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When Walt Disney Was Wrong

I’m a big Walt Disney fan. How he converted a small idea like “Mortimer Mouse” into an entertainment empire should be required reading for anyone launching a creative business. But over the years, one of this most famous quotes has always bothered me:

“If you dream it you can do it.”

It sounds noble and it’s certainly inspiring. But the truth is, its just wrong. We should be dreamers and believe that great things are possible in our lives, but I think we only hurt people when we lead them to believe that anything they dream can be possible.

No matter how I dreamed, I was never going to be an NFL player. When I began my career in film and television, I wasted a significant part of that career pursuing a dream job I wasn’t wired to accomplish.

And I see it everyday in others. People with great passion who simply aren’t gifted in the area of their passion.  A few years ago I met an actor here in Hollywood. His dream to be a great actor was so strong that he actually abandoned his wife and child in the Midwest, moved to LA, lived in a car and survived off food stamps. The irony? He was one of the worst actors I’ve ever seen. Not a shred of talent. (And plenty of others felt the same way.)

Unnecessary situations like that were a big reason I wrote my book “One Big Thing: Discovering What You Were Born to Do.” Dreams are important. Passion is important. But first – make sure you have the gifts and talents – plus put in the hard work and training to make that dream happen.

In the book I tell stories of famous people who spent most of their lives pursuing the wrong thing. It was only later in life when they discovered where their real talent lay, and from that point on, everything changed for the better.  Don’t waste most of your life moving in the wrong direction.

In the same way, Disney’s Jiminy Cricket reflected the same idea:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Walt, and believe he was one of the greatest men of his generation.  Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to become close friends with high level leaders at Walt Disney Studios here in Burbank.

Besides, there’s no question that God can accomplish anything, and sometimes He works with the most unexpected and unprepared people. I would never diminish the power or possibility of a miracle. But in the meantime, don’t waste years and years pursuing a dream without a foundation. Get my book, and find out what your “one thing” really is, and start moving in that direction.

Trust me – when you discover that one big purpose in your life, your passion will follow, and everything will change.

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  1. Within the context of one’s own God given gifts and desires of their heart, Walt’s words ring true. But in the context of our own personal pride we may need to fail in order to be forced to recalibrate and get on track for what we are truly blessed to do.

  2. Thank you. I always feel uneasy when I hear the ‘anything you an dream you can do/be type of speech/preach’. God does give dreams and does work in the most unexpected ways but I reckon that I have to be continually laying down my dreams and desires for him to be able to do his thing with me.

    1. Great point Janelle. One of our biggest challenges is to give up OUR dream to be a part of God’s BIGGER dream. We don’t hear enough of that these days…
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. This is certainly one of the things that really annoys me. I’m tired of people being set up for failure by those who tell them “you can be whatever you want to be” or “be whatever you want to be”. It’s a lie.

    I think that most us us could achieve a lot more than we initially imagine but there are so many things that we can’t do unless God wires us that way.

    Part of the problem is that many people surround themselves with family and friends who don’t have the integrity to speak honestly and tell them that they’re trying to operate outside their gifting. That means that for every person like yourself that speaks honestly to the ‘actor’ who can’t act, there’ll be others who will tell them how great they are and so the delusion will go on.

  4. Right on Phil! No amount of dreaming will help, if we are not cut out for it.
    This works in parenting too, in India especially where there is scramble to achieve ‘the good life”. I know of folks who forced their child to do a course of study, just because it was the in thing & seemed to portend a great future – financial stability, a name in society & the possibility to demand dowry!
    The child concerned himself warned the parents that he lacked the acumen for the course, but the parents wouldn’t listen & forced it on him. The son ended the 4 years of study with arrears in every paper & the father ended up ruing his decision!
    Imagine the loss of confidence for the son, the loss finances for the father, loss of face for the family & loss of all dreams! What a waste!

  5. I will agree in as much as dreaming alone won’t get you there. But I am here to tell you that anything you can dream you can actually do. I have done it and continue to do it every day.

    1. Won a national championship in BMX 60 days after heart surgery. I was told I could never even compete in any sports.

    2. Wanted to build biggest and best competition car stereo systems at the best shop in the world. 2 years later I was there.

