July 2014

 

If you’d asked me 12 months earlier, I’d have referred to myself as a “Designer.” I was knee-deep in my internship at The Second City, and loving every moment of zaniness it presented to me. I was also putting out branding suites for Harvard College Faith & Action, my own freelance shop, and preparing to take on a couple of wedding design gigs.

Then Disney happened.

Okay, I love being dramatic. I don’t mean, the Disney internship fell into my lap – I mean, I did actively pursue it. People I speak to regularly might even say that I was obsessed with getting it. So at some level, I knew even then that I wasn’t just a designer, since the gig that I really wanted (and ended up getting) was one in media relations & issues management, not in graphic design. The job description sounded challenging, which made me want it even more. So what changed?

I guess I knew that at some point, I had to diversify. Design has never been my only skill, although it was one I had the most fun with. I realized, however, that the projects I loved most continued to be the ones I could build and manage on my own. And then it became clear – I loved challenge. I loved planning and managing as much as I loved design. I was happiest in gigs that could stretch me and allow me to think strategically. This was an important realization for me, and one that allowed me to learn as much as I did at Disney. Because I felt like the skills I needed to succeed at this internship didn’t come as naturally – writing, for instance, and research – I knew I had to work twice as hard. I asked questions, read up extensively, and tried not to be daunted by expectations. And occasionally, I volunteered my design skills. I’d say that it is entirely to my team’s credit that they took a chance on someone whose latest job on their resume was a design one. I wonder what they saw in my application – I still wonder – but I couldn’t be more grateful.

“Because I felt like the skills I needed to succeed at this internship didn’t come as naturally – writing, for instance, and research – I knew I had to work twice as hard.”

And then I fell in love with it all – the thrill and gravity of managing important issues, the fast-paced nature of problem-solving in a business context, the exhilaration of being “on the ground.” The writing got easier, I gradually gained the trust of my team, and I found opportunities to put in my two cents. My strong software skills – the ones honed by years of graphic design – even made me a technical resource. At the same time, I saw how members of my team (they have, combined, more than 100 years of expertise) managed complex situations with confidence and ease. Proverbial teddy bear clutched to my chest, I wanted to be like them someday. 

I think I finally have some semblance of clarity: an understanding of visual communication, i.e. design, can only make me a more well-rounded communications professional. Those skills don’t run counter to my career; They serve to enhance it. The more tools I can put on the table for any future employer, the better off I will be.

So what do I call myself now? I don’t know. I still design. I also write. I have planning skills. I can’t ignore the fact that I will be a civil servant soon. I guess I’ll leave it open-ended for now. :)

 

This blog post was originally written for Northwestern University’s EPICS Blog.

Walt Disney famously said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” For me, picking up and leaving Evanston had been one of the most intimidating things I’d ever had to do. But doing it led to one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in my life – interning for Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Team-Disney

Since I’ve been here, many of my friends have asked me what is like working for Disney. “For one, I never have to explain what the company does,” is what I usually say. In truth though, I’ve been having a blast. As part of the External Communications team, I’ve been actively engaged in writing, research, and content planning – all the things that make up a solid media relations internship.

But what’s made my time here truly one-of-a-kind has been the opportunity to be part of such an incredible variety of meaningful experiences: I’ve produced a video featuring Disney employees (here called Cast Members) talking about their moms. I’ve assisted in a live broadcast of Good Morning America. I’ve written a story that got picked up by a local TV channel about Princess Belle reading to preschoolers. I even helped build a neighborhood playground as a Disney VoluntEAR. And, as of earlier this month, I can officially count myself one of the first to ride Magic Kingdom’s highly anticipated newest attraction, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, as part of an international press event attended by more than 250 media.

“The one thing that ties it all together is the desire to tell compelling stories with humor and heart. This… is the driving force of what Disney does.” 

I suppose the one thing that ties it all together is the desire to tell compelling stories with humor and heart. This principle is the driving force of what Disney does, and stems the legacy Walt himself left behind. For me, it meant learning early on how to write a press release or a Facebook post with an understanding of what moves people. Here, the power of a good story is never underestimated.

One last thing – I’ve found it amazing how easy it is to reach out to other Cast Members, despite the company’s sheer size. In fact, it is part of the corporate culture to allow for opportunities to meet other professionals, something I’ve seen people do with much enthusiasm. After all, the range of roles at Disney is so broad and diverse that there is great deal of interest in what others do. There is almost a sense of kinship in the way people within Disney regard each other – I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Ultimately, my time at Disney has been immensely energizing, and an unmatched experience. There is just so much to learn here, and the best part is, your work makes a real difference, both within the company and out in the community. I suppose it isn’t unexpected that Walt Disney himself said it best:

“Most of my life I have done what I wanted to do. I have had fun on the job.”

 

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