By the time Walt Disney was twenty-two, he was bankrupt and had a failed animation studio under his belt.
With that kind of failure, most people would give up on their dreams and go find another job — not Walt.
Instead of giving up, he did the only thing he could: he moved west from his home state of Missouri to California in hopes of establishing himself in the film industry.
In Hollywood, Disney found a little success but soon lost the rights to characters he’d created for an unscrupulous producer. He then started the Disney Brothers Studio with his brother, Roy, but he struggled with film distributors who didn’t want to pay him. At one point he lost most of his staff. He suffered a nervous breakdown and almost went bankrupt a second time.
Of course, Disney went on to have monumental successes in film and beyond. When he looked back on his early failures he admitted:
“I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young. I learned a lot out of that. Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it, I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”
Failure gives you greater self-awareness
It’s easy to get caught up in fantasies of what you think you’d be good at doing. You don’t always pick goals that align with your natural gifts and inclinations.
For example, you may love the idea of being an entrepreneur. But if you hate sales, you’ll be miserable if you follow that path because startup entrepreneurs need to be good at selling.
Your problem isn’t a lack of passion or drivenness that causes people to fail, it’s a lack of self-awareness.
Self-awareness means knowing what you can’t do well as much as knowing what you can do.
Walt was right when he said that it’s good to fail when you’re young. How can that be? Because experience and power can blind you to self-awareness. A few successes early on can give your ego too much of a boost, which will eventually cause you to self-sabotage.
Failure shows you that you aren’t invincible and serves as a reminder in the future.
Disney became more self-aware through his failures. He even fired himself as an animator saying, “I’m in no sense of the word a great artist, not even a great animator…I’m an idea man.” Most people try to improve their weaknesses, not Walt. He didn’t focus on becoming a better artist, he put all his energy into his strengths.
Investing in and developing your strengths can make you more successful. Self-awareness helps you see what you shouldn’t pursue and can save you a lot of pain.
Failure gives you what success can’t
Disney was known for his belief in himself and his dreams despite the challenges he faced. His wife, Lillian, once said “Walt never thought he was beaten at anything — ever.” But here’s a secret: his self-confidence came from adversity.
The average person sees failure as a sign it’s time to quit. Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky found the negative impact of failure is greater than the positive impact of success on a person. Not so for Walt. For him, failure meant he was going in the right direction.
“If management likes my projects, I seriously question proceeding. If they disdain them totally, I proceed immediately.” — Walt Disney
Unshakable confidence isn’t only a belief that you can do something. It’s the belief that even if you fail you will be okay. Failure teaches you that you’ll be okay if everything falls apart.
That level of confidence makes you more willing to take risks going forward.
The pattern most successful people follow
When you study successful people in any field, a pattern begins to emerge. It’s a pattern of attempting, failing, learning, and attempting again.
Most people give up after the first failure.
What separates people who have a successful business, or awesome relationship, or creative freedom, from everyone else who tries and fails? The successful ones get back up after they fail. And they continue to get up every time something knocks them down.
It unlikely you’ll succeed at anything on your first try. Let’s get that dose of reality out of the way. Even if you do succeed early on in your venture, you’ll face huge setbacks as you move forward. Guaranteed.
Your willingness to fail and get back up will determine how high you rise.
As Walt once said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”