An actor, animator, filmmaker, and wildly successful businessman, its kind of shocking at first to hear that Walt Disney only had around 9 years of formal education. He started school at the ripe old age of 7 and dropped out at 16 to join the military. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, he was rejected for being underage and spent a year in France with the Red Cross instead. After returning to the United States, Disney received his first job as a cartoonist in 1919, and the rest is history.
“Children have got to be free to lead their own lives.” – Sebastian, The Little Mermaid
Despite having strict parents, Walt grew up doing what he wanted when he wanted. He was a shrewd businessman even as a child. After his father, Elias, bought a newspaper delivery route, Walt was made to work for him without pay. He knew how to make the best of his situation, though. From delivering medicines for the local pharmacy on his route to selling extra papers without his father’s knowledge, Walt developed a thriving business of his own without any help, encouragement, or formal education. This continued throughout his few years in high school and, of course, eventually led to exemplary management of the Walt Disney Company.
“The very things that hold you down are going to lift you up.” – Timothy Mouse, Dumbo
Classes came second to work for Walt during his schooling years. His exhausting work schedule left little time to study, which had a heavy impact on his grades. Even as he worked such a demanding schedule and trudged through school, however, Walt always found time to indulge in his passion for drawing. He traded his cartoons for haircuts, became the cartoonist for his school’s newspaper, and later submitted to magazines and drew for his co-workers in Paris – all learned from just a couple of brief stints in art classes.
All the work, discipline, and cartoons did very little for Walt’s grades as a child, but he grew up to build The Walt Disney Company – so it is difficult to argue against the merits of his childhood activities. He learned how to run a business, work with colleagues, and develop a skill that would redefine animation and serve as a catalyst into a new age of cinema.
“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.” – Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio
Walt’s success can really be attributed more to his attitude than any form of education (and perhaps even experience). “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” This was the philosophy he lived by: to achieve excellence and watch the theaters fill up as his reward. This attitude inspired Walt to take risks (like starting a business) that sometimes caused him to fail (he had to declare bankruptcy in 1922), but then he got back up again and made Alice in Wonderland.
Teaching yourself anything can seem like an insurmountable challenge when you get a good look at just how much there is to learn, but the real magic is in the learning, not the teaching itself. A teacher (whether its a person, software, book, or audio recording) can only teach as well as its student can learn. Walt is an ultimate example of a sponge learner – he soaked up his experiences so well, he never even needed a teacher to hold his hand.
So basically: Walt Disney went to school for 9 years, flunked most of the time, dropped out of high school, never went to college, taught himself to be a businessman and cartoonist purely by learning while doing, and became the roots of one of the most admired companies in the world. He must have done something right.
“Hakuna Matata!” – Timon and Pumbaa, The Lion King
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