    3. I wanted to be a filmmaker. Taught myself 3ds Max, Maya, and Houdini in 2003 along with building rendering farms to render in my garage.

    4. I took a class to be a network architect and wanted to design global networks. The class was postponed because the instructor left the school. As a high school drop out 2 years later I taught as an adjunct professor in an accredited college program. I also designed 5 global networks and worked at Cisco because I taught myself how to do something nobody else could make work before.

    5. I wanted to become a sniper instructor for Swat teams. I took a pentagon approved advance counter sniper instructor course and was certified in Nevada and Arizona as a counter sniper instructor.

    6. I wanted to be a filmmaker after giving up because everyone told me I would never make it. No money, no equipment, no knowledge of how to build a film studio or anything. I did itnanyways. 3 years later I worked for John Carpenter. Produced and directed 3 TV shows for new super bowl champions Seattle Seahawks members. Got a blank check to buy any camera I wanted just because I inspired somebody with my dream and desire for better equipment. Now I have been mentored by the past 12 academy award winning cinematographers personally trained by several ASC cinematographers and just opened an 8,000 sq ft studio full of equipment and paid cash for everything.

    I can tell you whatever you can dream you can do. I have done it. Everyone that I have convinced of it has done it. Just because you didn’t doesn’t mean it’s not possible it means you didn’t do what ever it takes. I did. Literally everything possible to make it happen. Every moment of my day spent on what I wanted. It requires obsessions and unreasonable dedication to your goal. I continue to prove anything is possible if you can dream it. If you have never been here you can’t say it’s impossible because you simply dont know since you gave up.

    I don’t disagree it takes more than a dream. It takes what ever it takes and you being willing to do just that. If you gave up it only proved you didn’t want it bad enough to do what it takes. There are plenty of things I haven’t done that I set out to do because I decided it wasn’t worth it. But to say you can’t is just an excuse created by people who haven’t. Sorry it’s just a fact. When you have accomplished what I have by the age of 36 and nobody believes it you learn the problem is people don’t know what they can do and make excuses because they didn’t. You could you just failed and quit at some point or you decided it wasn’t for you. It may have even been you didn’t get it how you wanted and doomed yourself. You are in fact the reason you failed. That doesn’t mean it was impossible. That’s just the easy way to explain it.

    1. Impressive accomplishments.

      Could Phil have been successful in the NFL? Maybe he just didn’t want it badly enough. I don’t know.

      I do know that there are some hurdles that can’t simply be overcome with persistence. If you ever watched the “audition” episodes of American Idol you have seen what Phil is describing play out. People with dreams, who worked hard, who had their cheerleaders, but couldn’t sing at all. Some people are just tone deaf. No amount of hard work will change that.

      There are some fields where you can “learn” the skills necessary to succeed. And there are some where a certain innate talent is required. Fortunately, I think there are far more that can be learned.

      However, I also think that part of the point Phil is making is that our dreams don’t always line up with what will ultimately make us happy. Sometimes, especially with careers, we want something that ends up making us unhappy and miserable. It looked good as a “dream” but when we arrive it feels like a nightmare.

      That is the challenge of life. Not just reaching a goal, but finding fulfillment there as well.

      1. There is no scientific evidence or really any other evidence that anyone is actually tone deaf. American Idol analogy assumes those people were properly trained and made correct choices to affect their outcomes. Most if not all of our accomplishments in life come down to choices. We choose to do something and we may choose to approach it arrogantly and not master the requisite skills or we choose to master it.

        The myth of talent vs skill is that talent is required. People are born with talent which is nothing more than aptitude. It will only take you so far. Then you need to develop skill through discipline and hard work.

        I am not at all talented. I was not athletic. I had an extreme disability. I have learning disabilities and I wasn’t born into wealth or a particularly successful family. Everything was a struggle but it all got easier once I learned that talent is merely aptitude and it’s mostly psychological. Talent won’t take you as far as discipline and hard work. It having talent is just an excuse for not having the discipline and desire to see through your goals.

