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Dad, We Like You Better At Disney

My wife, Melanie, and I recently took our three young children (ages 8, 6, and 3) to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, for summer vacation – three days at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” It was an amazing adventure filled with laughter, smiles, tons of rides (my personal favorites were Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad), and very happy children and parents. If you’ve visited an amusement park in the summer months, you know first hand that each visit comes with plenty of time to hangout with family and friends (this is code for “standing in line”). I came home wiser for the experience and wanted to share some thoughts with you.

Call it a vision. Call it a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). Call it what you will, but the story of how Walt Disney created his magic kingdom is amazing and the magic he brought to millions of people worldwide is truly inspiring. I think there’s a lesson here for all of us. I know there were one or two for me. First, I’ll give you a little background.

Walt Disney’s path to entertainment giant and international icon wasn’t easy. And neither was the path to building Disneyland… but it is pretty interesting. Walt bought land amidst the strawberry farms in Anaheim despite much public rebuke. And when Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, opening day was such a disaster, insiders later referred to it as Black Sunday.

A plumbing strike had forced a choice between running toilets or drinking fountains. Walt chose properly functioning toilets over drinking fountains and then woke to scorching temperatures. His carefully planned invitation-only event for 11,000 quickly turned into 28,000 with counterfeit tickets. Recently poured asphalt wasn’t dry by opening and women’s heels sank into the streets and pathways. A gas leak forced the closure of Adventureland, Frontierland, and Fantasyland, making it impossible for guests to enjoy most of the park. In other words, opening day at Disneyland was less about magic and more about malfunction.

Walt was no stranger to adversity – filing for bankruptcy earlier in his career was just one bump in the road. But through it all, he remained true to his vision. What began with a disastrous start eventually became the Magic Kingdom we all know and love. Folks, Walt Disney created IMPACT.

Last week, I spent some of our waiting time pondering the magic around me. How did he do it? How did he build something that has given such joy to so many millions for so many years? In other words, how could this man have created an environment so magical that people willingly wait in line for an hour or more just to enjoy a 2-minute ride, and then declare his creation, the happiest place on earth?

It took no more than two young boys to show me how it was done. My sons, Luke and Brady, gave me the answer to my question and I’d like to pass it along to you.

There I was on day two, standing in a long line with my boys who were dying to go on Splash Mountain. It was about a sixty-minute wait and our fifth ride of the day. Everyone’s patience was wearing thin, so we agreed it was an excellent time for rock-paper-scissors. Many games later, we were ready for the BIG GAME. The winner would be the Rock-Paper-Scissors Champion.

Just then, my eight-year old son, Luke, stops, looks at me, and says, “Dad, we like you better at Disney.”

I laughed and thought, “My kids like me better at Disney. What’s that supposed to mean?”

So I asked, “What do you mean by that? And what do you mean by ‘we’? Is there some kind of conspiracy here?”

Luke explained, “Well Dad, you’ve been playing ever since we got here. All the rides, the lines, the swimming pool at the hotel… You’ve been a ton of fun. We like you better at Disney!”

I immediately thought, “Man, am I not fun at home? Do I not play like this at work or home?”

Sadly, the answer was NO. I knew the kind of play Luke was talking about – freewheeling, no holes barred, all out fun. I don’t play like that at work or at home. The boys were right; I was more fun at Disney. I need to PLAY MORE.

Right in front of me… there was the answer to my question. Walt Disney believed in PLAY. He actually designed and built Disneyland to be all about PLAY. Before Disneyland was built, he made movies and the park was envisioned as a place where Walt’s own employees could play with their children. It all came together for me… PLAY is the key to the magic kingdom.

Sure, we all know everyday can’t be vacation, a trip to Disneyland, or even the rock-paper-scissors championship. But Walt had it right. Play fuels our work. It was his commitment to play that allowed him to achieve his life’s work – to realize his vision.

We’ve all got to PLAY MORE. Play to connect with those around us. Play to tap into our imagination. Play to express what’s in our heart. And when we do, we’ll find the magic just like Walt did.

So thank you Luke, and thank you Brady for reminding Daddy that I really am “better at Disney.” And thank you Walt Disney for the IMPACT of a lasting memory. I will never forget our rock-paper-scissors championship and how one simple comment from my kids could teach me such an important life lesson. It was the best part of my entire vacation and I wanted to share it with you my friends… Have a strong vision. PLAY with passion. LIVE with purpose. And create IMPACT everyday!

Peace and love,


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