Failing Gracefully

Patti Gilchrist, PMP, is a Senior Technical Manager with more than 20 years of IT experience. Visit her website at

Before achieving fame, fortune and worldwide success, Walt Disney suffered a series of failures and even bankruptcy throughout his career. Early in his career, Walt was fired by a newspaper editor because he “lacked imagination and had no original ideas.”   

In 1927, MGM studios rejected Mickey Mouse, telling Walt his idea would never work--a giant mouse on the screen would terrify women (Stephen Schochet , “Walt Disney's Failures Could Inspire Entrepreneurs”). At one point in his life, Walt was so down on his luck and broke that he actually had to eat dog food to survive.

All of us have failed at some point in our lives and careers. Many project managers have experienced failed projects throughout their careers and have figuratively “been in the dog house” having to justify the reasons for project failure and having to beg for their next scrap of a project.

As unpleasant and perhaps unequivocally depressing as failure is, particularly while one is experiencing it, failure has its rewards. In fact, many experts offer the inspirational vision that failure is a gift, and psychologists propose that failure is ultimately an enabler of success. Past failures present lessons that--when comprehended--create conceptual paths for future improvement.

While Walt was suffering from these events throughout his life, it …

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"This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."

- Douglas Adams