The Top Ten Lessons from DisneyWorld | Breakthrough with Sean K. Shahkarami

Discover lessons I learned and what to know from Sean K. Shahkarami. Gain valuable insights for personal growth and success.

Sean K. Shahkarami

1/2/202422 min read


I met my wife over seven years ago, and our relationship formed over what I thought was mutual love for lifting weights and playing Call of Duty. Now, she is a PE teacher, enjoys working out, and did play video games with me a small handful of times, so I won’t go so far as to say our relationship was founded on a “throne of lies” (to quote one of her favorite non-Disney characters, Buddy the Elf), but I also won’t pretend she likes lifting heavy weights or is as good at Call of Duty as she may think she is.

All joking aside, that is one of the most beautiful things about our marriage, and health relationships in general, we try new things for the other person and even sometimes fall in the love with their interests based on the love we have for them.

When we welcomed, our now four-year-old daughter, Sadie, into the World I had an inkling there was going to be a trip or two to DisneyWorld in our future, but little did I know that it would become an annual tradition for us. If you had told me four years ago that I would need to set aside a few hundred dollars a month specifically for DisneyWorld I would have said for a family vacation, yes, but for Disney every year – you must be crazy, and who knows as Sadie gets older I am sure we will venture to opt for other vacations but at this point it’s me who has become the staunch annual Disney trip traditionalist of the family (Sadie, too, but what little girl wouldn’t go to the “Princess Castle” – her name for Magic Kingdom – any chance they got).

What I love most about our trips is the time and memories we make together as a family and it now being our third trip I feel like my wife and I are Disney pros (we must exude our knowledge of all things DisneyWorld because we got stopped multiple times by other families asking for our help and tips).

The other great thing about DisneyWorld, and vacations in general is the ability to disconnect from the typical day-to-day and look at things in a new light. Since it was my third time to be there rather than letting the minor inconveniences and same rides get stale, I asked God to give me a new perspective on life during this trip and He did not disappoint. He gave me ten lessons I learned this past week (plus a bonus from my last trip He told me to share)! The best part is they are life lessons that have practical applications in personal life and business. I distilled the list down and prioritized them in relevance to my life, though, they are all great lessons some may resonate with you more than others and it’s okay if you would prioritize them differently for your own personal uses. I hope you can glean some wisdom from them!

10. Awareness leads to wisdom

Have you ever navigated a stroller through an amusement park with thousands and thousands of people during a holiday week? Even a crowded shopping mall is difficult. It takes spatial awareness to not knock people over, cut people off, and to keep you and your family safe. So many times in life we go on auto-pilot, but when we do that we are missing out on important lessons and experiences and also opening ourselves up to poor outcomes. I challenge you to raise your level of awareness – physically, mentally, and spiritually. The more aware you become the more wisdom you will glean.

Personal application:

Are you aware of your surroundings?

Are you aware of your physical being, health and fitness?

Are you aware of your mental health and in control of your emotions?

Are you aware spiritually?

Professional application:

Are you aware of the opportunities and threats to your career/business?

Are you aware of what your competitors are doing in the marketplace?

Are you aware of any new trends or changes in the economy that can impact you?

What changes can you make to become more aware both personally and professionally?

9. Discipline but do it differently (if necessary)

My wife and I are extremely blessed to have such a good-natured, well-behaved, kind, and loving child. It melts my heart when she speaks lovingly to her “Baby-Elsa” doll and tells “Baby-Elsa” not to worry that mommy (Sadie) will protect her on the roller coaster rides. She even makes sure “Baby-Elsa” stays fed, even if it means planting her face in macaroni and cheese and then asking Dad to wipe her clean. That being said, she is still a four-year-old and has her moments of tantrums and “sassy bad-attitude” (she got that from her Mom!).

I am not a child behavioral expert, and I rarely give parenting advice unless asked, but objectively speaking we have done a good job raising Sadie so far. We are so fortunate because if we had a dollar for every time Sadie is complimented for her good behavior by a stranger our Disney trip would have been fully paid for!

First off, I give credit to God. I prayed so often and so fervently as a teenager and young adult that he would bless me with a good family and help me break the generational curses that overshadowed my childhood – and He answered – powerfully. I may not be rich but I am richly blessed by my family.

