My husband loves roller coasters. We have often mapped out vacations based on which theme parks offered the greatest thrill rides at any particular time. If a park entices with words like ‘tallest, fastest or biggest’ you can bet he’s done his research and is figuring out a way to work it into the itinerary.
Rather than a love for roller coasters, I have what you might call a ‘strategy’. It’s not that I totally dislike them, it’s just that I have developed an approach that works for me. I scope out the entire track taking note of the number of drops, revolutions and corkscrews, and then when I am closer to the front of the line I watch as someone gets on the ride and count until I see them return. That way I know exactly how long the horror, oops…I mean the fun, will endure. The strategy worked for years. Years. