30 Days of Disneyland – Day 21

Since experiencing Disneyland from the objective perspective has grown stale, lately I’ve been viewing it through the subjective lens and pondering the events there more symbolically. When I do this, I usually pay attention to whatever seems to stand out in my mind.

Broken Systems

In the past few days, Rachelle and I have encountered a lot of rides breaking down. At one point yesterday, it seemed like almost half of the rides at the California Adventure park were non-operational. Maybe the holiday weekend strained their systems more than usual.

After spending three full weeks at Disneyland, I’ve also seen how often the human side of their system breaks down. Yesterday I observed one visitor at the Tower of Terror ride getting frustrated because the ride operator kept giving him conflicting directions about which line to get in (at the point where the main line splits before people board the ride). I spoke to the man briefly to acknowledge his obvious frustration and the way he was being treated. He noted that it seemed like no one was in charge. That’s an interesting observation to interpret subjectively – a broken system with no leader.

Cast Members

For decades Disneyland has maintained a tradition of referring to its employees as cast members. I suppose they do this to remind their employees to be actor-like and play their assigned roles to create a certain type of experience for the visitors. But the word cast has other meanings that seem just as suitable for employees, as in “cast in stone” or a plaster covering to hold a broken limb stationary. If you’re a cast member, this could also mean that you’re trapped or stuck, as if you’ve been poured into a mold and expected to harden there. To regain your freedom, you’ll have to remove the cast.

In this sense Disneyland is a reflection of the larger reality. We’re all noticing the rudderless, broken systems that blanket much of the modern world, yet we still show up and subject ourselves to them. We still pour ourselves into the casts necessary for those systems to keep working, even though we all know it’s a fake way to explore and experience reality together.

Perhaps it’s even worse to tie one’s livelihood into a being an obedient cast member in a broken system. Even though I’m paying for this experience instead of being paid, it’s temporary, and it’s by choice. On Day 31 I’ll be driving home. But what if I’d made myself dependent on playing such a role? What if I fell into that trap? That would make it much harder to remove the cast.


What about all the other broken systems in our lives? For a broken system to keep operating, people have to keep participating. If no one went to Disneyland or if no one was willing to work there, it would have to shut down, and the space would eventually be repurposed for something else.

That said, the reason we keep using broken systems is that we haven’t replaced them with anything better yet. Disneyland has many flaws, but it still generally functions, and it performs a purpose. It isn’t a perfect experience, and it can be frustrating sometimes, but if you’re in the mood for a day of fun and fantasy in Southern California, it’s a decent choice. If there were a clearly better option in this market, it would replace Disneyland.

I’ve been going to Disneyland since the 1970s, so I’ve seen the park evolve a lot during the past few decades. I still see the skeletons of old rides like the PeopleMover. What used to be a ride called Mission to Mars is now a pizza and pasta eatery. Michael Jackson’s Captain EO theater now shows a Star Wars promo video. Space Mountain was rebranded with a Star Wars theme, now called Hyperspace Mountain. The old submarine ride was rebranded with a Little Nemo theme. The Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover at this time of year. The Main Street parade is filled with Pixar characters alongside the Disney princesses. The Autotopia is sponsored by Honda, and all the cars have Honda emblems on them. Disneyland is also in the process of building a new Star Wars Land.

I remember when Tomorrowland had a theme of inspiring people with a vision of the future. Now it seems like Disney’s vision of the future is a combination of Star Wars and Buzz Lightyear. You can still experience the carcass of that vision by riding the monorail, which was once promoted as the future of public transportation.

Dealing with Flawed Systems

While I can point out many notable flaws in Disneyland’s systems, I can also note that the system generally works, and it continues to evolve. It’s a human system, and human systems are imperfect.

When you encounter a flawed human system, you have a variety of options for how to deal with it:

  • Accept it as good enough, and participate in it
  • Complain about it, and grudgingly participate in it anyway
  • Withdraw from it and decline to participate
  • Work on improving it
  • Work on replacing it

For my Disneyland experience, I’m mainly applying the first option during these 30 days, although sometimes I drift into the second one. I see that the system is flawed, and I’m temporarily choosing to participate in it anyway. After these 30 days are up, I expect to shift to the third option, and I’ll simply decline to participate in Disneyland for a while.

