When I learned I would be interning at Disney World for the summer two years ago I became ecstatic. It was easily the best day of my life up until that moment because I knew how prestigious the Disney College Program was to get into.
I read about how they only accept 5,000 out of 30,000 applicants, and how most interns come from all over the world to live at Disney for months on end.
Working at Disney is no joke. It's actually a downright privilege for college students to be able to put it on their resume. I'll tell you one thing, I learned a lot from working for the mouse, and in a lot of ways working for this amazing company kind of spoiled me from there on out.
It spoiled me because now I was used to the amazing procedures, policies, and ideals of a Fortune 500 company. I actually consider The Walt Disney Company as the best company in America, and I believe that every business can learn a lot from their example. Here are a few lessons I learned from working for the mouse.
1. Sacrifice Now To Gain Later
Working at Disney isn't all fairy dust and pirate ships. I worked at a restaurant, and there were a few times when our kitchen got backed up so badly that customers started to complain. Sometimes I couldn't even see the end of the line from where I was serving the food.
Disney empowered us to make sure that whenever a guest was upset about something, we make amends for it. Sometimes when a guest was waiting for too long we would compensate them with a free dessert or two. One time I saw a woman's attitude completely change when I offered her a few free desserts. It also wasn't uncommon for our managers to step in and bring out the big guns by giving a refund in particularly dire circumstances.
The point is that Disney understood that taking a loss on something in the present would make up for a mistake and keep the customer happy. This would keep them coming back to Disney World later on and even spur them to tell their friends about what happened.
2. Make Magic
One morning during Star Wars weekend my manager pulled me aside and asked me to do something before opening up the restaurant. She told me to find a child, preferably wearing Star Wars gear, and usher them up to the front of the restaurant. It was there that the child should raise their hands and act like they were using the force. She assured me that she would take care of the rest.
So I did what she told me, and the child, along with his parents, stood in front of the restaurant looking at me for next instructions. When he did use the force, all the metal windows to the shop opened up on their own--making it look like he was using the force. In the middle was a cupcake for the child.
I'll always remember that day.
3. Have a Lot Fun
There used to be a lot of talk about being "Show Ready" at Disney. This means that the company considered the parks to be the stage and the workers to be the entertainers. Whenever we worked we were always on stage. Because of this I never thought of myself as just a fast-food worker, I was someone that could entertain just like Darth Vader was doing in his "lair" across the way.
One fall day during the less busy season my coordinator came up to me and gave me some chalk. She told me to go out on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant to draw a game of hopscotch.
I had different plans.
One of my best friends and I decided to go out and start drawing Disney characters on the sidewalk instead. After five minutes of drawing, we both looked up to see multiple kids with their parents staring at what we were doing. My friend and I looked at each other and then asked these young ones if they wanted to join in to draw.
They did. And when they did everybody else wanted to join in too. It was like my friend and I were running a small day care center in the middle of Hollywood Studios. I'll always remember that day as one of my favorite days ever at Walt Disney World.
4. Think of Everyone
I was always amazed at how accommodating Disney really is--especially for those handicapped guests that make their way into the parks every day. Think about it--there aren't too many people that come in wheelchairs to the Disney Parks, yet Disney always molds their rides and restaurants to accommodate, whether that's having an elevator in the waiting line or a lower counter top at the restaurants.
But that's not it. During my Disney College Program I met people from all over the world. I thought I traveled far by flying 900 miles to Orlando, but some of my peers had traveled from across the world to work in Florida. I think that diversity is such an important thing. It's important to think of absolutely everyone in work as well as in life.
It's such a typical last point, but trust me on this. Working at Disney taught me to dream. Before I got into the program I was a kid in Pennsylvania where it was only sunny ten days out of the month, and it was only warm three months out of the year. Working at Disney seemed like some fantasy that every college kid wanted, but, because competition was so fierce, would never be able to get.
I studied every interview question and dreamed in class about what it might be like--with no honest belief that anything would actually happen.
Then I got the news that I had been accepted, and it was the best day of my life. I realized that day that dreams can come true when you work hard enough and believe.
We live in a dark world that puts down anybody with a dream. It makes fun of anybody that believes in pixie dust or magic--but I'm here to tell you that the only way to accomplish anything of value is to leave them where they are and let your dreams take flight.
You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.