Second, I give my wife and I credit. We discipline Sadie, but we do it differently. We both committed to never being angry when we discipline her. We allow ourselves time to collect our own thoughts, think through the situation, give Sadie time to de-escalate her own emotions, and then explain exactly why she is being disciplined, what the consequences are, and how to do better next time. We also reward good behavior as much, if not more, than focusing on negative consequences for poor behavior. My wife and I also committed to apologizing to Sadie and using ourselves as examples because we aren’t perfect. Have I ever punished too severely because I did discipline while I was still angry – yes, I have, but the difference is I go to Sadie when that happens and apologize and explain that even Daddy needs timeouts sometimes, too. She does enjoy the rare occasion when she gets to banish Dad to the corner!

The key has been Sarah and I have fostered an environment of safety, love, and understanding. I do not stoop to believe that nurture rules over nature, or vice versa, it is a combination of one’s nature and their environment. We were blessed to have a good-natured child, but it is up to us to grow Sadie’s nature through the environment we establish as her parents.

So many times at Disney I saw a small child being yelled and screamed at. Again, I am no expert, but I have learned that if a child is already in an escalated emotional state that escalating my own emotions and yelling back at them rarely, if ever, leads to good outcomes. This lesson may not apply to you, and if it doesn’t I am happy that it does not apply! Lastly, please don’t mistake me as telling you what to do or how to parent – I am happy to stay in my own lane, just sharing some of my own experiences and what has worked for us!

Personal application:

Am I a disciplined individual?

Do I keep the promises I make to myself?

If I was my own parent would I be proud of who I am?

If I am not self-disciplined what gives me the right to discipline anyone else?

What kind of environment am I fostering for myself and my family?

Professional application:

What kind of environment and culture am I building in my career/business?

Am I disciplined in my professional life?

How can I improve my own discipline in business and foster a better culture for colleagues and/or employees?

8. Patience, persistence, and perspective lead to longevity

DisneyWorld was celebrating it’s 100th Anniversary while we were there; a big milestone for any business, relationship, union, etc. Think about all the things that have come and gone in the last 100 years and yet DisneyWorld is as strong as ever. What is the difference between Disney’s longevity and other competitors and brands that did not last?

Despite what you may think I am not a Disney trivia master, but based on the evidence (success always leaves clues) I would say the three P’s, patience, persistence, and perspective were and still are crucial to Disney’s longstanding success.

Today there are so many things to do at DisneyWorld that my wife and I were joking you could stay an entire year and still may not get to do everything that the parks have to offer. However, I would assume that in the beginning Walt Disney showed a lot of patience and kept the main the main thing. Before there were multiple amusement parks there was one, Magic Kingdom, and it started much smaller than it was today. I would bet Disney, himself, had a much larger vision for DisneyWorld in the beginning that what it was when he was alive, but he remained patient and took it one step at a time.

This was by far the most difficult and important lesson I learned in my entrepreneurial journey. I have a HUGE vision and when I began my journey I bit off more than I could chew. I was fortunate to have mentors and coachable ears to course correct quickly, but I have seen many businesses, families, and fortunes lost to overwhelm, burnout, and skipping steps.

Now being patient does not mean to not be persistent. Dreams have to be chased down. I don’t know the whole story but I do know there was a lot of resistance to DisneyWorld in the beginning and that it took grit, resolve, and extreme persistence for DisneyWorld to come to fruition. The same is true today, it looks different than it did 100 years ago, but among all the things Disney does extremely well is there persistent marketing. It’s everywhere you look, sometimes subtle, other times obvious. For example, when you exit rides you don’t just walk back right into the park. No, you exit right into, you guessed it, the gift shop with that ride’s theme – this is why we have at least four different Elsa dolls because what better time to engage with your customers than right after they exited the ride and are feeling the emotional high from the attraction – persistence wins.

It took me about thirty minutes but did you know I walked around the entire world – at least at Epcot I did. Walking through the different “countries” I learned that the “cast members” (what they call employees) were actual natives to the “country” we were in (nice touch, Disney). It was really neat to embrace the different cultures and perspectives each country and person had.

