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In Disney/ Life

Five Years Later – Reflections on Leaving Law and Moving to Walt Disney World

It was 5 years ago today that we closed on our new house in Windermere, Florida less than two miles from Cinderella Castle. Five years, to the day, since we closed the final door on our old life and took our first steps into this new one – in as much as a change in career, location, and, at least aspirationally, mindset, can be called a new life.

And so it’s probably not surprising that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Lots of assessing the decisions that we’ve made and – for better or for worse – whether I wish we’d done anything differently. I’ve been thinking about it for my own good and also because I wanted to organize my thoughts to share here with you, too.

And so five years later, here’s where I’m at – give or take based on the day.

On work…

I’m glad that I practiced law, and I’m glad that I walked away. I don’t even know what it would mean to wish my legal education or career away. It’s a huge part of who I am. I’m still proud of it. It’s still a key part of my identity, and probably always will be even if I don’t practice another day in my life. It will affect the way that my mind works forever. But, as a day-to-day practice, it was time – and honestly, it was time long before I actually left.

I was out of curiosity for it. My academic interest had been milked dry by the day-to-day reality of practicing. If anything was keeping me going, it was my pride – and that’s never a good sign. I probably could have righted a few wrong turns from along the way and landed myself on a different legal path that was more fulfilling, but the world is big and life is short and, truth told, law has just gotten enough hours from me already. I’ll use the skills forever, and a Harvard Law degree will never be a bad back up – but I don’t feel the need, right now, to give the dedicated practice of law any more of my time.

So I don’t regret moving on at all. But have I fallen into that thing that I was “meant to do” since? Or does that phrase even mean the same thing to me anymore?

That’s a big question. There’s been a lot of work to do since I walked away from my legal career. My mindset toward work (and money) was incredibly toxic because I’d had to trade more and more of myself for both over the years. Unraveling that is an ongoing process that isn’t done, but I’m working on it every day – reconnecting with passions like writing and photography and creating beautiful things and finding a way to weave all of those into something new that’s also called work but that’s otherwise very different.

I’ll note that there haven’t been many surprises as I unearth the things that I love. I walked around Italy at 16 caring about nothing but the camera around my neck. I kept my hands busy crocheting while I studied long hours at Langdell at Harvard. I’ve always known I’ve loved photography and storytelling and creating things. They just fell off the path somewhere along the way. They got crowded out. Reconnecting with what I love these last 5 or 6 years has been less about exploring the world than about whittling away layers of myself to find what’s been underneath all along. It’s about tentatively dipping my toes into things like writing and portraiture and business ownership and seeing what they’re like day-to-day and how they gel with the bigger things that I want to accomplish.

So in short? I’m glad I left law, even if I am still working through the aftermath and finding my way 6 years later – and 5 years after uprooting my life and moving to The Happiest Place On Earth.

On family…

My kids are in a way the easiest part of all of this. Parenting is hard but it’s hard no matter where you are. I don’t think there’s a place or school or method of parenting that wouldn’t leave me wondering if I was doing it right or screwing it up. But whether it’s in spite of or because of us, our kids seem to be really good people. They’re kind and smart and funny and seem content in their lives. They have good friends and they ride their bikes to school in the middle of January and they spend a lot of their time in a pretty magical place where people are a little nicer and the details matter a little more – and, at the end of the day, I think they’re growing up into good, happy people, and, like any mom, I hope I’m right about that.

Whether I miss the rest of my family is harder. The biggest challenge in wrapping my head around this move was always my mom. We’d just lost my dad and were (and are) so close. I’m an only child and she’s a huge part of my kids’ lives. I didn’t think I was going anywhere without her – which was going to be a challenge because she wasn’t going anywhere. At least not then.

But even though 5 years later she still isn’t here (and perhaps she never will be full time) we’ve fallen into a rhythm. She and Sam are here for long stretches throughout the year and the time that we have is full of real quality time together. Tyson has gone so far as to tell her that he doesn’t want her to move down because it would make the time she’s here less special. He and Maddox love getting excited for her to visit and having her in the house for a couple of weeks at a time. And so, while it’s never perfect, we’ve fallen into a rhythm with things. I’d love to see her get a place down here at some point, but that’s up to her and in the meantime we’ve found a way to make it work.

What I do miss is extended family. The get togethers with aunts and uncles and cousins that you’d have for happy or sad occasions. The houses full of people you didn’t see enough. Five years into this, I”m realizing that those are the relationships that you end up missing the most when you uproot your life geographically. Not the people at the center of your life that you’ll still talk to or text every day and see plenty, but the people who were more sporadic – who were bigger parts of your life than you might have realized before. If you uproot your life, go into that knowing that it’s those relationships that might need the most conscious protecting. I know, for me, it’s one of the things that I plan to spend the next 5 years trying to do better.

On Disney…

This is the big one for so many of you, so I’m sorry I’ve rambled on for this long before getting to it. Five years after moving just about a mile from Magic Kingdom, do we still love it? Has it “gotten old”? Or is the magic still there?

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, too. I’ve always thought the “won’t you get bored of it” question was a funny one. No one asks if you’ll get bored of the local mall when you relocate to some unnamed town – but move to a house a stone’s throw from Space Mountain and everyone wants to know if the neighborhood has lost its pull after a few years.

