“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford
Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something? That you were incapable of achieving a particular goal or dream?
Unfortunately, by the time most of us reach adulthood, this has happened more times than we can count. And though deep down we know we shouldn’t pay attention to this negativity, it’s human nature to take it to heart. Meaning that over time, most of us tend to reduce the size and scope of our hopes and dreams, out of fear of being told by someone else that they’re never going to happen.
Well, speaking from many years of experience, I am here to tell you otherwise. My whole life has been filled with others telling me that my dreams were unobtainable. That I’d never get my dream job at Disney. That I’d never move to America. That I couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that for reasons x, y, and z.
Though there were times where I wanted to give in to the negativity, I ultimately chose to persevere. To push past the doubters and the naysayers. And guess what? All those dreams that others said were impossible…they came true. And it was all thanks to life’s greatest skill: perseverance.
27 Calls in 27 Days
Nearly 30 years ago, I began my professional career with the International College Program at The Walt Disney Company. This program was a dream come true, giving me the opportunity to go to America and learn the ropes at what I considered then – and still consider today – to be the world’s most creative company.
Unfortunately, the program only ran for 12 months, and before I knew it I was back on a flight to London. Disappointed but not deterred, by the time I landed at Heathrow, I already had a plan to make it back to the States, and back to the hallowed halls of Disney.
Excited, I shared my plan with friends and family, most of whom had well-intentioned but misguided advice and comments. Do you know how hard it is to get a work visa in America? Do you know how selective the Walt Disney Company is? Do you really think you’re going to stand out among the tens of thousands of people that apply for jobs there each and every year?
Fortunately, I was too young and too determined to listen. Instead, I decided to persevere and persist. In this case, perseverance came in the form of 27 calls to The Walt Disney Company in the span of 27 straight days. Eventually, I wore down the gatekeepers, got the right person on the phone, and shortly thereafter found myself with an entry-level position in the PR Department for Disney Parks.
I was in the door. Now I just needed to earn my keep.
From Whipped Foam to The White House
Having persisted my way onto the Disney PR Team, my first role was that of a glorified barista. My boss, Tony Altobelli, was a true caffeine fiend, and I quickly learned that much of my day would be taken up by fetching six cappuccinos for him. And when I wasn’t ensuring that the amount of foam was just right, I was fighting off papercuts while collating 50 press kits a day.
Once again, the negative feedback worked its way into my life. Why are you spending your time getting coffee for someone? You have a college degree! Do you really think being a glorified assistant is going to lead to a real career? You could do so many great things with your life!
And once again, I had a choice. Do I listen, give in, and renounce my dreams of Disney and life in America? Or do I persevere and soldier on in pursuit of my goals?
I am so fortunate to say that I made the right choice, and continued on my journey towards those dreams. Though it didn’t happen overnight, step-by-step I inched my way closer to the life I always wanted, eventually landing the role of Director of PR for Disney Parks, and becoming a United States Citizen.
And my dedication to Disney and life in America paid off in other ways too, including an award presented to me by none other than President George Bush during a ceremony at the most iconic building in American: The White House.
From fetching whipped foam to receiving an award at The White House, my perseverance took me further than I ever could have dreamed.
Who’s to Say Buzz Lightyear Can’t Fly?
Of course, even upon achieving my lifelong dreams of a career at Disney and American citizenship – as well as the added bonus of a Presidential award – I still found myself in situations where others told me something couldn’t be done.
By this point in my life, I had become accustomed to this type of response, and knew the best answer in the face doubt and negativity was to persevere.
Take for instance the time I helped Buzz Lightyear achieve his own lifelong dream of learning to fly. He was a toy, of course, but as part of the opening press campaign for the new Toy Story Land at Disney World, I felt it appropriate to find a way to help Buzz fly. And how do you get a spaceman to fly?
Why, you put him on the Space Shuttle!
Of course, I had absolutely no idea how we’d get it done. And more than a few people told me that I was crazy, and that there was no way NASA would ever allow a Buzz Lightyear toy to hitch a ride on a $450 million Space Shuttle mission. But my team and I chose to persevere, working countless angles and strategies until we ultimately reached a partnership with NASA to send Buzz Lightyear to the International Space Station, where he served a full 18 months, and in the process broke the record for the longest single trip to space.
It was this same perseverance that came in handy when we decided that the best way to celebrate Michael Phelps’ Olympic victory visit to Disneyland was to build him an Olympic size swimming pool right on Main Street U.S.A. A pool that had to be constructed and filled in a mere 36 hours.
Of course, no one on our team had ever accomplished such a feat, and it would have been easy (and even understandable) to throw our hands up and say, “It can’t be done!” But instead, we chose to persevere in the face of uncertainty, finding the tools, people, materials, and most importantly, confidence to press on. And sure enough, by the time Phelps arrived with his Olympic teammates, a beautiful, Disney-branded Olympic swimming pool sat right there in the center of Main Street.
Keep Buggering On
Winston Churchill famously ended each telephone conversation with a single phrase: “Keep buggering on.”
In his own unique way, Churchill used this phrase to encourage everyone around him to persevere. To not back down in the face of challenges and adversity. To ignore those that doubt you, or tell you it cannot be done.
My whole life has been an exercise in “buggering on.” From obtaining my dream job to building swimming pools overnight and sending beloved characters into space, all of my favourite moments and memories are those where others had told me it couldn’t be done. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when you choose to persevere, life becomes limited only by your own imagination.
Or better put…when in doubt, keep buggering on.