Perspectives and consumer tastes change over time. We live in an ultra-competitive economic environment. Disney has found ways to cater to the changing perspectives over time through their experience. When DisneyWorld was starting out it was a novel concept; not so anymore, so how does Disney stay on top with Universal Studios right next door? They cater and lean into what their customers desire and remain open to new and changing perspectives.

Personal application:

Am I open to new ideas, and other people’s perspectives?

How can I shift my own perspective to make life better for me and those I have influence over?

Professional application:

Am I stuck in the past?

Where can I seek new ideas, innovate, and iterate my product/service/business/career to cater to the changing trends and perspectives of my customers?

7. Follow the herd into the parking lot or go against the grain for good fortune

I admit it, it was the fourth day of the trip, and I was tired and subconsciously was operating in auto-pilot mode. We had just parked the car outside Hollywood Studios and I started following the mass of people towards the entrance. Halfway through my journey I realized I had followed the crowd through a parking lot. No, it wasn’t a life-or-death situation but I had to navigate the stroller with my four year old through a busy parking lot and every parent knows that is an unnecessary risk.

That’s how quickly auto-pilot mode and following the herd can get you into trouble. In real life, I have found following the herd is what you gets you stuck in the “wildnerness.” You go to college because that’s what everyone else does. You get a job at a big Company because that’s what your parents told you to do. You buy an expensive car because you want to show off to your friends. Not that any of those things are bad by themselves but if your reasoning is bad, or there is a lack of planning, thought, and intention behind those decisions you can easily find yourself living a life that you don’t enjoy. No, life is not all about your own happiness, but we should live meaningful, purpose-driven lives and merely following what others do will only land you in places you don’t want to be.

In my book, Resonate, I talk about how if we make conscious, thoughtful decisions for everything even what we think are “small” decisions then we don’t need to worry about regret or having to make “big” decisions. All decisions are “big” and if we treat each decision with the respect, they deserve we can live regret free – we will still make mistakes but as long as we can say we made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time then we can learn from the mistakes and won’t have any regrets.

The opposite is also true, on the first night of our vacation we had just finished the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. Thousands of people exit the park right after the show. My wife and I crafted our way through the people and enjoyed the good fortune of an extra couple of hours in the park riding rides without long lines and when it was time to go back to the hotel we didn’t have to wait an hour to get on the ferry or monorail.

I have been a contrarian most of my life, and while it is not always true to be on the opposite side of the majority I do believe in most cases it leads to good fortune. Going against the grain is necessary to find the success reserved for those brave and bold enough to risk becoming a leader and leaving the herd behind.

Personal application:

Am I the leader of my life or am I following what others tell me I should do without consideration, thoughtfulness, and sincerity to my own strengths, weaknesses, and desires?

If I am a follower, what steps can I make to change this?

I am a leader, am I being the most responsible leader I can be?

How can I help others become leaders?

Professional application:

Am I just following the trends because I think it will make me successful, or am I strategically leading the way in my career?

Am I leader in my career, workplace, and/or business?

How can I be a better leader?

How can I motivate and inspire others to be better leaders at work and in the marketplace?

6. Connected experiences lead to relational value

Life and business is all about value. Our personal values, the value we create for ourselves, our family, and the world. For hundreds of years people obsessed over transactional value – how much something costs, how much money you have, etc. Today relational value is what is most important. Almost one hundred years ago, Napoleon Hill, predicted this in his classic book, Think and Grow Rich, when he spoke about how the best businesses would prioritize their employees and customers based on their relationships they have with them.

Disney has created immense relational value. Their employees are not called employees, but “cast members.” Any time you are greeted in the park by a cast member they use the term “friend.” You are not just a guest, you are a friend. The customer experience is unmatched to any other business I have ever engaged with.

To add even more depth the experiences the parks offer are connected experiences. The films and movies are connected to the attractions, the music played in the parks are connected to the experiences – be sure to ride Guardians of the Galaxy, Tron, or Rockin’ Rollercoaster, to experience this firsthand. In the parks, the attractions themselves are all connected and transport you into the movie or given experience. For example, atHollywood Studios when you are waiting in line for Rise of the Resistance the cast members are playing roles and are in character the whole time making you feel like you are actually in a Star Wars galaxy. The waiting line for Tron may have been the coolest experience and example of this.

