It may sound like an odd way to begin, but visualize a roller coaster at a theme park. It starts off level with the ground, then goes through some ups and downs, there’s twists and turns and possibly one or two huge climbs followed by plummeting falls and eventually it all levels out and you get off. Some are excited to repeat the ride, others look a little worse for wear. Most have hearts pounding after the exhilaration of the ride, some have to fix their hair, and a few are ill; vowing never to go through that again!
I asked you to visualize a roller coaster, not Life, but the parallels are just about as real as the tracks on that coaster.
Most of us perhaps would be happy to sit beside our children or grandchildren on the coaster in kiddie land that goes around in an oval with smooth rises and smooth rolling downs. There’s happiness on the faces of the children, they love the ride and it’s so calm we can carry on a conversation with them and enjoy the experience.
That adult coaster though? It’s death-defying drops, blood-curdling screams as gravity is stripped away and white-knuckled terror; not for the faint of heart.
Where the roller coaster image fails to imitate Life however is that we all stand and size up the coaster. We get to watch it from the ground, then make a decision to ride it or not, we know what’s coming and we voluntarily participate having made a choice to undergo it. While exciting, terrible or utterly fantastic, it only lasts minutes and then we’re back to where we started. It’s over. It’s done. We move on.
Life on the other hand, that’s different. We do our best to map out where we’re going based on all the information we can gather. Whether it’s a road trip, choosing a career, getting into a relationship, or making a major purchase, we do our best to plan our moves and take positive steps forward. We build up momentum when we have some small successes and we have obstacles to overcome which, for the most part, we do so using our past experiences; taking advice from our peers and drawing on our skills.
But as is the case for many; perhaps everyone at some point, along comes some major hill to climb; a crisis. Unlike the coaster, we didn’t anticipate this; we can’t stand back and see how it’s going to end up, we can’t see all the twists and turns ahead of us and no, we don’t know it’s going to all end up with us safe. Most of all, we don’t know how long we’re going to be on this, ‘ride’ we didn’t sign up for.
There are many folks who, lacking the necessary life skills and failing to learn from their experiences, go from one crisis to the next. At any one time, they’ve got 2 or 3 major challenges happening and 4 or 6 smaller problems which if they fail to address will grow and become major hurdles. That roller coaster track on the other hand is solid steel; fixed and rigid. The tracks on the roller coaster of Life seem to have life of their own, undulating, hovering, fluidly moving uncontrollably up and down, responding to our ability or lack of ability to control.
Back to the kiddie land coaster. The child who is nervous about going on the ride is comforted and encouraged by the older sibling or trusted parent alongside. They stand and watch it together, mom points out all the happy kids; dad shows the child the exit door where the kids are bouncing out, excited and safe. The sibling takes the younger sister or brother by the hand and says, “C’mon, it’ll be fun and I’ll be there with you.”
But now as an adult facing your real-life challenges, where’s your support coming from? Does it feel like your standing alone, with no one to hold your hand, go through it with you, assure you it will all end up okay? Yep, it sure can feel that way and yes, you’re entitled to feel what you feel; it’s normal and it’s perfectly right to feel anxiety, anxiousness, rising fear, stress and perhaps panic.
That ride in kiddie land is fun on its own for a child, but it’s also getting that youngster ready for the bigger rides later in life. Get on the ride, have some fun, laugh and then get off. Do it again. Do it once more. Eventually, the child says they want to go on another ride, and they point at something a little bigger, then much bigger, and looking back at the kiddie land alligator ride, they say, “Ah, that’s for small kids.” Forgotten was the day they clung to the leg of a parent, heels dug in the grass and fear written all over their face.
Life is like that. We face new challenges and crises using the skills we’ve developed over time. Sometimes we fail and things don’t turn out great. We don’t always land safely. The learning that goes with the failure however? Hopefully that prepares us for a future hurdle to overcome. We can use that experience, as bad as it was, to avoid repeating it.
It’s called Life for a reason you know; we live it.
So c’mon, take my hand and let’s go!