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What Walt Disney and Thomas Edison Can Teach You About Longevity

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Age is no longer a drawback in business; age is the new edge.

According to the Global Institute of Experienced Entrepreneurship, “Entrepreneurial activity among the over-50s increased by more than 50% since 2009. They are almost twice as likely to found successful companies as those between 20 and 40.”

This group now has its own defining term: silverpreneur. When a veteran of enterprise walks into a board room, a sense of calm centeredness doesn’t escape notice. The onlookers don’t know that the collected demeanor comes at a price. What can the young up-and-comers learn from the seasoned business leader? We can learn from three historic entrepreneurs who harnessed these superpowers to go the distance and build a legacy that stands the test of time.

Related: Be an Innovative Leader or Risk Your Company’s Longevity

1. Tenacity: Walt Disney

“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” – Walt Disney.

When a Universal Pictures distributor cheated Walt Disney out of a large sum of money, his company, Laugh-O-Grams, an advertising and short film business, could no longer cover its debts. By 1928, the same distributor stole Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and took half of Disney’s staff.

Disheartened by the repeated betrayals, suffering high stress and battling depression “at a low ebb,” Disney’s failures were not over: Two short films featuring Mickey flopped.

When Steamboat Willie premiered on November 18, 1928, it was the first animated film released with synchronized sound — and it revolutionized animated films, launching the Disney Empire.

Walt was well into his fifties before Disneyland was completed in 1955; Disney World opened in 1971 after his death. Disney continued to battle failures and betrayals long into his silver years. Despite overwhelming pressure, Disney stayed in the game. When asked what motivated him, he said, “When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” His desire to see into the heart of a child, to see things through, built his empire.

Tenacity starts with a vision of who you want to be. Look, listen and learn. You can find cues in your environment to keep you going. Watch videos, listen to music and listen to leaders and members of the audience you want to work with.

Keep mementos on your desk that mean something to you. When you set your goals, aim high; if you shoot for the moon and fall short, you still gain. You may find that an unexpected door has opened simply because you took a risk and kept going.

Related: 10 Walt Disney Quotes That Could Boost Your Small Business

2. Fearlessness: Thomas Edison

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” — Thomas Edison.

At first, no one wanted Thomas Edison’s inventions in 1867 when he first invented them.

Like Walt Disney, Thomas Edison found failure was his daily bread. For every household invention, from the electric light system to the motion picture camera, there were hundreds of failures and hardships. “I have not failed 10,000 times,” he once said. “I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work.”

Edison was 47 when he lost his first wife and 67 when fire destroyed his laboratories. He also lost massive amounts of money operating an iron ore mine.

One of the most crippling blocks to success is the fear of failure. We live in a time when society is unforgiving of mistakes. Edison’s life is a history lesson on being brave enough to keep trying and missing the mark until the vision becomes a reality.

The fearless entrepreneur thrives on butterflies, the sweaty palm, and sheer curiosity – the “go big or go home” philosophy. This leader knows that more is more and doesn’t settle for less. To become fearless, look to those who are.

Who is fearless in our society? The tight-rope walker? The kid who takes a challenging test with no sleep? The fearless business leader begins with the knowledge that the road will be broken and failures will come, but fear is the true enemy of success.

Related: 5 Fears All Entrepreneurs Face (and How to Conquer Them)

Non-conformity: Dr. Suess

“I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” — Dr. Suess.

Theodore Geisel was dropped from the Dartmouth College humor magazine after he was caught drinking during prohibition. The pen name, “Dr. Suess,” provided a way for him to continue his contributions. Rather than dampening his enthusiasm, the rejection proved his resolve to find a way around what he considered a temporary setback.

Born in 1904, Suess was nearly 45 years old when he achieved his dreams. An ad campaign manager for Standard Oil and other famous brand names, his art of combining memorable, untraditional verse and illustrations saw little success initially. His first book, And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected over two dozen times before its publication by an old college friend in 1936.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Achieve Longevity

World War II and his job making animated films for the Army interrupted his career as an author. After he moved to La Jolla, California, in 1948, his children’s books made his pseudonym a household word. His best-known book came by request of a publisher who asked what Suess could do to improve literacy among America’s school children. Using a pre-determined list of 236 words, Suess wrote The Cat in the Hat, which sold 452,000 copies the first year.

Suess’s wordplay and non-traditional use of verse, combined with his over-the-top illustrations, appeal to a child’s sense of wonder. Suess’s own love of “nonsense” and his liberty with language applied to often taboo topics — from environmental pollution to the Holocaust — and pushed the envelope and built a legacy for himself and millions of readers across generations.

To embrace your inner nonconformist, think about what makes you different. Celebrate the quirky and off-the-charts parts of your personality. Entrepreneurship is a great home for those who don’t fit in with “normal” society. Ask yourself, “Where am I different and special?” and “How can I contribute uniquely? Begin with the end in mind and see your diversity as your edge.

As society faces global challenges, never has there been a greater need for seasoned leaders at the helm than now. Whether you are an empty nester or a sales executive, you have a window into the world that positions you for greater heights. You can bring your wisdom to a new field or start a new business. You’ve already paid the price; now it’s time to unpack your superpowers and realize your dreams.

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