The first thing I learned on my trip to Disneyland last week was this: It’s impossible not to smile on The Matterhorn.
There’s something about hearing the click click click of the sled climbing up the track into the black emptiness of the tunnel. The rest of your senses come alive in the dark—the damp smell of the moat waiting at the bottom, the touch of fear and anticipation of knowing that, after the last click, it’s a free fall plummet into the monster’s lair.
It surprised me that, even as an adult, the exhilaration of the ride gave me a stronger jolt of energy than a bucket of espresso. What surprised me more was that Disneyland was actually living up to its tagline.
What makes Disneyland, “The Happiest Place on Earth?”
Besides the fact that the melody to, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is being broadcasted onto the walkways, it’s that Disneyland lets us step inside a fairytale for a day. We get to feel animated.
Parents who grew up with the same characters and stories now get to watch their children blast off into a dream world with the same joy and wonder they had themselves as kids. It’s a multi-generational playground.
It’s hard to see kids at Disneyland and not feel a little jealous. They gallop towards their favorite characters at full speed, waving autograph books. They twirl in teacups with smiles so wide all the botox in the world couldn’t replicate. Children at Disneyland radiate the pure joy of just being alive. They still have it: Imagination without limitations.
We may think that, as we get older, we lose our sense of wonder. The truth is, most of us just bury it. It gets hidden beneath a pile of realities and expectations—work, school, and, “why didn’t they call me back?”
As we age, we don’t dream—we make goals. Goals that must be, “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.” (our inner child looks at this like a plate of vegetables).
But we still have that unrealistic, childlike magic in us. It just needs to be dug up and dusted off more often.
One person that never let the outside world bury his magic, is the same man that created this magical place—Walt Disney. Besides creating hundreds of beloved characters that generations still share and enjoy, he forever changed the way we tell stories.
Five lessons from Walt and Disneyland to keep dreams BIG and make them a reality:
1) Be a storyteller
It wasn’t enough for Walt Disney to just hand over the scripts he wrote to his team. Once he wrote a story, he would gather all the actors, animators, and anyone that worked for him into a circle and personally act out every scene, read every line, and demonstrate every facial expression he wanted for the characters.
Walt always brought his stories to life for people. He infected them with his own excitement and unwavering belief. True storytellers ignite others imaginations and put people inside their dreams.
2) Find Help
Once you’ve inspired others to share your dreams, enlist them for help. Walt knew from the start that he wasn’t a talented enough animator to take his company where he wanted, so he went out and hired the best in the business.
Walt’s brother Roy was his right-hand man, his business partner, and notorious for trying to talk Walt out of, what turned out to be, his greatest ideas. But every Walt needs a Roy. It was Roy that would point out the reasons something wouldn’t work, which helped Walt see the obstacles before they came along.
Don’t let the naysayers talk you out of your dreams, but having them around can be helpful in pointing out the flaws you haven’t realized yet.
3) Always be “Show Ready”
It’s policy for anyone that works at Disneyland that, once you clock in, you’re on stage. Security guards, restaurant servers, and even ride operators play the part of citizens of “The Happiest Place On Earth.”
This goes with along with the idea of, “being your best self.” When you leave your house in the morning, remember, “It’s showtime!”
4) Take Risks
Before Snow White, there had never been a full-length animated film. Everyone tried to talk Walt out of making it. Halfway through production, he ran out of money and needed financing from outside companies. If the film had failed, it would have bankrupt the company.
There had never been a theme park like Disneyland before. Again, everyone around him said it would be his ruin. But he didn’t listen.
Snow White went on to become one of the most successful films of all time and Disneyland is the most popular theme park in the world. Each year, Disneyland employs thousands, is visited by millions, and brings in billions of dollars.
5) Smile, dammit!
It’s free. It’s contagious. And there’s a ton of info out there on how just the very act of smiling can change your mood. Since we don’t all have The Matterhorn in our backyard, we need to find something else.
Watch a few minutes of stand-up comedy, think about a happy memory, hold a pencil between your nose and upper lip. If those don’t work, try frowning in a mirror for a few minutes and see just how silly you look.
Everyday, remember to dig up your magic and stay animated.