How I Learned to be Calm in the Chaos
Let me tell you a story about some life changing advice I received from a manager early on in my career.
Setting the stage, again this goes back to my first years at Disneyland. I was a young, aspiring 19-year-old Cast Member who was learning the ropes in a new Lead position. Now, I don’t mean to shock you, but even at the Happiest Place on Earth, occasionally everything that could go wrong would go wrong. The story I’m about to share was certainly one of those nights.
It was a hot summer evening. The day had been a sweltering 93 degrees. We were all working six days a week during one of the busier times of the year. Disneyland was near capacity with its number of Guests. People were exhausted toward the end of their day, but still trying to enjoy those last memory making moments. It was 11:50 pm and the park was closing in 10 minutes. I was preparing for my closing routine when suddenly the calmness of the end of the night quickly turned to chaos.
It started with a radio call stating that the Peter Pan attraction was “down,” and no longer operating due to technical difficulties. Two minutes later I heard a radio call that Alice in Wonderland suffered a similar fate. To put the icing on the cake, about a minute after Alice, The Matterhorn chose to quit. Three favorite attractions unexpectedly stopped operating within minutes. These attraction “downtimes” required the assistance of numerous Cast Members; Cast Members that I soon would be losing since it was the end of their shift. Peter Pan would need five Cast Members to get those pirate ships flying again. Alice would take at least three Cast Members to get the caterpillars crawling once more. The Matterhorn would take the most people, including the attention of my manager. The numbers were adding up for the help I needed, but the Cast Members were quickly disappearing. I attempted to make a plan, call for back-up, and get everything squared away.
The thing is, the whole time I was handling these “downtimes,” I really wasn’t smiling, which for those of you who know me, is not common.
I was walking very quickly from one attraction to the next. I was talking and delegating even faster than normal. I was mimicking what I saw other leaders do in stressful situations; rush, fix, rush, and fix.
Almost 45 minutes had gone by evacuating the attractions, ensuring guests were safe, and resolving numerous Guest complaints. My well-rehearsed closing routine that I had been practicing as a new Lead all summer long had finally met its match. If you couldn’t tell, this was the first time I had experienced multiple attractions having technical difficulties at the same time, and I simply felt exhausted. I felt like I didn’t do right by my Cast who expected my bubbly demeanor at every moment. I felt like I failed the Guests because their last memory of the night was waiting for Cast Members to evacuate them off the ride. They were tired and just wanted to get some sleep, and my attractions failed them.
Before I could realize, it was close to 1:00 am when my manager and I were standing in an empty Fantasyland next to the iconic King Arthur Carrousel. All the Guests had left, and the Cast had gone home. It was quiet as we stood. My manager then looked at me with a smile, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, the Park will open, and the Park will close.” I just paused. What I heard was a revelation. That is the exact sentiment I had been missing that last hour. It was so calming and so matter of fact.
That last hour of the night I was rushing around trying to get everything done as quickly as possible, but I forgot two things. I forgot to remain calm, and I forgot the bigger picture. Having my manager say that phrase put everything quickly in perspective for me. That phrase made me feel like everything will always end up being okay.
What I hope you get from this story is that there will always be an end to the madness. We just have to do our best to calmly get through it. Especially as leaders, we need to provide a calm environment for our teams as we navigate a challenging situation. If we are stressed, how can they be calm? The actions we take will be reflected by our team. As leaders, we need to focus on our actions, one step at a time, and help our team navigate the moment the best they can, as peacefully as they can.
What my manager said to me that night forever changed how I handle difficult situations. From that night, I cultivated the ability to stay calm, and focus on the bigger picture.
I hope the next time you’re in that position, you will remember that the chaos will end, your work day will finish, and, the Park will close.
Until next time,