He Found His Passion at Trade School

I have a friend, Suzie, who shared a story about a young man she used to hire to help work in her garden. He was shy and embarrassed to tell her that he had left community college to attend a trade school to become an auto mechanic.

He said that most of his friends were going to Stanford, USC, and other universities, to become lawyers, teachers, etc. and they looked down on him and made fun of him for wanting to fix cars.

But he loved tinkering with car parts and playing with engines, and Suzie told him that there was nothing wrong with that and he would always have a job and be admired and respected by people. He graduated from the trade school top of his class and quickly found employment with the county.

Suzie told him that doing what he loved will always make him feel fulfilled and much happier. By following his passion, he was able to earn good money and was starting to become less shy and more confident.

She Didn’t Receive the Credit She Deserved

Having your dream job doesn’t always work out they way you expected.  Ruth Shellhorn was a talented landscape architect who designed most of the landscapes and walkways for Disneyland, but she is mainly forgotten by Disney history and mostly unknown by Disney fans. My source is:


You can hear the entire podcast blog at the link.

Ruth had to deal with many issues as landscape architect for Disneyland. This was the 1950s, when women were not as respected for their work. Walt Disney recognized Ruth’s talent, and she was respected at the Disney studio, but she experienced resistance, resentment and rejection at the Disneyland work site in Anaheim.

Walt had hired originally Jack and Bill Evans to do the landscaping at Disneyland, because they had landscaped Walt’s home.  But Walt was dissatisfied with their designs for Disneyland.  So he hired Ruth Shellhorn, but retained the Evans brothers, and misunderstandings developed over who was the lead designer.  Ruth did most of the design work, but was very particular and by-the-book, and this caused problems, because Disneyland was built pretty much on the fly, sometimes disregarding established procedures because of deadline and budget pressures.

After Disneyland was completed, Ruth hoped to be kept on retainer, but Walt decided to keep the Evans brothers instead.  It is thought that even though Ruth was more talented, she was less able adapt to Disney, where Walt required a collaborative culture that stressed results over individuals to get things done.  It’s a shame that such a talented contributor to Disneyland is mostly forgotten.  But the next time you walk around Disneyland, think about the beautiful landscaped areas designed by Ruth Shellhorn.

My Fan-aticism for Disney Turned into Working for Disney

When I was a kid, I loved Disney, but I didn’t really imagine growing up to be a Disney artist. It seemed too far out of the realm of possibility, especially growing up in small town Lodi, California. I imagined myself being a great Disney fan, but not working for Disney. But after being a Disney artist for 25 years, I realized that the love and passion I had for Disney is what propelled me to eventually work for Disney. I believe the main reason that I’m good at what I do is simply because I have so much love for Disney.

I heard Disney Imagineer Bob Gurr talk about his career. Bob designed or helped design the Autopia, Monorail, Main Street vehicles and many of the vehicles at Disneyland. He said that if you want your dream job, think about what sparked your interest when you were 5 years old, then follow that spark. That thing hidden inside yourself when you were young can be the thing that makes your dream job.

You’re Not Necessarily Too Late

I was listening to an interview with Disney Imagineer Blaine Gibson.  Blaine was an artist who sculpted most of the audio animatronic figures in Disneyland, for attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room, It’s a Small World, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents.

Blaine was hired by the Disney Studios in 1939 as an assistant animator, a job that he loved. But he thought he was too late to become a top animator, because the lead animators had already taken their spots.

But Walt Disney saw and recognized Blaine’s talent as a sculptor, and wanted him to join the team designing Disneyland.  Blaine is even seen in clips from the ‘Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color’ TV shows in the 1960s, where Walt is showing off new attractions for Disneyland, like Pirates of the Caribbean.

Blaine thought he arrived too late at the Disney Studio to become a top animator, but he ended up finding his very special niche with his sculptures of audio animatronic figures in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Executives Who Started at the Bottom

When I learned that Pete Renaday started his career in the Disney Studio mail room, I began to wonder if others also started at the bottom.

I Googled ‘executives who started at the bottom’ and found several web articles, here is one example, one of the more recognizable names is Simon Cowell.


Many people get college degrees, expecting to start at the top, or at least in the middle.  But I found that many successful people started at the bottom, and rose to the top through personal initiative, hard work and determination to show what you can do.

The Voice of Henry the Bear Started in the Mail Room

I was listening to an interview with Pete Renaday.  Pete is a voice talent, to Disney fans he is most famous for being the voice of Henry the Bear in the Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World.

He started out in the mail room at the Disney Studio when he was young.  The mail room has traditionally been a place where people start their careers.  It’s like ‘paying your dues’ before you get a better job.

After a while in the mail room, people started asking Pete “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  Meaning, what job do you want to move up to?  Pete didn’t have a clear idea, although he always wanted to be an actor.