So no – of course I’m not bored. I wouldn’t be bored anywhere – I’m certainly not going to be bored here. We still have normal day-to-day lives. We still travel. We just do it all with fireworks in the background and the coolest local parks in the world.

But is the magic still there? Is it the same when it isn’t an “escape” but the backdrop of your real life? Is it the same without that rush of driving through the welcome gates at the start of a trip?

It’s still magic – it’s just a quieter magic. When I traveled here before, it was with a desperate longing. For an escape from a real life that wasn’t working for me. Living here, there is no escape – but there’s also no desperation. This is not a trip. It’s not going to end. It’s just here for us whenever we want it.

And there’s something to living a life that has Disney as its baseline. I’m not talking about fairy tales and roller coasters and merchandise. I’m talking about attention to detail and customer service and creativity. There’s something about having something this special to so many people in your backyard. Living this close to the Mouse, you are more aware that it’s a corporation. You’re more aware of the ugly stuff that people post about. You see the negative roll through your feed just as much as you do about any other subject that an algorithm learns you like. But you also learn to set that aside and enjoy the moments there.

I sit in my house in the evening and listen to the boom of the fireworks and know that a mile and change from me there are thousands and thousands of people looking up at that sky and seeing something that they’ll probably remember for the rest of their lives. Every night. A mile and change from my bedroom window.

Last night, I was sitting on the lanai after my kids went to bed sort of wrapping my head around all of these thoughts and I started to hear music. At first, I thought it was coming from my next door neighbor’s house. After a few seconds, as it started to get clearer, I realized it was the Water Pageant. As it makes its way to Bay Lake from Seven Seas Lagoon, especially in certain weather, the sound carries clear as day to my backyard. And as I sat there listening to the tune of Under the Sea, overthinking my life’s choices, I started to laugh. I live at Disney World. I’m free of the career that I felt trapped by for over a decade and I live at Disney World and I’m figuring it out one day at a time while I listen to the Water Pageant from my lanai. I pull over on runs with my best friend to book boarding queues for Cosmic Rewind. I spontaneously run to Epcot for lunch and, even though I’m sitting at my kitchen table right now, I could be on the TTA in less than 30 minutes. I’m not going to be, because I have to make dinner – but I could. And I love knowing that.

So no – it hasn’t gotten old. It’s gotten normal. But it will never get old.

If you want to hear more about our and others’ moves to Disney, absolutely listen to the two part show that we did with Lou Mongello on WDW Radio a couple of years ago. Here are the links – shows 532 and 533. You’ll hear some great perspectives.

On me…

This is far and away the hardest part to put into words.

In part this is just a continuation of the work conversation. That I find myself whittling away more than having to build something new. I’m not recreating myself – I’m just kind of scraping away the B.S. and finding what’s underneath. Kind of like what Michaelangelo said about carving his sculptures. They were already in there. He just let them out. I’m sure it’s the same for any of us. We’re all just a poor man’s David trying to find our way out of the stone around us.

But beyond that, I find myself working through figuring out…well, what exactly needs to be figured out. I meant to walk away from law and settle into something simpler. A life that wasn’t defined by numbers or external wins or dopamine. A life that was measured by how fulfilled I felt, whatever that meant, rather than whether I’d conquered the next externally defined challenge. And now I find myself running these races and working in social media and just all around still being human and drawn to external validation and I wonder how much of all of that is okay and how much of all of that is just my recreating my old ways in a new setting. And so I’m constantly checking myself as to what I’m doing and why and making sure that my goals aren’t being defined by anyone but myself and that my achievements aren’t being quantified in ways that aren’t real.

I’d mentioned before that I’ve been working hard to unravel work from having to be something toxic. I’m also working hard to unravel the idea that diving into any one interest will drown out everything else. I’ve always had trouble choosing a path because I’ve always been so hyper aware that it meant leaving 100 other paths behind. Sylvia Plath wrote this in The Bell Jar and it’s always struck a chord:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor…and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Law was a cruel fig that left all of its companions black on the ground at my feet. It’s probably to blame for how many things I have my toes in at any one time now. I’m slowly working through that too. They often say that we overestimate how much we can do in a day but vastly underestimate how much we can get done in years. And so I’m trying to relearn how to think in terms of the possibilities of the years ahead instead of the demands of the hours.

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So I guess we check in again in 5 years? But for now, I’m continuing to forge this path forward with a lot to learn but, happily, perhaps less regrets than I thought I’d find along the way.

Maybe in 5 years I’ll be a self sufficient hippie who’s learned to relax and lie on a beach without thinking about her to do list. Or maybe I’m just going to be the same Type A girl no matter where you put me and I just need to direct that energy to a better place.

I’d put my money on the latter.

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You can find my complete guide to making the most of your runDisney race weekend RIGHT HERE and my guide to running trails on Disney World property RIGHT HERE.

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Please join me on Instagram for my day-to-day adventures living a mile from the magic. And join the conversation over in our community on Facebook!

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If you’re missing home (or love someone who is) and are looking for a way to bring the magic home, I’d love for you to check out my Core Memory collection right HERE. And as always, stay safe and be kind, my friends.

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