Lessons I Learned from Disney – Part 4 (The Advantage of Adversity)

career success Jun 04, 2015

In the first three parts of the Lessons I Learned from Disney series, we’ve talked about lessons learned when I was working at Walt Disney World. However, in this installment, let’s discuss a lesson learned from studying the history of Walt Disney. That lesson is about adversity, and how we can deal with adversity.

In our networking careers, we are going to have adversity. We are going to have troubleshooting issues. We are going to have failures on certification exams. We might lose a contract. We might lose a job. Adversity is going to happen.

Let’s begin with a quote from Walt who said:

All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.

Way back in 1928, Walt Disney and his brother Roy, at the Disney Studios in California, had a successful animation business. They had a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and in early 1928, Walt went to New York to re-negotiate the contract he had with Charles Mintz for the production of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

When Walt got there, he asked Charles Mintz for a raise. Walt wanted to go from $2,250 per cartoon, to $2,500 for each cartoon. Not only did Mintz refuse the request, he counter-offered with a rate of $1,800 per cartoon.

That rate wouldn’t even cover the cost of production, and Charles Mintz knew it. Mintz was trying to take over the Disney Studios. What Walt didn’t realize at that time was that while he had been traveling to New York, Charles Mintz has signed up Walt Disney’s primary artists back in California. Mintz warned Walt, “I will ruin you if you don’t take this deal.”

After thinking about it, and confirming that sure enough, Charles Mintz really had signed up a lot of Walt’s primary artists, Walt Disney told Charles Mintz to keep Oswald. Walt said that the sight of Oswald made him sick.

Everything OK

As Walt was about to leave New York and go back to California, he didn’t have the heart to tell his brother Roy what had happened. So, he sent him a telegram that read:






Many years later, when Walt was talking about this incident, he said:

I was all alone and had nothing. Mrs. Disney and I were coming back from New York on a train, and I had to have something. I can’t tell them I’ve lost Oswald. So I had this mouse in the back of my head…

Walt was able to use adversity as an opportunity to reinvent the Disney Studios, and in our networking careers, we will face adversity. The question is, “What are we going to do with it?”

Some of the lowest times in my career came when I failed a CCIE lab. I now have two CCIEs, one in Routing and Switching and one in Collaboration. However, I failed the lab twice before getting my CCIE in Routing and Switching, and I failed a lab once before getting my CCIE in Voice, which I’ve now migrated to a CCIE in Collaboration.

The first time I took the Routing and Switching lab, I quickly realized that I was in over my head. I had no idea how crazy hard the lab was going to be, but building on that attempt, I put together a home lab, bought books, and studied hundreds of hours.

After failing my second attempt at the lab, I was devastated, because I thought I was ready. Then, one of the most heart-breaking moments came after I got home.

We’re a Christian family, and before leaving for the lab, my wife and I were saying prayers with our young daughters. They were ages three and five at that time. We prayed that I would pass the lab. After returning home from the lab, my five-year-old daughter was confused, and she asked, “Did God not hear us?” Seeing the disappointment and confusion on her face just crushed me, and I determined to redouble my efforts.

At that time, ISDN was one of the topics on the Routing and Switching lab, and it was problematic for me, costing me several points. So, we dipped into our family savings and spent over $2,000 on an ISDN simulator, and I did practice lab after practice lab.

After failing my first attempt at the Voice lab, I realized that I needed a home lab.  For me, the rack rental option just wasn’t enough. So, once again, we dipped into our family savings. This time, I spent over $7,000 to create a home lab. By the way, after passing each of my labs, I sold my home lab for nearly the amount I paid. It was like getting two home labs nearly free.

The Takeaway

The lesson I want you to take from Walt’s loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and from my failed CCIE attempts is that adversity in your career is inevitable, whether it’s failing a certification exam or getting fired. However, adversity isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you will use it to push you forward instead of letting it defeat you. In fact, your greatest career adversity just might be your greatest career advantage. I think Mickey Mouse would agree.

Did You Miss It?

This blog posting is the fourth in my Lessons I Learned from Disney series. If you missed the first few of postings, you can check them out here:

Lessons I Learned from Disney – Part 1 (When to Praise – When to Coach)

Lessons I Learned from Disney – Part 2 (Who Broke Mickey’s e-Mail?)

Lessons I Learned from Disney – Part 3 (Balancing Urgency with Impact)

Kevin Wallace, CCIEx2 (R/S and Collaboration) #7945, CCSI 20061


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