Beyond the Wisdom of Walt by Jeffrey A. Barnes is the follow up to Dr. Barnes’ first book, The Wisdom of Walt, and what a magical follow-up book it is. While The Wisdom of Walt chronicled the history of Disneyland and used it to teach readers how to dream big, Beyond the Wisdom of Walt goes beyond the first book, continuing the story by describing Walt Disney’s dreams for what would become Walt Disney World and Epcot Center. Each chapter is filled with Disney history and trivia as well as Dr. Barnes and his wife Niki’s personal experiences at the Disney parks, but the book is far more than another Disney book. Barnes writes first and foremost to encourage his readers to have their own dreams and take actions to make them come true.
The book is divided into thirteen chapters with titles such as “Choosing to Change,” “Dealing with Doubters,” and “Financing Your Future.” Each chapter uses stories about Walt Disney World to inspire and encourage readers to use Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company’s examples for creating a better and more meaningful life. Each chapter ends with exercise questions to help readers reflect upon what they have just read and then determine how to make the necessary changes in their lives to create and embrace their personal success.
That doesn’t mean the book is all work, though. It’s mostly fun, so fun you’ll want to read it multiple times, at home, before your next trip to Disney World and Epcot, and then when you return. Dr. Barnes is actually known as Dr. Disneyland to his students because he teaches a class on the History of Disneyland. While some of his colleagues initially pooh-poohed it as a “Mickey Mouse class,” Dr. Barnes knows how to pull out meaningful incidents in the Disney parks’ histories as models for all of us, and now, for those who haven’t had the opportunity to take his class, we get to hear those stories in these pages.
One of my favorite stories in the book is included as an example of how we have to learn to let some things go in our lives. Barnes describes how Walt Disney originally wanted people to be able to fish at Tom Sawyer Island-imagine being able to catch a fish at Disneyland! Originally, it seemed like a fun experience and a good idea, but think a bit further about it. As Dr. Barnes writes:
“Can you imagine? Walking around Disneyland carrying a dead fish. As the day gets hotter, your dead fish gets smellier. But you hold on to it for dear life. A timeless souvenir from Tom Sawyer Island. How could you possibly consider letting such a priceless thing go?”
Dr. Barnes’ point is that “You can’t move forward with your future while simultaneously holding on to your dead past… Walking around with a dead fish at a Disney park is pointless. Yet that is exactly what we do with life. We carry on with the negative, destructive, painful things from our past, and not just for a few hours. This goes on for days, weeks, months, and years.”
Through these pages, we don’t just learn about the Disney magic and Walt Disney’s many successes. We also learn a lot about the mistakes the company made and then how it made them better. Whenever there was a problem, the company found a way to resolve it, and it always went above and beyond to ensure its guests had the best experiences possible. Walt Disney was not above picking up trash he found in the park to make sure people experienced a clean park and were also encouraged not to drop trash themselves. Barnes also shares Disney team member Randy Pausch’s story of being a boy and visiting Disneyland. He bought a salt-and-pepper shaker for his parents and then dropped and broke it. The people who worked in the gift shop replaced it, saying it was their fault for not wrapping it properly. Obviously, the customer comes first at Disneyland, and that led to Randy Pausch being so impressed that he went on to work for Disney. From mistakes can come lessons that can be turned into successes.
Despite his love for everything Disney, Dr. Barnes also isn’t above criticizing a few flaws in the parks, but when he does so, he uses them as examples for his readers to grow from. For example, he has issues with the Soarin’ Over California attraction at Disney’s California Adventure Park. I’ll let readers discover that issue for themselves. It may seem like a small complaint on Barnes’ part, but as the chapter develops, Dr. Barnes uses it to create a great message for his readers.
Whatever small flaws the parks may have, in these pages, Barnes primarily focuses upon all the Disney magic and how the parks have been made magical. We learn a variety of wonderful and interesting stories about the parks’ development. Even in the story of the demise of favorite attractions like Mr. Toad’s Last Ride, there is a lesson to be found. There are also wonderful emotional moments, like how it snowed at Disneyland the night Walt Disney died. There are moments of triumph when Walt’s own brother, Roy, was against building Walt Disney World, but then upon Walt’s death, he took up the reins and ensured that his brother’s vision was completed.
Ultimately, this book is a lot like the Disney parks themselves. Barnes mentions the naysayers who didn’t think his books would succeed, but those people missed that these books are about more than the Disney parks. They’re about how we live our lives. Similarly, Barnes has a paragraph that says the same thing about the parks. He describes how the critics initially hated the idea of Disneyland, and then he goes on to say, “What the ‘experts’ missed was that Disneyland wasn’t about rides. The park was the attraction-a show that Walt believed would sell itself. It would attract guests to his new form of outdoor entertainment.” Later, in comparing the parks to what the Grinch learns about the true meaning of Christmas once all the decorations and presents are gone, Barnes says, “The same is true at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Take out every ‘ride’… and people will still come. Disneyland is not an escape; it is an example. Walt Disney World isn’t the place where ‘dreams come true.’ It is showing us how to make our own dreams come true.”
And that is exactly what Beyond the Wisdom of Walt does-it shows us how our dreams can come true. If you love Disney and you know it’s time to make some changes in your life, I can’t think of a better gift to give yourself than to read this book because, ultimately, the place where dreams come true lies within you, and it’s just waiting for you to open its door and tap into its magic.