        Happiness is irrelevant and another excuse used to explain why you can’t achieve something. I am not happy most days when I am working hard to accomplish something. I don’t do what makes me happy. I do what it takes to make great things happen. If you have never accomplished your goals you are not able to say if it would make you happy. You can assume which is what everyone does. I know because I have accomplished my dreams and then create more. I am happy and more importantly have no regrets, no excuses, and I know anything is possible because so far nothing has proven me wrong. What I have accomplished isn’t even impressive. It wasn’t even that difficult to be honest. It just takes a different view on the world and a relentless focus on what you are trying to accomplish. Most don’t have that and don’t understand it. I didn’t have it. I developed it. Anyone can but most prefer to do what makes them happy in the short term and make excuses for why others won the genetic lottery or got lucky. In the end it all just excuses for giving up not reason why they could never do it.

        1. My point isn’t talent versus hard work. I’m glad you’ve accomplished so many things. MY question is – why would you want to? Have you ended up in a job or calling you love? What do you want to accomplish with your life? Just wondering… 🙂

          1. To answer your question Phil I want to because I can. My question is why wouldn’t you want to achieve anything you dreamed? Why limit yourself? Are you truly happy thinking your limited to what life gives you? Even if you are how do you know if you wouldn’t be happier and more fulfilled doing everything possible to accomplish the desires put on your heart by God and the resulting dreams? So many people have accomplished happiness, wealth, and their dreams it’s far from rare. If you haven’t accomplished anything you have dreamed how can you say it won’t make you happy? How can you even say it’s not possible or that you wouldn’t have been more happy? I have had a limited view of my abilities and I have overcome it despite everyone to this day saying I can’t do what I do and I will fail. All evidence to the contrary.

            Some see what I have accomplished as big things. To me its nothing and I have brought many others along with me. I am not special. I just have an unlimited view of what’s possible and know what regret is like. We can have it all but most can’t dream that big and even fewer have faith in it.

          2. Leonardo Davinci, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, and Richard Branson all had great amounts of focus and accomplished a wide area of inventions and achievements across many disciplines. They also all had the same goal. They wanted to improve the quality of life for everyone on earth.

            Focus is relative to the goal being attained. We all have the same mount of time in every day. What you choose to focus on is what matters.

            I am not a jack of all trades. I master everything I do or don’t bother. Once you have reached the top and mastered a single thing you can spend the rest of your life doing the same thing or expand your horizons. Focus isn’t the problem its scope.

            The above mentioned people had a goal to change the world for the better. We all know their names because they achieved that goal. They mastered many disciplines to achieve that goal. They made most of what any of us have done possible because they dreamed it. several of them in recent history state specifically because of the Walt Disney quote you say is wrong.

            Focus isn’t the problem. It’s as Einstein would say the amount of prejudices we have amassed by the age of 18 that we call common sense that limit us. If your focus is small then you will accomplish small. There is nothing wrong with that. If your focus is on a big goal you will likely accomplish something big. Nothing wrong with that either. Where your article and last comment go wrong is you are speaking from a position of extremely limited point of view. You can’t speak on what is possible if you haven’t done what is possible. You aren’t an authority on the matter if you have never done it. I am far from an authority but I have done enough so called impossible things and mastered them at that to know the world is only limited by physics and our own perceptions of reality.

            I will admit I regularly reject everyone else’s reality and substitute my own which often times fails many hundreds of times before eventually succeeding. But that is to me the fun of it.

          3. You seem to be an interesting person. Yet I’m still curious to get to know your personal answers to Phil’s questions:

            “Have you ended up in a job or calling you love? What do you want to accomplish with your life?”

            So far you just answered with more questions or general statements about focus or renaissance men. That’s not bad, but it’s not getting to the core of the questions. 🙂

          4. I think if you read more closely you will find I did answer the question.

            I have never understood why giving up would make one happy and how accomplishing what you want would make you unhappy. I have also never known anyone that gave up on their goals for short term happiness that didn’t regret it.

            I also don’t believe happiness is even relevant to being able to do anything you can dream. That is the real issue. Happiness doesn’t prove or disprove that statement at all. most people who have proven it correct myself included are happier and more fulfilled than those who haven’t. On a level those who haven’t can’t even comprehend is possible even.