Disney goes to the greatest lengths of any business I know of to directly connect and create long relationships with their customers, and it is by far one of the key reasons Disney continues to lead the way in their industry.

Personal application:

Am I focused on building healthy relationships in my life?

What can I do to improve the connections and relationships I have?

Professional application:

How can I expand my network and connect with more people?

Do I look at my customers as transactions or do I value them relationally?

What can I do to build relationships with my employees and customers that adds value to them?

5. Success is in the details

Similar to number six; everything Disney does is meticulously detailed. The waiting lines, the processes, the experience, and even the pricing. I bought myself an Avengers sweatshirt, I was in a bit of a hurry so I didn’t check the price tag and when I got to the register and found out it was $50 dollars I was pleasantly surprised, I thought it would have been at least $80. A couple hours later I bought my wife a sweatshirt, it was a Disney “Spirit Jersey.” Her sweatshirt was $80. At first I wondered how could that be? Both sweatshirts in terms of material, etc., were essentially the same. Then it dawned on me – demand. Avengers is a bit older of a brand now, and less men (I assume) shop for clothing at DisneyWorld, whereas, Sarah’s sweatshirt was more popular and for women (I am assuming women love to shop, especially at Disney).

Disney at this point has so much data and sophistication that I would bet they know statistically exactly what to price every single item to optimize their profitability. I know in my business of payer negotiations that small details, small changes, have big effects – and Disney knows this, too. While it is important to have a big picture vision, success is found in the details, the people who can have both a BIG vision and drill down into understanding and perfecting the details will have the most success in the long run. Disney is an excellent role model.

Personal application:

Do I spend time understanding the details of my life?

Am I cutting corners in my life when I should be drilling down?

What small changes can I make that will have big positive results for me and my family?

Professional application:

What small details am I overlooking that are holding my business/career back?

What small details have the biggest effects on my business?

What details can I improve to better capture and build my big picture vision for my business?

4. Health is wealth

I don’t want to beat a dead horse but keeping up with a 4-year-old at DisneyWorld is a test of physical fitness. My wife and I averaged close to 7 miles of walking every day. Whether you want to take your family on a vacation or just have a better quality of life your health is your wealth. Without health you won’t be able to make the income you want, you won’t be able to create as many memories with your family. Eat right, get outside, and walk around. I am not here to be your drill sergeant, but physical well-being is a blessing, treat your health with the respect it deserves and do not take it for granted.

Personal application:

Am I prioritizing my health and treating my physical body with the respect it deserves?

What can I do today to improve my health?

Am I getting enough: 1) sleep 2) nutrient dense foods 3) sunlight and time outdoors 4) exercise

How can I make my health journey fun, enjoyable, and sustainable?

Professional application:

Do I realize my physical appearance and health is a reflection of not just who I am as a person but my values and ability to be responsible in business?

Do I take my health for granted or understand how crucial good health is to earning a living?

What can I do today to make my health a priority so that it helps my career and/or business?

3. Don’t forget to be a kid

The Bible talks about the importance of having child-like awe, wonder, and innocence in light of the majesty and glory of God. I can’t think of much better inspiration for this then experiencing DisneyWorld through the eyes of a four year old.

Everything is real to them. As mentioned before, Sadie, calls Disney the “Princes Castle” because that’s where all the princesses live in the castle and where she’s going to live one day, too – Mom and Dad get to move in there with her, too!

But it’s not just kids. On the last day of the trip I saw a middle-aged man, blue-collar, dressed in Carhart boots and sweater eating a mickey mouse shaped ice cream with a the grin of a ten year old boy. DisneyWorld is a great place to remind yourself how to live like a kid again. Think about how much more exciting life would be if we treated each day as a blessing and didn’t let the mundane entrap us into negative thought patterns.

Personal application:

How can I live in awe of life?

Do I see the character, majesty, and glory of God manifest in my everyday life? If not, how can I change my perception of reality to see it?

What would life be like if I had the eyes and imagination of a child?

Professional application:

Do I see each day as a new opportunity and seize the day with excitement and enthusiasm?

