I Want to Be a Failure, Like Walt Disney

It's easy to dwell on failure. It's even easier to dwell on the people that have failed you. Have you ever stayed awake at night thinking about how you've been wronged? You were taken advantage of, stepped on, conned, and used. You want justice! Instead of sleeping you plot out your revenge, a systematized approach to getting even with anyone and everyone who did wrong by you. You feel anger down to your core. The only relief is by hurting those that hurt you. I'll get you!

There's a cost to getting even, and it's not cheap. In fact, the price you pay for holding on to anger is off the charts expensive. There's a cost to hiring attorney's to fight for you. There's a cost to harboring negative emotions. The greatest price tag however is the expense involved in not moving forward.

This article is about failing Walt Disney style. Yes, Walt Disney, one of the greatest business leaders and artists of all time was stepped on, knocked over, and spit on more times than you can imagine in his lifetime. Do you know how he built such an amazing empire in his short life? He never wasted a second contemplating why others knocked him down, or why he failed so miserably. Instead of contemplating the past, Walt always looked forward, envisioning a better future. When Walt got stepped on, he'd simply let go. When he fell, he'd just get back up. He would modestly move on from the failure and start over, even if it meant re-building from the ground up.

Bankrupt: In 1922 Walt Disney founded Laugh-O-Gram Studios in Missouri. Here he went into business creating cartoons, with his first large contract for $11,000 to produce a series of cartoons for a company called Pictorial Clubs followed later by a contract to do a cartoon about tooth hygiene for a local dentist. Walt used every penny made to produce the cartoons, living in his studio, and scrounging food on credit from the restaurant next store. A year later, Walt's studio went bankrupt. Walt had options. His father owned a business and offered Walt a job, but Walt didn't take it. Instead, Walt took his failure with a grain of salt. The only possession he owned in 1923 was a camera. He sold it and moved to Hollywood to follow a dream of making motion pictures.

Failing Friends: Walt loved the people that worked for Disney Studios. Many of them were friends who traveled from other states to work alongside Walt in California. He had hundreds of animators who all worked together at achieving one common purpose, making animated movies. There were numerous occasions when Walt's people let him down. At one point, in 1928, Charles Mintz hired all of Disney's animators out from under him. Many were his close friends. In 1930, Walt's best friend since his teenage years, and head animator, Ub Iwerks, left Walt to work for a competing studio, and then eventually opened his own. Walt's biggest disappointment was when there was a push by those inside Disney Studios to join the Screen Cartoonists Guild union. It was well known that Disney employees were amongst the best paid and worked under the best conditions in the industry. However, Walt couldn't afford to offer raises or bonuses on movie releases due to the fact that the war had prevented his movies from being released in other countries, thereby stifling profits. Disney was hurt when employees ended up striking in 1941 to demand a collective bargaining agreement. Time and again Walt was hurt by his people, but rarely did he hold a grudge. In fact many of those that left Walt came back months or years later, and Walt usually took them. To Walt, talent was talent, and he was always willing to let bygones be bygones if it meant the greater good of his organization.

Great Things Are Born from Letting Go: Before there was Mickey Mouse, there was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald was one of Walt Disney's first huge successes in the cartooning business. He created Oswald in 1927 when he was 26 years old. Walt had been working in the animation business already for more than ten years, scraping by on mere pennies to do what he loved the most, turning stories into animated cartoons. Upon filing bankruptcy and moving to California with no money, in 1927, something amazing happened. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a creation by Walt Disney, became a star. Through Walt's producer, Charles Mintz, the Oswald films were distributed by Universal Pictures. Overnight, Walt Disney became known in the animation world. Less than one year after the Oswald cartoons caught on, Walt travelled from California to New York to negotiate the renewal of his contract with his longtime producer Mintz. At that time Disney was only receiving a 20 percent cut on his films and was ready to negotiate for higher since he was barely breaking even on each cartoon produced. It was during this trip that Walt, no stranger to adversity, was knocked down on his haunches. Not only did Charles refuse a larger cut to Walt, he also informed Disney that he had already negotiated employment agreements with all of Walt's animation crew, meaning that Charles no longer needed Walt. He'd continue the Oswald series without him.

When this all happened, 1928, Walt Disney was best known for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It was his creation, his baby. His producer had stolen Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, along with all his employees, right out from under him. Charles Mintz assumed Walt Disney would cave and continue to make the cartoons for the 20 percent, but Walt did something that surprised everyone. Walt gave up Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to Charles along with all the animation artists he stole.

What would most people have done in this situation? Most would have spent the train ride back to California plotting out revenge against Mintz and all the employees who disloyally left. Many would have set up meetings with attorneys to fight for ownership. The majority would have fought, screamed, cried, and made a stink trying to keep what was theirs. Disney simply let Oswald the Lucky Rabbit go. By doing so, he created something so much better, Mickey Mouse was born.

It's been 47 years since Walt Disney died and yet he lives on through motion pictures, theme parks, and merchandise. How is it that one man created something so amazing allowing his name to live on forever? Perhaps the secret is in his failures. We all fear falling down. However, rarely will falling down kill us. Death is in not getting back up. Just ask Mickey Mouse.

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