My Favorite Walt Disney Quote

I admit I spent many years trying to be a successful freelance artist. I graduated from the Academy of Art in 1982, I worked for Bank of America in their graphics department, I freelanced doing computer art for an audio/visual company, I did some advertising for Cal Football, I did some illustrations for video games, and I got my first job with Disney in 1992. So it took me 10 years to get to the point where I could say I got my dream job.

There is a quote by Walt Disney, that if I followed it seriously from the beginning, I think would have helped me get to my dream job faster.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
– Walt Disney

I spent many days sitting in my apartment, kind of stuck, watching TV, trying to find inspiration, but finding it hard to stay motivated to work toward my goals. I thought about being successful, but I didn’t really know how it could happen. But when I think about it now, being stuck meant getting nowhere. The only way to make my dream happen was to continually try to do something about it. Yes, a lot of times what I tried didn’t work out, but if you let yourself get stuck again, then you’re back to getting nowhere. You have to keep trying, maybe adjust what you’re doing, but try again. The Walt Disney quote helped me to keep on doing.

How Steven Spielberg Got His Start in Hollywood

Film director Steven Spielberg was rejected by both USC and UCLA film schools, so he went to Long Beach State, which didn’t even have a film school. There is a story about how he first got his directing contract with Universal Studios.

He was visiting California with his family, and they went on the Universal Studios tram tour. He always wanted to make movies, so he snuck off the tour to look around. He was caught by a man who recognized his passion, and gave him some passes to visit the studio. The next day, Spielberg dressed up with a coat and tie, and carried his father’s briefcase, and just walked past the guards at the Universal studio gate, without even using the studio passes. He would wave to the guards and they just assumed he was an executive.

He found an empty office in a bungalow and set it up as his own. He began talking to people on the studio lot and made connections, and finally showed them a short film he created. The studio executives were so impressed that they offered him a seven year contract, becoming the youngest director ever to be hired by Universal. He didn’t even finish college at Long Beach State. He went on to direct Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and many more movies.

Some believe that Spielberg embellished the story, but even if only part of the story is true, it shows that he was very bold in getting his career. Yes, he was very talented, but he didn’t just sit around, he did something to make his career happen.

Let me repeat that, because I think it’s important. Before he became successful, Steven Spielberg was just a guy who didn’t have his goal yet. Before you get your goal, sometimes it’s hard to believe you will actually get it. But Steven Spielberg had a clear idea of what he wanted and did something about it.

Make Sure What You Do is Marketable and Valuable

My Disney client once told me about an artist that they used for calligraphy. He said that the artist only did calligraphy, and it was kind of sad because they were no longer using much calligraphy, and they probably wouldn’t be hiring him anymore. My client was trying to tell me that you have to keep your skills marketable, and if your skills become obsolete, you have to try something else.

Another client once told me about a freelance artist that they used, but hadn’t given any work to lately. This artist told him “Come on, you have to give me work, I have a family to support!”. He was focused on his need, not on his value to the company.

Unfortunately, it is a cold, cruel world out there. If you want to keep working, you need to continually make sure your skills are marketable and valuable.

Sometimes it May Look Like What You’re Doing is Useless

Steve Jobs, the former head and co-founder of Apple Computer, was a college drop-out. At some point, he took classes in calligraphy. Calligraphy is probably something that few people actually use, so people thought that he was just wasting his time. They probably thought, “What are you going to do with calligraphy?”

But the calligraphy class later gave Steve Jobs the idea to use type fonts in Apple computers. At the time, PCs only used one style of computer type font. The type fonts helped to create the ground-breaking graphic style used today by Apple and all computers.

So sometimes you may be working toward your goal, and others may think you’re wasting your time, but the seemingly useless thing you’re doing today may turn into your dream job of tomorrow.

Is Your Dream Job Realistic?

Despite all my encouragement to people to get their dream job, I realize that you have to make sure it’s realistic.

I have an example to illustrate my point: There was an old TV show, the Andy Griffith show, about a friendly sheriff (Andy) who is unwillingly forced to evict an old man because he can’t pay back taxes on his house.

Andy asks the old man if he has any way to generate income, his business is making berries for women’s hats. The old man tells Andy that business has been bad. Andy asks “Well, have you ever thought of changing your business?” The old man is resistant, asking “Oh, why would I want to do that?”.

Andy answers “Making berries on women’s hats isn’t exactly a hot industry right now”. The old man says, “No, but with women’s styles changing every year, you never know, if berries were to come back in again, I’d be sitting pretty!”. Even though berries on women’s hats had long gone out of style, the old man believed that some day he will cash in on his backlog supply.

The old man was obviously once good at what he did, and even had an understanding of his industry. He reasoned that women’s styles change, so berries on hats have GOT to come back. But he was stuck in his way of thinking. Sometimes you have to reevaluate what you’re doing, make adjustments and even change course if necessary.

You’ll Probably Feel Like You’ll Never Get There

I remember and understand what it was like. I was living in my little apartment in Berkeley, trying to get freelance jobs, trying to work on samples for my portfolio so I can show clients what I can do, and wondering if I will ever be successful. When you’re not there yet, it’s hard to believe in yourself and not give up. The only thing I can say is that I hung in there, figured out ways to get through the slow times, and kept trying to improve my work.

You really have to believe in yourself. I listened to motivational tapes, which recommended making a goal list. You write down separate lists of short term goals and long term goals, list them in order of priority, and try to do something every day on each list to move toward your goal, even if it’s a very small step. It actually helps when you write your goals down, it somehow makes it more tangible.