How can I change my perception of the mundane, trivial, and boring tasks to add more excitement to my career and business?

How can I manifest the enthusiasm and energy of a child into my career and/or business?

2. Pack light – leave space

This was our third trip to Disney and finally the first time we took our own advice and packed light. Granted, Sadie was younger during our first two trips and we needed more things like diapers, wipes, etc., but we ended up packing up our whole life and it was a beatdown to get through the airports. The first two trips we also had to pay extra money because our bags were too heavy and then there was no space for the souvenirs and anything else we bought while we were there, so we paid more money to have those items shipped back home. To make things even more wasteful we didn’t use half of the things we thought we could not go without.

This time we packed light. No overage charges and left space in the suitcases for a few sourvenirs and toys we bought for Sadie and other families. Just trust me when I say this, you will need extra space and if you prove me wrong and somehow make it through DisneyWorld with a young kid and didn’t buy any souvenirs or toys I will either think you are a superhero straight out of Marvel or Thanos in the flesh, probably a combination of both. It’s vacation, it’s Disney, don’t go crazy but make sure to get yourself and any less fortunate families you know something while you’re there.

However, packing light doesn’t just mean your suitcase. It means your mindset. Don’t bring home and work with you. Disconnect, rest, relax, and recharge. Cherish the time with your family. Trust me your work will be home waiting for you! And yes, you can recharge even walking seven miles a day through the parks, going to bed late and waking up early to an excited kid shouting to get up because it’s time to go see Elsa – more on this a little later.

Personal application:

Is my burden light or heavy?

How can I lighten my load – physically, mentally, spiritually?

How can I make more space in my life for what is really important?

Professional application:

Am I overly focused on numbers, dollars, and metrics?

Am I burning myself and my team out?

How can I lighten my own load and help those around me?

1. Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata – it means no worries for the rest of your days! My life changed when I finally learned what it meant to fully, 100%, with every fiber of my being depend on God. My reality and perception of everything changed for the better when I started to treat thoughts of anxiety and worry for what they really are – sin. Now, I am not the judge, the jury, or the executioner and I am not trying to get in a theological debate or proclaim that having an anxious or worry-filled thought is a sin in itself, but I know for me those thought patterns were, and to some extent still are, deeply ingrained in my nervous system from some of the trauma I went through as a child and young adult. I know for me dwelling in those thoughts leads to sin, and I also know that when I depended and trusted in the faithfulness of God to change my reality and took the steps I needed to take to treat those thoughts as sinful everything changed.

I don’t know your life, I don’t know if you need to take the drastic steps I took to battle anxiety and worry with a Godly mindset. But I do know Scripture, and I know what Jesus promises those who seek His kingdom first when he gave his famed Sermon on the Mount. I know that when I took those promises seriously everything changed, and I also know Hakuna Matata means no worries and is an important lesson – the most important in terms of my life and personal experiences.

During the trip when I saw the words Hakuna Matata on a t-shirt my heart overflowed with gratitude. “Wow, Dad (I call God, Dad, or Abba, now a longer story/reason for another day) if you had told me I would be able to take my family to DisneyWorld three years in a row I would not have believed it. Thank you for this time, thank you for this amazing blessing, thank you for your abundance.”

My wife and I had just had a conversation about how we are able to enjoy Disney and live in the moment because we leave space (see what I did there) to go with the flow. It made me think why are all these other families spending thousands of dollars to not go with the flow, and it hit me.

My first experience at DisneyWorld was nothing like that of my experiences now. I was around seven years old and my Dad took me and my sister to DisneyWorld (and to visit his best friend who lived in Orlando which was the majority of the trip), upon the first five minutes of entering the park he told us the reason he took us to DisneyWorld (which my Dad doing something for just his kids was rare, in fact, looking back this trip wasn’t even for us but was for him) was to tell us he loved us and he was divorcing my Mom and he would be moving out when we got back home.

My sister and I were devastated. Not only did it ruin the trip because that’s the only thing I remember from it; it was also inappropriate. It also associated anxiety, worry, negative thoughts with what should have been a happy, memorable, loving experience.