He started doing voice acting, and the Disney Imagineers had him do the voice of Henry the Bear.  It was supposed to be just a temporary voice, while the Imagineers found the ‘real’ voice.

But after months of listening to Pete’s voice as Henry, they decided it was the right voice after all, so they kept it.  Pete started at the bottom in the mail room, and made a career out of voice acting.


How to Make a Career at Disney, or Any Company

I was listening to an interview with Lee Cockerell.  Lee is the former Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort.  This is his advice for making a career at Disney.

Get in early (meaning when you’re young) and STAY.  Disney often promotes from within, so once you’re in, show them what you can do, and look for opportunities.  Of course, you have to be hard working, prove that you are valuable to the company, and have a clear idea of what you want to do.  If you’re not exactly sure what you want to do, you can figure that out once you’re already in.

Actually, this method can work for other companies too, especially if the company promotes from within.  If you are young person who is just starting to figure out your career, or even a high school or college student, go to a company that you’re interested in working for, ask them what you need to do to get a job there, show your enthusiasm for working for them, and ask if they are likely to promote from within.

Then do whatever it takes to get a job in that company, even if it’s starting at the bottom.  Once you’re in, show them what you can do, and look for opportunities to do what you really want to do, the opportunities will come if you keep looking for them.  This may take years, but if it’s a company you really want to work for, you have to think of it as a long term or even a life long career.  That’s how you can get your dream job.

Encourage Your Children

My Dad always encouraged me in my art. When I was a kid, and we would visit people, he would always ask them, “Do you have pen and paper? Kenny can draw a Disney character for you”. Of course the people would enjoy my drawing and my Dad was obviously proud of my talent.

My Dad would also get me to do drawing appearances, I appeared on several childrens’ TV shows and the local fair, the Lodi Grape Festival. Although my Dad didn’t live to see me become a Disney artist, I think he must have known it way back when I was a kid.

He encouraged my love for Disney by taking us to Disneyland once or twice a year, and living in central California at the time, that was a big deal. He even found a way to get me a personalized autographed photo of Walt Disney just before Walt died, which I still have.

When I grew up, I realized that my Dad’s encouragement was probably uncommon, because I learned that many parents would not encourage their kids to pursue art, believing “You can’t make a living as an artist”.

I believe that most parents want the best for their children, which usually means financial security. But I have also come to realize that you can make money doing almost anything, if you go about it a certain way. You can even make money collecting garbage, which by the way is a necessary service.

I believe that a person’s ideal job is one that they are naturally good at, or love to do. If they can find a way to make money doing it, that can be the ultimate success. So encourage your kids, because while success is never guaranteed, their dream job may be more possible than you think.

Do Something That People Will Like

As an artist, you sometimes struggle to create something of intrinsic value. You want to make it ‘creative’, ‘artistic’, ‘avant garde’, ‘make a statement’, etc. I struggled with this at UC Berkeley, where the art program is fine art. But I always knew I wanted to do commercial art, because I loved Disney. Commercial art is more practical, it serves a commercial purpose.

When Walt Disney’s artists were struggling to make their project work, Walt’s advice was “Just make something that people will like”. It sounds simple, right? Sometimes when we are trying to create something, we make it so complicated. If your audience, customer or target market is people, then just make or do something that people will like.

What Can I Do That No One Else Can Do?

I was listening to an interview with Jim Korkis. Jim Korkis is a well-respected Disney historian, author of ‘The Vault of Walt’, which has a foreword written by Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller.

When Jim was 12 years old, he was interested in animation, so he would watch the old ‘Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color’ TV series, then write down the names in the end credits. He would then look up the names in the Glendale/Burbank telephone book, and call them, asking for an interview.

His first interview was with Jack Hannah, who worked on Donald Duck and Chip & Dale cartoons. Jack took a liking to the young writer, and referred him on to interview other Disney animators. Jim wrote articles for his high school newspaper, some of which were also published in the local newspapers.

Later, Jim moved to Florida and worked at Walt Disney World, performing as Merlin and other roles. He also taught classes about animation, computer animation and animation history at the Disney Institute. In 2008, Jim was let go in a massive company-wide layoff, and he wondered what he could do next, his career at Disney seemed to be at a definite end.

Taking stock of himself, Jim asked himself, “What do I like to do?” and “What can I do that no one else can do?” He realized that it was writing about Disney. So he went back to all his old interviews and started writing his first book about Disney history. He has also written many articles for Mouseplanet.com and JimHillMedia.com, among others.

Jim Korkis asked the important question, “What can I do that no one else can do?” Everyone has a special talent that no one else can do in quite the same way. If you want your dream job, you have to discover what that talent is, and what makes it special.