For a long time I wanted to do movie posters, I admired the work of Drew Struzan, who did Indiana Jones posters and a lot more movie posters in the 80s and 90s. He had a distinct style that a lot of artists tried to copy, but couldn’t, including me. I finally decided I should try to get work from Disney. Even though I always loved Disney, they weren’t making very good movies at the time and doing the movie posters seemed glamorous. But when I decided on what I always loved – Disney – that’s when it started to click. (See my other article about how I got my first job with Disney.)

The Hardest Rejection I Faced

Some freelance artists have artist’s representatives, or reps, to sell their work to advertising agencies, etc. One time, I showed my work to a rep, I don’t remember his name, but he was in San Francisco. After he looked at my portfolio, he calmly told me that my work wasn’t good enough for him to represent.

Actually, he was the first person to bluntly tell me that. I don’t remember what other people told me, it was probably something like “We don’t have anything right now” or maybe “We’re looking for a different style”. But this rep came out and told me that my work wasn’t good enough.

I was actually shocked at his bluntness, as I said no one ever told me that before. I went home very depressed, but when I think about it now, that was probably the best thing to happen to me. It woke me up, and forced me to look critically at my work, and made me determined to try to improve it. It still took me a long time to improve my work, but that was the first step.

I didn’t really take my work seriously at first, and it took me a longer to succeed. So I believe that the earlier you ‘wake up’ and take your work seriously, whatever it is, the sooner you can get to your dream job.

Combine What You Love With What You’re Good At

Here is what I consider to be important advice to get your dream job – Figure out a way to combine what you love with what you are naturally good at. Only you can figure that out for yourself, but here are a few examples.

Examples of what you love to do: cook, play video games, sing, skateboard, draw, play sports, go to theme parks.

Examples of what you love – not necessarily to do, but what you have an interest in: movies, boats, trains, history, travel, planets, animals, cars, internet, clothes, music.

Examples of what you are naturally good at: building, drawing, organizing, caring for people, talking, figuring out things, cooking, writing.

Examples of jobs: chef, clothing designer, architect, tour guide, work in the zoo, computer engineer, writer for books or magazines, nurse, builder, video game tester.

If what you – love to do – and – are naturally good at – don’t seem to match, try to find a way to combine them.

Examples of things that may not seem to match:
Love music but can’t sing – Maybe you can write songs, or work for a music company.
Love art but can’t draw – Maybe you can work in an art gallery, or write for an art magazine.
Love to skateboard but not good at it – Maybe you can organize skateboarding events.
Again, these are just examples.

Most people get a job because it makes money, but they don’t take the time to figure out what they love to do and what they are naturally good at. But if you want your dream job, it’s important to figure this out.

Figure Out What You’re Good At

Some people might say “I’m not good at anything”. My Mom used to say that, but when I think about it, she was really good at cooking (although she would say she wasn’t), she was interested in crafty things, like cake decorating, and she was surprisingly (to me, at least) savvy on a variety of subjects. I’m sure there are a lot of talents that she didn’t even realize she had.

My Dad was co-owner of a supermarket, but my Mom used to tell me that he was good at PR (public relations), that he would have been a good PR man. Again, when I think about it, I remember my Dad had some promotional events at the market, once he even had an elephant ride in the parking lot, and he dressed up as a clown. And he used to get the queen and her court from the local beauty pageant (Lodi Grape Festival) to give out samples to the customers. Maybe you can think of some hidden talents that your parents or other family members had, but didn’t fully pursue.

I am convinced that everyone is good at SOMETHING. You may not think you’re good at anything, or maybe you think that what you’re good at isn’t good FOR anything, meaning you can’t make a career at it.

When I was in college, students would joke about taking classes in ‘underwater basket weaving’, meaning a subject that is easy and/or useless. But what if you were really good at basket weaving, and raised it to an art form? If your baskets were so beautiful, do you think you could make money selling them? Or even have them displayed in an art gallery? I would say so, but of course you would have to be really good, and go about it a certain way.

If you want to pursue your dream job, first you have to figure out what you’re really good at. It may be a talent that you didn’t realize you had, or was worth anything. It still might not be easy to make a career out of it, and it might take a long time, but it is POSSIBLE.

Learn From My Mistakes

One thing that I could have done differently, is that I spent unnecessary money on trying to get my dream.

I graduated from UC Berkeley and the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and I was trying to figure out how to get jobs as a freelance illustrator. When I look back at where I was then, my work really wasn’t good enough, but I didn’t realize it.

I bought a lot of books on different illustrators trying to get inspiration, learn techniques, and study their styles of illustration. But mostly, those books didn’t help to improve my work. What I realize now, is that I should have spent more time improving my work and less time trying to find inspiration. I should have just spent a lot of time practicing to improve my skills.

I also bought a lot of art materials, trying to figure out my ‘style’. The top illustrators have a distinctive style, and I didn’t have one yet, so I experimented with different materials. While it’s good to experiment, I regret that I hadn’t been more serious in art school, because that was the time to experiment and find your style.

I also spent a lot of money for advertising in art directories, you can buy a page to advertise your work for $1000 or more. I advertised for a few years, one year I advertised in two directories.

I don’t think I got any jobs directly from those directories, again, before I spent the money to advertise, I should have spent more time improving my work.

Even though my experience is from an artist’s/creative point of view, I think it’s applicable to any career, try to see how it fits your situation.

I think I wasted a lot of money when I should have concentrated on improving my work, and not realizing that, it actually took me longer to get to my goal.

You may have to spend money to get to your goal, but see what you can do to improve yourself and your work before spending the money.