In middle school I found a book called, “White Knuckle Ride” around the same time that I got to enjoy my first real roller coaster, the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I didn’t just read it… I memorized it. I felt about roller coasters the way other people of my age felt about umbro shorts and adidas samba shoes, the Dallas Cowboys, flared jeans and sweater vests, and mid-90’s alternative music. I could tell you which was fastest, which was longest, what they were made of, who designed them, how many inversions (that’s coaster-geek-speak for loops), how many G’s it pulled… everything. My life revolved around going to new parks and riding the biggest and best. My sweet-sixteen… a trip back to Busch Gardens to experience the opening of Apollo’s Chariot. (Told you… this was a confession.)
My confession comes from the necessity to explain to you that I understand roller coasters. All the ups and downs, the twist and turns, the gut-wrenching force at the bottom of the hill vs. the weightless flight as you crest the hill; they are all necessary experiences of the ride.
Sometimes I feel like trying to make a difference in this world is like getting on the highest, fastest, and most twisted roller coaster to ever exist. There’s the slow climb as you pioneer, develop, build, and start. You have to gain some momentum. That moment when you peek over the edge of the lift hill is the pure exhilaration of arrival, the “I made it!” milli-second of a grand-opening, a product launch, a first service, the initial sale, or the handshake of the first contract.
Somebody out there gets credit for this, though I’m not sure who it is… “But what goes up, must come down.” When you ride coasters, the dip at the bottom of a hill is where gravity exerts the force on your body that makes it feel like somebody is trying to pull your belly-button through your spine.
After the start there is the beginning. Beginnings are tough and can sometimes make you feel like you’re going to throw up. It’s represented in the doubts and questions, “Is anybody going to show up? Are the prices low enough? What’s wrong with this system? Why isn’t this working? Will this be enough to money to cover us and pay the bills? Did we bite off more than we can chew? What if the client isn’t satisfied? Are we even doing what we set out to do?”
The emotions on this part of the roller coaster goes fast. One minute it’s the puke-inducing doubts and questions, the next is the elation of another successful sale, product, event, or transformation that frees you from all doubt and worry and encourages you to soar higher and higher.
Right as you take off on the flight of success, you’re suddenly flipped upside down in a barrel roll. What you finally figured out was “up” is now “down.” What worked this week doesn’t work next week. You finally fixed what was broken only to find a leak somewhere else. You’re thrown for the proverbial loop and now you’re off course. Who saw that coming anyway?
The ride continues. There are more ups and downs, more loops, and finally a seemingly never-ending whirlpool of circling and diving and circling (this is called a helix if you’re a coaster geek like me). Surely this is it… this is where we hit bottom. This is the moment all our worst fears come true and we crash into the earth and the ride abruptly stops. After all you’ve been through you were teetering on the edge, running out of energy, and you knew that one more thing would just bring it all down. That’s the moment on the coaster where you hold your breath and wait.
And then you come out of the spinning vortex and coast into the station. You’ve arrived at your destination. Your hair is probably a little disheveled, your ears may have taken a beating on the headrest, your lunch could still be trying to settle, but you made it.
When you’re trying to make a difference, when you’re trying to start something, it feels like an epic and thrilling ride on a roller coaster… at least emotionally. There are a few important things to remember:
1. The first trip is the scariest.
2. You own your perspective of the journey. You can either hold on, close your eyes, gasp for breath, or you can raise your arms and open your eyes to the adventure that it is.
3. Most rides aren’t ones you take alone. Embrace those who’ve embarked on the ride with you and share the gut-wrenching dips, the out-of-nowhere twists, and the last hold-your-breath moment together.
4. You’ll make it to your destination. Perhaps you take the same ride twice or maybe you move on to a brand new one… but you don’t crash even though it may feel like it’s inevitable. Better yet, the second time you have a better idea of what to expect.
5. Life would be pretty boring without a good roller coaster ride.
I just want to encourage anybody and everybody who has a dream of starting something that will make a difference in the world. Embrace the ride, no matter how crazy it is. Sure there are loops, but try and enjoy it. What’s your other option? Fear… Despair… ? I choose the scream at the top of your lungs, no-hands, and fist-pumping approach to the roller coaster ride of making a difference.
(These are awesome… Funny Roller Coaster Faces… )
- I built a replica of the Millennium Force Roller Coaster that was 4ft wide, 6t long, and 1.5 ft tall. I won 2nd place in a national fabricated arts competition.
- My high school senior project was on roller coasters. I wrote a 12-page paper, “Roller Coaster and Amusement Park Safety” and did a 40 minute presentation on the physics of roller coasters. I got an A+.
- I have ridden over 70 different roller coasters.
- I was at Six Flags Over Georgia for the grand opening of Superman: Ultimate Flight. I spoke with enthusiasm to the Head of Roller Coaster Maintenance, Bolliger of the famed Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M) Roller Coaster design team, and John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville).
Don’t we all feel better now that THIS is out in the open?!?