It is the time of year where graduates are matriculating across our nation and are being given advice for the rest of their lives. Speakers ranging from teachers to business leaders to entertainers to politicians are giving young people inspiring (and less than inspiring) talks about the meaning of life. Since, once again, no one has bothered to invite me to speak (which I am sure is simply an oversight), I am offering my advice to you here. Enjoy!
It is no great secret that I am partial to the works of Walt Disney and the company that he formed. He has become a cultural icon, not only in the US, but around the world. He created an enduring legacy of joy and entertainment that has survived him by almost 50 years and shows no sign of slowing any time soon. His character, Mickey Mouse, was created 90 years ago and is considered one of the world’s most recognizable characters. He won 21 Academy Awards in his lifetime, won one after his death, and the company he created continues to collect them on almost a yearly basis. Not bad for a guy from a small town in Missouri.
How did Disney achieve his success? Many attribute it to his attitude. This is a man whose first animation company went bankrupt. A man whose second animation company lost its signature character and all but one of its employees to another studio. A man who didn’t even name his most popular character himself (his wife, Lillian, named Mickey Mouse). With this much failure behind him, it would have been understandable if he had given up. And yet, he did not. Instead he laid the foundations of what could be the most enduring entertainment empires of modern times.
What advice did he have for people who asked him about his success? Here are a few quotes that speak to how he got where he did.
“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Walt Disney loved animation. He believed it to be a revolutionary medium for entertainment and storytelling. He had a vision to transform not only how animation was executed, but how it was viewed in popular culture.
Find your dream. Envision it clearly. Let it inspire you. Without first dreaming of what could be you will be stuck in what already is.
“All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”
It is a fact of life that you will sometimes fail. It is unavoidable. It is also a fact that if you do not try you will not fail. However you will also not succeed. Pursuing dreams is a big, scary, and dangerous thing to do. You risk a lot when you choose to follow your dream. It takes courage to face the possibility of failure and to keep going even after multiple setbacks. Remember, Disney lost not one, but two companies before founding the one we know today.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
No matter how inspired and well crafted your dreams may be, they do you no good unless you actually start working on the them. You do not have to do everything at once to be a success. Start small. Take steps. Go in stages. The most important thing is to start. Nothing is ever achieved by talking about it. Whatever you dream of doing, you will never achieve it if you don’t start trying. Put pen to paper. Write. Find an entry level job. Get training and education. Start walking or running. Whatever your goal might be from writing the next great novel to becoming a corporate billionaire to finishing a triathlon you have to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start.
“You can design, and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
You don’t have to do it alone. There will be other people who have the same passion that you do. They will help you, support you, and be with you on your journey. Their dream may not be the same as yours, but you can still work together to make all of your dreams a reality. It takes a shocking number of people to make an animated feature with today’s technologies, but even in so called ‘simpler’ times when Disney started his work, he was never on his own. His brother, Roy; Ub Iwerks; and his wife, Lillian all helped him create what we now today. It isn’t weakness to need help. It is wisdom. Working with the strengths and talents of others will only help you in the long run.
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
It is extremely satisfying to succeed where people have told you you will fail. In part, because we like to be right and prove all our naysayers wrong. It is gratifying to know that you were on the right path all along no matter what anyone else said to the contrary. The more lasting satisfaction, however, comes from the fact that when you do something that people have called impossible, you effectively change the world. When the impossible becomes possible nothing is ever the same again. There is a new reality, new rules, and (of course) new challenges that go with the new world you have created. Doing the impossible creates new opportunities for what is possible and new goals that you can strive for.
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity leads us down new paths.”
Never rest on what you’ve already done. Whether you have succeeded in achieving all your goals or have failed in spectacular fashion, go on to whatever is next. Don’t worry too much about the things that didn’t go right. As I said at the beginning, failure is inevitable. Pick yourself up. Reorient yourself. Adjust your goals and keep moving forward. The same is true when you do well. Never consider yourself done. Accept your success. Rejoice in it, but don’t let it define you. Look for the next goal, the next challenge, the next dream. Being stuck in past successes is just as stagnating as being stuck in failure. If you aren’t moving forward you’re standing still at best or going backwards at worst. The world doesn’t stand still and neither should we.
Graduates of 2018 (and anyone else reading along), your life will be full of both failures and successes. Allow them to inspire you to fulfill your dreams. You may never have the same kind of long term influence that Walt Disney did, but who really does? What you will have is a life lived in service to your dreams. A life that is not perfect, but fulfilling. A life that leads you to the achievement of your goals however big or small they may be. Ultimately, that is all any of us can dream of.