          5. I have never dodged the question. I already answered it and pointed out that it’s a completely irrelevant and prejudiced question to even ask. It is everyone else that is dodging my question.

            Happiness is not a relevant metric despite me being more happy than I ever was when I believed in the lie that society told me.

            Please stop dodging my questions and realize I have answered your however invalid and pointless it is to being able to accomplish something.

          6. I have answered the question at least 3 times now. Perhaps you are looking for a different answer?

            I am not sure what your looking for in an answer but read and comprehend the above reply it contains the answer. 🙂

            Why are my questions going unacknowledged?

          7. I acknowledge your questions, good stuff there. They just don’t answer the original questions asked by Phil in a plain and simple way. Let’s try one more time. 🙂

            1. Have you ended up in a job or calling you love?
            2. What do you want to accomplish with your life?

            There is no shame in answering with “yes”, “no”, “I don’t know” or any other concise answer to these questions.

          8. So now you acknowledge I have answered the question but you want to limit my response to a yes or no? Why are you so concerned with a simple yes or no? The question is not simply a yes or no. It’s a biased and prejudicial question which is not relevant. A simple Yes or No does not truly answer the question.

            I say No and you mat feel you are correct. When in reality you don’t know what I am talking about. I answer Yes and you may feel I don’t know what in talking about. The question is not relevant to the discussion so there is another reason why it’s being asked and there is a disconnect between each of our perspective reasons for the discussion which should be resolved but can’t with a simple yes or no.

            Now the insistence of a yes or no answer I know is simply a debate tactic and your condescending subtext and insistence that I am dodging the question which I have answered definitively leads me to believe you are not truly interested in my answer but me accepting your premise is accurate so you can argue a point which I have already stated is flawed and irrelevsnt.

            So the best answer you are getting has already been stated. There is no shame in reading it and accepting that the world is a lot bigger than you previously thought. Nothing wrong with even arguing against my point of view. No shame in accepting it’s a complex subject that doesn’t fit neatly
            Into a box.

            Now why do you keep dodging my questions?

          9. I stated that I acknowledge your questions, that you bring up good points. They just don’t answer Phil’s questions. 🙂

            Let me answer them too, free of charge:

            1. I am working in a job that I enjoy immensely and that never stays the same. A job where I constantly meet new people or people that I know but who create new things all the time.
            2. I want to make a difference in people’s lives by being someone who listens to them, helps them achieve things they thought they could not and to learn something in the process myself. And that’s just my non-job goal.

          10. Those are great answers. Much better than a yes or no. 🙂

            I highly respect your desire to make a difference in people’s lives. I don’t know thst it matters if it’s your job and or a personal mission in life. Its always been my life goal. Its been a job and it’s been something I just do. It’s been a job. It’s been a career. Now it’s just a life’s purpose which manifests itself in all that I do.

            It’s not always pleasant. In fact it’s hard work and often time miserable, boring, frustrating, and down right depressing most of the time. But when I see how others have changed their limited mindset and accomplished what they thought impossible it is worth the sacrifice and effort. I know I have changed lives and the world. I will continue to do so because a life is a terrible thing to waste and nothing has proven to be impossible yet. 🙂

  6. I think some scope should be adeed to the “you can achieve anything” myth… people can achieve a lot.. within certain limitations… whenever people say “you can achieve anything as long as you want it enough” I always ask if terminally ill people apparently don’t want to get better enough…

    in my opinion the down side of the “you can anything” myth is:
    – people get frustrated.. they think they just have to keep trying.. instead of accepting their personal limitations
    -it can be used as an excuse not to help others.. it’s their own fault they are less fortunate, they didn’t try hard enough

    bottom line : many things just come along in life… what you do with them is your own choice (achievement) … but you cannot achieve anything, it’s a myth

  7. “It was only later in life when they discovered where their real talent lay… .” Precisely. These days the young and foolish are put on a pedestal. The search for something new is only leading to more chaos, confusion, and ugliness. I’m for revival, renaissance, and returning to the best that history has to offer, and to the wisdom only learned in the proverbial School of Hard Knocks.

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