Williesha Morris

      It’s so hard not to burn bridges these days, Val, but it’s so true! Sometimes, in fact, they get burned for you! *Extremely* good point about past bosses!!

  3. Clair McLafferty

    Don’t forget that Much Ado About Nothing was filmed in two weeks, and was based on weekly Shakespeare readings with his friends/cast members or that Dr. Horrible was his work during the writers’ strike. He’s also spoken about never stopping working because his work is also his passion. Surround yourself with people who are equally passionate, and never lose sight of your interests.

    And with geek chic becoming a huge marketing trend, Whedon is now basically a god among men. Felicia Day is also considered his female counterpart — neither stops working for the good of the geeks.

    • Williesha Morris

      Yes! It was crazy – and I believe it did well in the box office considering its limited release. Whatever he touches is pretty much gold. He is indeed a god among men. In fact, my query basically said if J.J. Abrams is the king of geekdom, Whedon is the crown prince. Thanks for stopping by, Clair!

  4. jrandom421

    It’s hard to capitalize on mistakes that cost people their hard earned money or their lives.

  5. Minecraft

    Failure and success, have come together or not. Every time you fail, at least you’ll get back a valuable lesson for himself. I see what you put out is quite interesting.

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