Walt Disney is my all-time favorite ‘famous’ leader. If you were to walk around my office, you would see his autographs, photographs of him with his prototypes, and several of his inspiring quotes. Although I am a huge fan of all the Disney classics (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, etc.), I more a fan of him, as an individual, than anything else.
You see what he has created through his movies, Walt Disney Land, and Walt Disney World. But, what you may not know if what struggles he went through to get to that point.
Walt Disney began working when he was only 9-years-old, had zero training in art, and was set back continuously. What kept him going? His dreams. His dreams, his passion, and his persistence kept him going.
Walt Disney’s Early Days
Walt Disney was raised in Missouri. He was one of five siblings. His father, who continuously struggled to provide for his family, was also extremely abusive according to commentaries from Walt Disney.
In an attempt to escape from his ‘life,’ he found peace in drawing. He was among the youngest of his siblings; as his siblings grew older, they left home to escape their father’s abusive ways. Finally, it was his time to escape. His escape move was to enter World War II as an ambulance driver.
His Businesses Failed… and Failed… and Failed Again
When Disney returned home from the war, he decided to become an apprentice at an art studio in Kansas City. He then decided he wanted to start his own business.
He requested his brother, Roy, join him in the endeavor. That’s where Laugh-o-Gram came in. If you have never heard of it, it’s because it’s rarely discussed. This was his first business to declare bankruptcy in 1920.
Discouraged, but still dreaming, Walt packed his bags with $40.00 in his pocket, and took off on a plane to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Again, failing. He didn’t do well with acting career. Yet, another fail, but did he give up?
No. His brief acting career made him notice something extremely important. There were very few animation studios in California.
Once again, he convinced his brother (Roy) to join him in another attempt in business. Shortly following Roy’s move in, one of their shows hit a success. The show was known as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Unfortunately, the fame of the Lucky Rabbit ran out. He traveled to New York to renegotiate his contract for the Lucky Rabbit animation, but had discovered once he was there, his producer had taken his entire team out from under him as well as the show. Disney no longer had any legal rights to the animation. Another fail.
Instead of fighting for rights to the show, Disney walked away and searched for another alternative. Keep in mind, during all of these failures, there were many times where Disney was homeless, completely out of money, with little to no support.
Mickey Mouse Was Born
On the train ride back in to California, Mickey Mouse was born. But, he wasn’t famous. Not yet.
Shortly after creating Mickey, Disney had a nervous breakdown and didn’t feel he could go on pursuing his dreams any longer. But, just like any dreamer, these breakdowns only last a brief period of time before we are back to dreaming.
Back at the grind, Disney attempted to gain attention to Mickey in the late 1920’s. Mickey Mouse was rejected over 300 times before a producer finally gave in and accepted the idea.
There were times where his employees were unpaid and overworked. But, like Disney, they had dreams and knew this one would come true. They believed in Walt and supported him along the way.
But, Mickey Mouse still wasn’t as successful as he wanted him to be. So, Disney decided to create his very first full-length motion picture: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. And, isn’t it wild, that my children still love this movie today (a classic I watched as a child).
The films that followed- that we now know as being the greatest of all times- didn’t do as well at the box office and were known as duds back when they were first created (Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi).
The Struggle Continued
Even though he had experienced several successes, he was still struggling with keeping his business afloat.
He turned to television at this time. That’s when Mickey Mouse became a real hit. With television finally on his side, he was able to begin his biggest journey of his career. What’s that you ask? I’m sure you know.
The creation of Disneyland.
Even Disneyland Was Rocky
Yes, even Disneyland was rocky at first for Walt. There were many fake tickets created which impacted wait times heavily. There were many more people than expected on the opening day.
The weather was so hot it was melting shoes from the hot asphalt. His plumbers went on strike which meant the water fountains weren’t working on opening day. AND, the rides began to malfunction.
Dreams Do Come True
There’s so much more to Walt’s story I could tell here. He had many more setbacks than the ones you have read in this article; these are just a few of them.
Despite ALL THE ADVERSITY, he continued to rise. He continued to dream. And, he DID make his dreams come true.
In my office, you would see a quote behind my desk that spans across the wall. The quote reads:
“If you can dream it, you can do it.” -Walt Disney
And, that’s the truth. Nothing is impossible. Life is about perseverance, overcoming adversity, working hard, never giving up, and keeping your dreams alive. And, that’s one of the biggest ‘dreams’ Walt had… he wanted everyone to know if he could get through what he had and still make his dreams come true… it’s possible for everyone.
There are many times where I am exhausted, and I feel like giving up, but it’s all about your “why,” your passion, your drive, and your dreams.
My “why” is my two little boys. My dreams have already come true by being their mother. But, together, we are making all of our other dreams come true.
The point to this story… never give up!