With other systems I use different strategies. For instance, I don’t participate in political elections and never have. I’ve never registered to vote, and no argument has persuaded me to do otherwise. I’m not working on anything to replace this system either. I have only a basic understanding of political systems, and working on replacing such a system doesn’t align with my strengths, knowledge, or interests. So this particular system isn’t a priority for me. That could change of course.

I am, however, very good at helping people navigate tricky lifestyle transitions, especially those who want to quit disempowering jobs, so they can do purposeful work and enjoy more fulfilling lives, especially lives that include rich and meaningful relationships with like-minded people. I’ve replaced this system in my own life with one that works better, and I enjoy helping others who find themselves on a similar journey. This is an area where I have a lot more knowledge, skill, and passion. I also have more leverage here since I can help a lot of people over a long period of time. By working on one of the broken systems where I can actually have a positive and meaningful impact, I’m able to create many more ripples than if I wasted my energy complaining about the world’s brokenness and not doing anything about it.

There are numerous broken systems in the world, and they keep running because people keep participating. Certainly there are many issues involved, including resistance and dishonesty from those who want to keep the broken systems running, such as for personal gain or due to fear of change. But complaining about what isn’t working isn’t going to help much. We also need to keep moving the needle forward by improving and replacing old systems. Otherwise the old systems will keep right on running.

Disneyland itself is a reflection of this. The old rides keep running, even dysfunctionally at times, until they’re replaced. Disney couldn’t fix every broken subsystem overnight even if the CEO demanded it. They can’t even keep all the rides running consistently. So they have to pick their battles. And from my perspective as a visitor to the park, it seems like their current priority is to do a better job of leveraging their Star Wars property. Objectively we might say that Star Wars is a very valuable property indeed and that Disney wants to milk it to make more money. But a subjective interpretation could be that the world needs more of us to become Jedis and use the force.

Focus on Creating a Better Experience

We all encounter broken systems, and sometimes they drag us down. That’s okay. Let that drag factor be there. It supposed to be irritating, so it will wake us up to the possibility of creating something better. Don’t wallow endlessly in the irritation of the itch, however. Scratch it.

You can scratch that itch by delving into acceptance and letting go of resistance. You can scratch that itch by getting riled up, so you’ll go out and create some positive changes. Or you can do your best to ignore it, especially if other areas are itching even more, and you want to scratch those first.

One of the itches in the world that I like to scratch is helping people add more capacity to their conscious growth journeys. When I see people in their 20s and even in their teen years waking up and wanting to change the world, I feel inspired. I want to help clear obstacles out of their way. I want to help them avoid traps that have snagged me and many others on this path. I want to help them achieve more lifestyle independence, so they have the freedom to explore this journey for themselves. I want to shower them with hugs and encouragement. I want to share my own best lessons and advice with them. I want to nudge them away from fear and towards courage. And I especially want to help them connect with each other, so they can inspire each other even more.

When I see someone who wants to step up and help create positive change, but they’re being disempowered by broken systems and dysfunctional social circles that don’t understand them, that’s an itch that I can’t ignore, and it’s also an itch that I can scratch. That’s the sweet spot of a life purpose – finding an itch that bothers you but which you can also scratch.

There are some itches that you can’t scratch right now. There are other patches that other people find itchy, but they don’t seem to bother you. But you’re sure to find some itches that you can scratch, at least in some small way. In the beginning they may simply be personal itches, and after you scratch those, you may build the capacity to scratch larger societal itches as well.

If you wear a cast for too long, the skin under that cast will get itchy. Scratching that itch can help, but eventually you’ll want to remove the cast as well. The skin underneath will be a bit sensitive at first, but in the long run, you’ll really appreciate life without the cast.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site stevepavlina.com and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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