Now, my parents did not end up getting divorced (though, in hindsight, divorce may have actually been the better route, but, again, story for a different day), and my Mom ended up taking us back to DisneyWorld again a few years later.

We had a good time, but it was jam-packed. Everything was do or die. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we had to make sure we got to do every single thing in a few short days, or else we would never get the chance again. All we heard was how expensive it was. How much my Mom (and Dad who didn’t go on the trip but made sure we knew he paid for it) sacrificed to take us, and look I am not discounting those things but again not age appropriate and it was also all born out of a scarcity mindset. Everything was do or die because we would never go back again.

Well to quote a former friend of mine “you’re right with that attitude you never will get the chance again.” The truth is what you make it. If something is a priority you will have more opportunities, but if you say this is it, this is the one time, then it probably is.

My point is my wife and I are able to go with the flow because we make family vacations a priority. We don’t think of a trip to Disney as a one-time, end all, be all type of thing. Yes, its expensive, yes, it requires planning and budgeting – but that’s life. And no maybe we won’t be back next year, but at some point when it is our priority we will be back again.

I also hope you understand this is not about Disney. For you and your life maybe its something else. Maybe it’s a trip to the mountains or the beach. Maybe it is a job or goal you have. All I can say is if you choose to live with a mindset of abundance you will find many more opportunities and blessings waiting for you, but if you choose to live in scarcity and lack you will always be lacking. Scripture says it best, “to those who have, more will be given, but to those who have little, it will all be taken.”

This is not an excuse to not seize and capitalize on opportunities, it’s an invitation to live in abundance, grace, and knowledge that our mindset will dictate the manifestation of our physical reality and our priorities will dictate the level of blessing in our lives. Living in a mindset of abundance dispels worries and anxieties – Hakuna Matata.

BONUS – Lesson from my prior trip to Disney: Burnout is not from hours you work, but from the lack of quality to living and working in your passion and purpose

Trust me, I heard it in passing, other parents complaining about how tired they were. Men complaining about how much work they were going to come home to, how much PTO they were using up. Vacation should be relaxing – Disney is not relaxing!

Here is the harsh truth. Disney is relaxing, all vacations regardless of circumstances can be a time to recharge even if you are physically exerting yourself. If you come home from any time off and still feel burned out, it has nothing to do with your child’s tantrum, your spouse, or the number of hours you worked. I worked more hours with more financial stress on this last trip and had the BEST time out of all three vacations.

I came home fully recharged to spend hours writing a blog post that’s now over 5,000 words and could be a mini-novel.

Last year, while I was still working the corporate grind I spent thousands of more dollars, had no financial stress, but was a ball of stress the entire time. I was constantly checking my email, sending Teams messages, even answering phone calls in the waiting lines to talk to Partners and clients. Yes, I took time off, requested it months in advance, just my old job didn’t care. I came home more burnt out than when I left.

I know not every workplace has this type of culture, but I also know in professional services many workplaces are just like this. Don’t kid yourself, this is not healthy, and you are cheating your own life and your family.

If you are in a toxic work culture, burnt out, overwhelmed – I am here to tell you there is a way out. You may not need to even leave your job, you may just need to reset boundaries. Everyone’s journey is different, and I am here to help. Reach out to me or pick up a copy of my book, Resonate – Principles of Peak Performance for practical advice on living a life marked by your unique definition of success. Resonate is available on Amazon at:

Personal application:

What areas of my mindset are weak and lacking?

Am I living in abundance? If not, why is that?

What actions can I take to change my mindset and live with less worry and anxiety?

Professional application:

Do I dwell on the negative in my career and/or business?

Do I worry about things that are outside of my control?

How can I make changes to live with more confidence in my business?


There are life lessons everywhere. You just have to ask yourself the right questions, open up your perspectives, remain persistent in what you are seeking, and leave space for the answers – they may surprise you!

Also, if you are dreaming for a Disney vacation for you and your family, my wife’s good friend is also our Disney travel agent and does an excellent job helping us save money and have an amazing time. We book ahead anywhere from six months to a year in advance and make monthly payments to spread the cost. This way when it’s time to go its already budgeted in, paid for, and planned out. It makes the trip a lot less stressful, and WAY more enjoyable. I would love to connect you with Melissa just let me know!