Disney Now and Then: Disney Career Magic

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Back when I auditioned for my first job at Disneyland at the age of 18, a couple things were true about me. I had just graduated high school. I had a list of things I wanted to be when I grew up (and the list changed daily). I wanted to work someplace that made me happy. I ended up working at Disneyland for 5 years. I worked at Disneyland all through my college years (And yes it took me 5 years to finish college without a break because I changed my major 3 times and added a minor due to my ever-changing mind). There was a moment while I was in college that I thought to myself, “Was I an idiot for working at Disneyland? Should I have spent my time starting a career or working someplace a little less fun so that I could get more life experience?”

I laugh out loud as I type those thoughts that passed through my head while I was still in college. You see, here’s what I know for a fact now that I’m 30, no longer working at Disneyland and living on the other side of the country: Getting that job at Disneyland was the best damn choice I ever made.

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Working at Disneyland helped me get through the most difficult part of my childhood. It gave me a workplace that would nurture that smile back on my face after my grandmother passed away. Disneyland gave me permission to feel like a kid. To help make other people happy. To find that pixie dust in life when things get hard. There’s no way that I knew at the age of 18, that Disneyland would cram more life experience into my life than most of the jobs I would ever have. All I knew at the time, was that I left work every single day with a smile on my face and a really fun story that I couldn’t wait to share with my family at the dinner table.

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Post-college and post-Disneyland I wanted to pursue a life of theatre. As the adorable Pinocchio once said, it was all about “An actor’s life for me.” My love of being in front of crowds at Disneyland translated to me being in numerous theatre productions before landing work behind-the-scenes. I had always dreamed of working in theatre in New York. To take that first step, I made a temporary move to Boise, Idaho to save money where I lived for a year before moving to New York. I took on a job at Directv that I never in a million years would’ve imagined I would have. I went from hanging out with Mickey Mouse to hanging out on the phone with angry NFL fans screaming at me because their NFL Sunday Ticket channel was blacked out during the big game. I cried at my desk numerous times, and would frantically spend my afternoons looking up harassment policies while on a call so that I could have documented proof on my screened calls to pass the calls off to a manager. I ended up getting promoted. If you’ve ever called Directv to cancel your service, you’ve probably chatted with me. I was so good that I once convinced a guy who was cancelling service because he was getting a divorce, that he should keep the service because he shouldn’t also have to miss out on great television. Yes, I sold my soul for a year. However, I’m telling you all of this because my co-workers always pointed out how goofy I was. They liked talking to me. At the end of the day, my Disney personality got me through one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had.

After I survived talking on the phone with some of the worst people on the planet for a year, I made the move to New York. And it was amazing and energizing and so damn cool and wait a second where the hell is Disney stuff?? Yes, I knew that I could never go to Disneyland in New York. But I didn’t realize how little Disney magic existed out there. The Disney store in Times Square is packed with tourists and they tore down the amazing location on Madison Avenue that used to have character meet n’ greets. But none of it mattered because I was out there to pursue theatre! And that’s exactly what I did. In 3 years in New York, I wrote 1 play, 1 musical and 1 cabaret show. All 3 got produced on a New York stage. I’m a billionaire now (kidding). And now I’m sitting in my tiny closet-sized Brooklyn apartment and here’s what I can honestly tell you, it does matter. It absolutely matters that I can’t get enough Disney in my life out here. I wish that that wasn’t true. It sounds ridiculous to say, “I need to leave New York because I have to be closer to Disneyland.”

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But it’s not as ridiculous as you think, Disneyland is a part of who I am. That’s the truth of it. When I was 18, I made a decision that my job should make me happy. That’s a big choice for a kid. I chose to put lifelong happiness before the cliché work responsibility of, “Your job should make you miserable.” Choosing Disneyland meant choosing magic. In New York, I feel like my personality has been suffocated. I don’t wear bright colors because in New York, you have to keep your head down and remain invisible. I tuck my platinum blonde hair into a beanie so that I don’t hear disgusting comments from people on the train, and my laugh lines have faded and I’ve developed frown lines and a crease between my eyebrows from furrowing my brow. I have found a way to survive out here. I was Barry Manilow’s dog sitter, I solicited donations for the 9/11 Memorial and I currently am the cleaning lady of the dressing rooms for a Broadway theater. I have enough work stories from the past 3 years to fill an interesting interview on the Conan couch someday, but none of it compares to the magic and happiness I gained working at Disney.

It’s a new year. We’re all going to make resolutions, and if you’re reading this, chances are you’re also a huge fan of Disneyland. So go right now with your friends and family. Ever dreamed of working there? Go do it! You’ll love it! No matter where you end up, you absolutely have to seek happiness. Don’t let anyone tell you that your job is just your day job if it is in fact the job that brings you the most gusto for life. Chase your dreams. I left Neverland for a few years to return to the nursery, and I’m finding that being a full-time grownup is quite dull. There is that place between childhood and adulthood. That place for me, is Disneyland. Let’s see what new adventures I can stir up in 2016. Happy New Year, everyone!

Erika Jenko
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Posted on January 5, 2016, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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