I started working at Disney World through the college program, and then I landed a full-time gig.
I loved working at the theme park, but the coronavirus pandemic brought challenges to the job.
After two years of working in the parks, I didn't see a place for myself at the company anymore.
Disney has always been my source of happiness.
As a kid, if I wasn't watching a Disney movie, I was reading a Disney book, coloring Disney drawings, or going on a trip to the Disney parks.
Related: These are the most expensive spots in Disney Parks
A majority of my family worked for the company, so it was a lifelong dream of mine to become a Disney cast member - what the company calls its park employees - and be surrounded by people like me.
But as hard as it was to wait all those years to achieve my dream of working at the Disney parks, it was even more difficult to walk away from the job when I realized it was no longer the right fit.
The Disney College Program gave me the opportunity to turn my dream into a reality
Growing up in Illinois, I wasn't really sure how I was going to achieve my goal of working at Disney. Then after high school, I was introduced to the Disney College Program.
The program gives college students and recent grads the chance to live and work at Disney in a variety of roles for anywhere from a semester to a year, and it seemed like the perfect ticket in.
I applied, got accepted, and started my Disney journey in the fall of 2018 after graduating college.
Unable to leave after only a few months, I ended up extending my program until summer 2019, which ultimately led to a full-time offer with the company.
It felt like everything was falling into place: I found my amazing "Disney family," met the love of my life, and got paid to have fun and make magic every day.
Work never felt like work.
"Work" was dancing with little kids and Mickey Mouse, having lightsaber duels with people of all ages, introducing kids to their favorite Disney characters, and creating magical moments for guests.
It felt as though I turned my favorite hobby into a job, and I was truly on cloud nine.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Disney World closed, and my job was put on hold for a few months
In March 2020 Walt Disney World shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic. Within a span of a week, my entire world did a full 180.
There I was at seemingly the best job of my life working a variety of shows in Hollywood Studios, about to be promoted. Then I was being told that I and all of my coworkers were being laid off.
There was a lot of uncertainty as to when or if Disney would open and who would be called back to work. After months of being furloughed and wondering if my time with the company was over, Disney announced that they would be reopening in July 2020.
I was one of the few of my friends who got called back.
The pandemic was still going on and it felt weird to be going back to work at a theme park when many places were still closed. I was nervous, and I didn't know what to expect.
From my very first day back after the closures, I knew it was going to be different.
I was told that the entire area of the park that had become my home at Disney would be closed until further notice. Instead of working at shows, I was temporarily placed at the park's newest ride.
My Disney family was also dispersed, either because they weren't called back at all or they were placed somewhere else as well.
I felt some survivor's guilt. Why was I one of the cast members called back? Shouldn't I feel more grateful and excited about returning? Why was I no longer as happy working my dream job?
My dream come true was slowly starting to fade away.
Nothing could have prepared me for working at a theme park during a global pandemic
When I returned, the Disney I loved working for was no longer there.
We went through rigorous training on the new procedures that prioritized the safety of the park workers and visitors. Making magic fell to the wayside as we learned new cleaning protocols.
From wearing face masks and face shields to staying 6 feet apart from everyone, it was very difficult to talk to and relate to anyone around me.
I was also working alongside people I didn't know in my new location, and I had to learn an entirely new job that I wasn't even comfortable doing.
All of these new pressures were weighing on me before the park even opened to the public.
When we did open, the tourists were expecting the pre-pandemic Disney they knew and loved. The company did its best to continue creating a magical experience for everyone in the parks, but these changes didn't go unnoticed.
Each day I disappointed more people by informing them of the services no longer being offered or the new procedures that were in place. I politely asked over and over for adults to wear their masks properly and stay 6 feet apart from others.
A lot of my interactions became negative because I was just doing my job, which was to make sure that everyone was safe. But the majority of tourists seemed upset with me for doing just that.
For the first time, work felt like work - hard work. It no longer felt like I was there to create magic, I just felt like a bother.
Eventually, I reached my breaking point and couldn't see a future at Disney
I fought an internal battle every day - I wasn't enjoying this job like I used to.
I told myself that I should be grateful. After 32,000 fellow employees got laid off due to the closures, there I was still employed and actively working at Disney World.
But the job, area, and coworkers that I loved so much were gone. Day by day, I was turning into the kind of Disney employee that I never wanted to be.
I didn't even recognize myself. I dreaded going into work, got more impatient with guests as the days went on, stopped looking after my own mental health, and could no longer see a future for myself at Disney.
I was embarrassed by who I was becoming because I've always prided myself on my strong work ethic. But that, too, seemed to be dwindling.
Eventually, I realized Disney was no longer my dream.
I needed a change, I needed to leave. So I put in my final notice in November 2020, almost two and a half years after I landed my first job in the parks.
Leaving wasn't easy, but it was the right move for me
Working at Disney during a global pandemic was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. And although making the choice to leave was also incredibly hard, I knew in my heart it was time.
I already fulfilled my dream and worked for the company in the very best job there (shout out to the Disney Junior Dance Party in Hollywood Studios). I left knowing that I did what I came there for.
Change is always hard, but I'm comforted by the fact that I successfully chased a lifelong dream of mine. It was just time to move on to the next one.
Even though I chose to leave Disney, that doesn't mean it stopped being my happy place. It just turns out that now I enjoy visiting more than I like working there.
But for what it's worth, my time at Disney is irreplaceable and included some of the best moments of my life.
I'm proud of all of the Disney employees that continue to work there to this day. They are some of the hardest working and most selfless, caring people I've ever met, and they really make Disney the magical place it is.
The next time you visit Walt Disney World, thank a cast member. You never know what they're going through in order to ensure that you can have a magical experience.
Read the original article on Insider