I was just at Disneyland with my family, and had SO MUCH FUN. I actually think my husband and I love it more than our daughter. For me, it's a rare and welcome chance to switch my brain off from daily concerns, and just soak up the unapologetic nostalgia. Bring on the parades, bring on the marching band, let's bomb down Splash Mountain — I want it all.
And each time I've been to Disneyland in recent years, I can't help but think about the business of Disneyland. It's so interesting how multifaceted it is, and I find myself wondering things like, who gets to be in charge of character themed baked goods? or how much do they make each day from 60-second cut-paper silhouette renderings? [hopefully a lot, those scissor-wielding ladies are a miracle]
But the thing I found myself wondering about most on this trip is what I am calling the power of 'Site-Specific Fashion', or the 'Phenomena of Mouse Ears'.
It's impossible to be in the park for five minutes and not notice that approximately one third (my unscientific estimate) of the estimated 44,000 daily visitors is wearing a pair of circles on top of their heads, many of them with outfits to match.
It's cute — and the geniuses behind Disney Merchandising have capitalized on the craze, producing themed ears from every Disney franchise, allowing you to demonstrate your love of the mouse alongside your passion for Star Wars, Maleficent, or Winnie the Pooh to name a few. You can go sequins, electric, or wire frame — but it must be mouse ears — and folks on Disney discussion boards brag about their vast collections in every stripe and flavor.
A quick scan of disneybythenumbers.com reveals that 2,500,000 “Mouse Ears” hats are sold each year at Walt Disney World — just one of the eleven Disney properties. And I have to assume that means there are hundreds of millions of mouse ears stashed in closets around the globe — just waiting to be worn again. But have you ever seen a set of Minnie Ears perched on top of one of your fellow Whole Foods shoppers? Do they make a big splash at Burning Man? Do you see them rollerskating on Venice Beach? No. Unless you're within 2 blocks of a Disney Theme park, those ears do not see the light of day. They're a fashion craze whose sales numbers have likely crossed into the billions (at $14.95-$24.95 a pop) but they are only valued in a very specific context — and nowhere else.
My point is — they're cool at Disneyland, and totally not cool anywhere else.
I know you're wondering — why am I yammering on about this? It's to make a very important point. Within a specific context, certain things are accepted as normal, but outside that context, it's not just abnormal — it's unacceptable.
And now I'll ask you, in what context do you see your finances?
I'm asking because within the creative community I often see people wearing powerful blinders when it comes to money. And collectively we create a context where it may seem completely normal to live in financial chaos... It can't be a fashion faux-pas if everyone's doing it — right?
The risks may be real, but when they're mirrored back at you within a tight network, they may seem unremarkable — even normal — just like it's totally normal for thousands of grown adults convening in crowds with plastic mouse ears on their heads.
After getting my MFA, I was much more concerned with checking all the authenticity boxes with my art practice than making money — because that was the thing to do. I'd worry about how much I needed to make this month, while next month was not even on my radar. And I'd find myself thinking: I can't charge for this, or ask to be paid for that — what would people think? I can't sell that – I'm not allowed to sell that... I was diligently working away for free in a million different ways, just hoping someone would notice and reward me for my purity. This was indeed my own version of the Happiest Place on Earth, and we all know that no matter how much fun we're having — the park eventually closes.
It wasn't until I was pregnant with my daughter that I was snapped out of the good-exposure-is-better-than-money context — realizing it wasn't cool anymore.
Barely-scraping-by was the hottest trend, a badge of honor in my creative community, but in an instant my financial ‘mouse ears' seemed ridiculous in light of the awesome responsibility I would soon have. Heck, I had to get my s@#$ together if I was going to be able to come up with college tuition in 18 years.
Looking back, I have to wonder if things hadn't gone the way they did, I might have lingered longer — not asking for payment, not saving enough for retirement, not properly insuring myself — oblivious to the real risks I was taking.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
As your self-appointed financial mentor, it's my job to ask this question: are you living a financial fashion faux-pas and don’t know it?
To suss out if you're a victim of the I-don't-need-money, money=evil, or no-one-else-has-it-so-why-should-I fads, I've created a 5-question quiz. Take it, and see how you rank.
Think mouse ears are cool anywhere?
If you have 25 pairs that you cycle through on a daily basis and totally disagree with me, shoot me an email and tell me all about it — I can’t wait to hear from you.
P.S. Do you feel like you need a financial reality check? Let's set-up a time to talk. I can give you an expert's perspective on how you're doing money-wise, identify the places where you could improve, and give you the exact steps to turn things around.
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