May-June 2012 | On My Mind

When I was a child, my parents took me to Paragon Park, an amusement park in Hull, Massachusetts, with an old, rickety roller coaster. I liked to watch that roller coaster more than I liked to ride it; I loved hearing the people screaming with excitement. But it was also the slow climbs, speedy downs, and surprise turns that were so cool in my mind. As a teenager who was beginning to deal with adult realities, I began to associate my life with those roller-coaster memories. I still do.

For me, the ride through adulthood is about slowly learning and growing as you’re rising to the top of one of those peaks in life. And that means not just watching but climbing on board and hanging on with white-knuckled anticipation. There’s exhilaration because even though you can’t see what’s ahead, you know it’s going to be good. Then bang! You arrive at the peak of the mountain, where you feel confident. Then the descent begins. It’s a rush, and you don’t want it to stop, but it does. Everything slows down, and you have to trek back to the top of the mountain to feel that rush again.

Some people think the second or third climb to the top is boring—they would prefer to stay in the “rush” frame of mind for the entire ride. But on the roller coaster of life you need moments to breathe so that you can fully experience the next climb to the top. You need the chance to regroup and grow from what you’ve learned in your previous journeys up and down the mountain.

Over and over again, we see famous people hit the top and then we hear nothing about them for a while. Some don’t come back at all, because they don’t know how to deal with the valleys, while others come back stronger than ever before.

In the world we live in, you have got to give yourself time to be fresh, and at the same time you need to be consistent. I know that seems like an oxymoron, but I’ll explain it this way: the fresh part is about giving yourself the time to rejuvenate yourself and stay on top of what’s happening, and the consistent part is about your underlying commitment to what you want to accomplish.

Other hazards you encounter on the roller coaster of life are the quick turns that catch you off guard. You think you’re going one way and then you get slammed by a sharp turn you never expected. Some people say, “OMG, what am I going to do now?” and others say, “OMG, what a great surprise!” I do my best to go with the “great surprise” attitude, because otherwise I spend too much time worrying. And when I’m worrying, I’m missing out on life’s possibilities.

So I say hold on tight and enjoy the entire ride, with all of its ups and downs. It’s the only ride we’ve got, and if we embrace all of it, even its surprises can be a blast.