What Working at Disney Taught Me About Failure (And Pivots)

Are You Close to Failure or Do You Just Need to Pivot?

If you're in a tough season or struggling with your purpose, this story is for you.

Yesterday, I was in my hometown of Fayetteville, NC speaking for the City of Fayetteville's Administrative Professionals Day. As I was speaking to these assistants about my own time in administrative roles, I was reminded of my days working for Disney at the corporate level and a specific story came to mind.

This is the story of how I came this close to getting fired, and how that became the turning point that defined my film industry career.

It's the story of how you can be feeling so near failure and how a pivot can change your life.


What Led to Me Almost Getting Fired...

(I hope you don't mind that I'll speak generally - this is a story about what I learned, not one to spotlight any individuals from a team that I loved working for).

What you need to know is that I was working at Disney in LA several years ago. Through a series of organizational shifts on our team, I ended up as one of three coordinators working on specific upcoming film titles. Due to how things shook out and a myriad of other factors, I ended up with the least "high profile" movies (think "direct to video" specials and the like). Basically, the leftovers.

And while I was happy to rise to the occasion and find potential in the less exciting projects, it put me in a bit of a catch 22 situation.

There wasn't a lot to do on those projects, and when I did try to move things forward, I was met with resistance (since they weren't priorities). I found myself struggling to show what I was capable of with what was on my plate and getting frustrated I had little to do.

Soon, my manager pulled me into her office. She told me the head of our department was concerned that I wasn't working on "anything."

This felt like a pretty major gut punch. It was bad. It was surprising. From my perspective, my hands had been tied and now - somehow - my job's on the line because of it? What was I supposed to be doing without much at all to work on?

For me, this was the culminating moment in a series of years of struggling to find my place and what I could uniquely contribute or shine at on our team.

It would prove to be my lowest point and my best point - I just didn't know that would happen.

That day, confused and upset, I confessed to my boss - "It's like you guys love me, but you have no idea what to do with me."

I was scared to say this and be this vulnerable but it was the unvarnished truth. And it was what changed everything.

To her credit, my main manager went home and gave great thought to our conversation. She really heard me when I shared that I felt stuck - my hands tied - and like I wasn't being given the work that really showed what I could do.

She showed up to work the next day and made the recommendation that changed the trajectory of my career.

My main manager restructured my role to work on all the upcoming film titles, as the communications lead.

My boss knew my strengths and she loved working with me. She knew I could write and design and tell stories. So the lightbulb went off - why not restructure and give me all the film titles, but from the communications side of things (where I was strongest)?

It was a new idea. It was a pivot. It made everyone's lives easier and it paid offthat afternoon.

With this pivot, I went from my job on the chopping block to being the head of our department's go-to person - in the course of an afternoon.

Is this normal? I don't know. What I do know is that from the moment the idea was pitched, that same day I was meeting with the head of our department, helping her with presentations for major studio leadership.

Thanks to this change, when I ultimately chose to quit my dream job, I left on good terms with everyone - in particular the head of my department. And to this day, I remain immensely grateful for that because there were so many moments I thought if I left, it would be running away. Instead, I left on a high note - with relationships I still treasure and lessons that taught me about not giving up, managing relationships, and finding your place.

This experience taught me a lot about failure, success, and all that's in-between.

I share this story of vulnerability with you to illustrate the point that you can be THIS close to failing, to getting fired, to falling flat on your face - and then things can change. Something as simple as a pivot can change your life.

I also share it with you because of this quote from Einstein -
"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

For so many years, I was the fish - being told I had to climb the tree. And it got to me in so many car rides home in LA traffic, bawling my eyes out. I felt really stupid. I felt really lost.

And the reality was, I just wasn't in the right role. I needed that pivot. I needed a change of perspective.

So - in your season - what small change could make a big difference?

So - in your season - what small change could make a big difference?

Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, in the places where you struggle - what's one small change you could make? What's one outside-the-box shift you could consider?

A little pivot can do a whole lot of good.

And if you're feeling like that fish being asked to climb trees all day, just know - there's a better purpose for you - one you can make happen. I believe it and I've been there.

Great Resources and Articles for Further Reading: