A few weeks ago Kara and I were in Disney World, and on one of the last days in the parks we went to Hollywood Studios. We've been to all of the parks pretty often by this point, and ridden the rides that interest us most. So now we have the chance to see something different, to explore something else the parks have to offer. We can look at them more like museum patrons looking at art or at a dinosaur exhibit. We can appreciate the artistry of the place, and enjoy the history we encounter.
I'll confess, the older I get the less interested I am in roller coasters or high-action rides. I kind of dig sitting in the sort of rides that offer a show. I like the sort of slower pace, and the slight bit of interactivity, and the feeling that a lot of money has been spent to not only keep me entertained but to keep me safe. I like the controlled environments that Disney World has to offer.
On that final day in the parks Kara and I ended up going through a self-guided tour of an exhibit portraying Walt Disney himself. There were dozens of exhibits, from a childhood school desk in which Disney had carved his initials to the forest automatronic Lincoln, and a lot of innovations in between.
Of all the things we encountered in the parks during that trip, I think this tour was the most magical.
I've read a ton about Disney. He's in my Top 5, actually—my list of five geniuses I consider personal heroes and true world shapers. And in that he's in the company of a revolving and evolving list of people I've read about and studied, including Thomas Edison, Leonard da Vinci, Nikolai Tesla, and more recently Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Five guys who built something that made the world more incredible, or who thought in ways that infected the world and made it possible for other giants to rise. My list changes from time to time. It gets bigger than five, fairly often. Disney has always had a space on the list, though.
Maybe I should call it my Top 6?
The thing that Disney did that really connects with me is less about animation and theme parks and movie studios, and more about creating something bigger than anyone else was willing to imagine. It started with a mouse, as he liked to say. It grew to an empire that still continues to grow and do new things. Maybe some of the innovation has slowed. But give it time. Steve Jobs came along and helped revitalize Disney animation, after all, by bringing Disney and Pixar together. There are likely other geniuses out there who can do similar.
I know there will be Disney detractors. There are plenty of things about Disney that made him less than an ideal role model.
Isn't it funny how no matter who we look at through the lens of history, an regardless of what they may have accomplished, there will always be those who vilify them? What were the names of those folks again?
That's the way it is with legacies. If you have the intention of building one, remember that history has proven, again and again, that you will have lots of detractors. You will have people who hate you for some slight you may never have intended, or some attitude you held that may have been popular at the time but is reprehensible today. Thomas Jefferson was always a respected historic figure but of late he's come under fire for owning slaves in a time when owning slaves was common practice. It's a bit like blaming Medieval doctors for spreading infections because they didn't wash their hands before surgeries, despite no one even suspecting the existence of anything like germs.
That's just how it is. No matter what good you do in the world, there will always be someone who figures you're selfish for doing it. They'll insert their own motives into your actions, and assume that because no one is perfect, and no one can ever be perfectly altruistic, you must be a liar and a cheat. Because you fall short of the mark just like everyone else, they'll claim you were unworthy of even the success you had.
Listen to them. They know what they're talking about.
Surprised by that? Well, me too. Because the thing is, we are unworthy of it. Disney and Jobs and Musk and Edison—they could be total jerks. Truly. Read some of the things they said and did (or, in the case of Musk, things he's still saying and doing). Sometimes the people in a position to make the biggest dent in the universe seem to have a big dent in their head.
But so what?
There will always be people waiting to tear you down. And, admit it, you've waited to tear someone down a time or two yourself. That's the failure of humanity. We're not perfect, and we really hate and resent that, so we take it out on everyone else.
But here's the success of humanity—here's the win of humanity: We sometimes get it right.
We build an empire that makes billions of people happy.
We redefine industries that help push us past the roadblocks and limitations humanity and technology and into new worlds of innovation.
We create the thing that changes the world.
Try and fail to be perfect. But while you're at it, actually make the effort to create something that makes the world better.
I create content. I wrote books and blog posts, I record podcasts, I give talks. Maybe that isn't enough to make a dent in the universe. But it's a start. It's not perfect, but it's a beginning. I may never be a Disney or a Jobs or a Musk, but I definitely won't accomplish anything noteworthy if I let myself worry that I'm not already there. (Also, I have every intention of being in the company of those guys, when it's all said and written).
There were people who hated Disney, who hated Jobs. There are still people who hate Elon Musk and Bill Gates and Larry Page. Name anyone you think of as brilliant and in 30 seconds I can use Google to find someone who hates them and thinks their work sucks and thinks the world would be better off without them.
People who make dents in the universe will always catch flack from people who just want things to stay the same.
But let's make a pact: Let's decide, here and now, that we're going to do it anyway. We're going to create something that changes the world, that makes the world better. We don't know what it is yet. We may never figure it out. We may have to start with nothing but a few scratches on a sheet of paper or a conversation with our friends. We may have no power and no control over anything, and we may have to improvise the tools we use to make our dent. And it may not work.
But the pact is for the effort we'll put in. The pact is for the brainpower and the attitude and the sheer gall of believing we can do it.
Let's all go take up our hammers and make as many dents in the universe as we can. Let's all make a pact to change the world, and anyone who doesn't like it can stay behind and complain all they like.
It's me and you. Let's do it together. And the haters can hate. We won't hear them over all the banging.