A year ago today, actually at the exact time this post is being published (8:30 AM), I checked into my Disney College Program. As many of you know, choosing to do the DCP was the easiest and hardest decision I had ever made in my life. I had dreamed of the DCP for so long that when I saw my email saying I was accepted, I knew I was doing it because if I didn’t, I’d always wonder what if I had. Still, I had to make the very scary decision to move off of my clear-cut path and take a risk. I am so grateful that I did, but I’ve talked about my gratitude for the program before– that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the lessons I learned from living at Disney World for five months.
- Everyone has their own unique life path that works for them. Don’t judge others, especially when you don’t know their story. Coming from a background of private high school in New York City and then attending Georgetown, I always saw people with similar life paths of good college, good job, and comfortable lifestyle. To me, that seemed like the only life path that would lead to a good life but while at Disney, I saw things differently. People had different goals than me, they had different experiences, and maybe, they didn’t even want to take the straight path that I was glued to pursuing. And, they were happy with their lives and with their paths. I had been conditioned to raise an eyebrow whenever someone diverged off the path, but here, I saw that there truly is not one perfect life path.
- The smallest acts of kindness make the biggest difference in someone’s else life. Last Easter, I freaked out in the work locker-room as I realized I only had one sock for my costume. I told my leader and she angrily told me to go to costuming to get another pair: the costuming building closed in 10 minutes and I was approximately 15 minutes away from it. I didn’t cry, but I got close to it, when a friend ran into me in the hallway and ran to his locker to get a pair of socks. It was such a small act of kindness, it took him an extra five minutes to help me out, but I still remember it and hold it as one of the kindest things someone has done for me. He had no obligation to help me out– I didn’t ask him to, I told him my situation in passing, but he helped. And, it’s those little moments that make a big difference.
- If you wake up every morning believing it’s going to be a good day, it will be. This is a lesson I feel often lose at school as I find myself encompassed in stress culture, but every shift at Disney was not easy. There were some days where I woke up feeling sick and tired– during spring break, I was working twelve to fourteen hours every day and I did not have a day off for about sixteen days. Those days were hard but if I went into the shifts with a smile and the idea that I would have a good day at work, the day was so much better than the days where I went in immediately counting down till I could go home and dreading every guest interaction (and yes, these days also happened). The days where I went in believing it was a good day, I found myself focusing and appreciating the good more: the laugh with a coworker, an adorable guest, and all the little details, like the joy of walking across Main Street in the middle of the day to the theme from Up.
- Being your own friend isn’t sad, it’s a great thing. I have always been afraid of being alone: I skipped countless meals freshmen year because I didn’t want to sit in the dining hall by myself (and I didn’t understand the take-out system). When I was at Disney, I decided to defy that fear of being alone a bit: I spent my first two days off exploring all the parks by myself. I booked a breakfast at Be Our Guest for one. I spent days by the pool only with a book as my company. These moments alone were terrifying at first, but then I realized, I enjoy my own company. I was always regretful of missing out on experiences because I didn’t have someone to go with: when I befriended myself, I finally had someone who I could always count on to be down for an adventure. It’s freeing now, being able to make my own plans without concern if anyone else is interested or around.
- It’s okay to show who you truly are inside, flaws and all. Real friends will love you for them, not in spite of them. The idea for this blog originally formed at Disney when a new friend opened up about her experiences with anxiety following a tragedy in her life. I was shocked at first: mental health was a topic that no one I knew really talked about, especially not quite so personally and openly. But, hearing her truth and seeing this vulnerability made me love her dearly and feel so connected. Throughout my program, I had similar experiences with friends, where they would break down and have to explain what was happening or just share about a struggle they’d been going through. No one judged or turned away, as I had always feared, but rather, we embraced each other for it. We built each other up, but were also willing to pick up the rubble together if it all came falling down. We supported each other in times of difficulty and this level of connection and support was only possible because of this intense level of vulnerability and transparency.
If you’re just starting your college program now, good luck. You’re about to go on the adventure of a lifetime– enjoy every second of it and embrace every opportunity that’s about to be presented to you. You never know what this program may do for you. I never expected that the Disney College Program would give me the lifelong friends I have nor the poignant life lessons, but I am blessed that it did. Let yourself be swept away by the magic of this place and know that even when your program will sadly come to an end, that magic is always part of you now. You never lose the little bit of pixie dust that makes you fly.