When Randy was eight, his family went on a cross-country trip to Disneyland, and Randy loved it. One of his dreams became to grow up to design rides that other kids like him could enjoy. When Randy graduated with his PhD from Carnegie Melon, he thought it made him “infinitely qualified to do anything,” so he applied to Walt Disney Imagineering, and got rejected. However, Randy kept his mantra in mind that “brick walls are there for a reason”—not to keep us out, but to “give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
Randy, as a recent PhD, shows a slight inclination towards entitlement (which he later notices many students feel after graduating). Rather than letting his rejection from Disney stop him, though, Randy decides to hunker down and work hard until another opportunity arises to achieve one of his earliest childhood dreams.
Fast-forward years later, to 1995 when Randy is a professor at the University of Virginia. He builds a system called “Virtual Reality on Five Dollars a Day,” completing a low-budget V.R. system which is well ahead of its time. Not long after, Randy learns that Disney is working on an Aladdin Virtual Reality attraction. He calls Disney, explains his credentials, and keeps getting passed up the phone chain until he gets in touch with Jon Snoddy, the Imagineer running the Aladdin project. After talking, Randy tells Jon Snoddy that he is going to be in California for work, and, if possible, he’d like to get together. The truth is, however, that Randy is only going to go to California to see Jon.
When hearing of this Disney/virtual reality opportunity, Randy doesn’t wait for Jon Snoddy and Disney to come to him. Instead, he creates an opportunity to meet face-to-face with the person who can say yes or no to hiring him. This is an example of positive, proactive behavior, and it allows Randy to turn one of his dreams into a reality.
Jon Snoddy agrees to get lunch with Randy, and before going to the meeting, Randy does 80 hours of homework about the Aladdin project. When they meet, Jon is wowed by Randy’s preparation. At the end of the lunch, Randy explains that he has a sabbatical coming up, and Jon Snoddy thinks it’d be a good idea to have Randy become a temporary member of his team for six months and write a paper about the experience. The only problem—Randy needs permission from his bosses at the University. As Randy says, “every Disney story needs a villain,” and his villain is a tough dean at Virginia nicknamed “Dean Wormer”. “Wormer” is concerned that Disney will steal all of Randy’s “intellectual property,” and therefore doesn’t think Randy should work there. “Dean Wormer” is proof that “sometimes, the most impenetrable brick walls are made of flesh.”
When Randy gets his opportunity, he doesn’t just rest on his credentials or past experiences—he works hard, does his research, and impresses Jon Snoddy with his preparation even more than with his résumé. So, Randy gets the offer from Snoddy, but then bumps into another obstacle: “Dean Wormer,” who opposes Randy’s idea to take a sabbatical to Disney, even though it is a unique, dream-fulfilling experience. Many people might stop there, but Randy, having learned that obstacles can be treated as opportunities, refuses to relent.
So, Randy takes his case to another dean, the Dean of Sponsored Research, and when Randy asks if he thinks it’s a good idea, the Dean says he doesn’t have enough information to say, but he does know that one of his “star faculty members is in my office and he’s really excited.” So he asks Randy to tell him more. Randy notes how differently these two deans reacted—they both said the same thing, that they were unsure—but the way in which they said it was totally different. In the end, Randy is allowed to go, and he achieves his dream of working for Disney Imagineering. On his drive to the headquarters for the first time, Randy blasts The Lion King music from his car speakers and actually breaks down into tears for having achieved his eight-year-old dream.
Rather than allowing a nay-saying gatekeeper to impede Randy’s ability to achieve his childhood dream of becoming a Disney Imagineer, Randy avoids the brick-wall-like obstacle of “Dean Wormer” by finding an opportunity in the Dean of Sponsored Research, who is happy to help Randy take his sabbatical because he can sense Randy’s excitement about it. The difference between “Dean Wormer” and the other dean is a perfect example of how attitude and positivity (or lack thereof) impact the way the world treats you. Because “Dean Wormer” is naturally negative, he attracts negative outcomes, and vice versa with the positive dean.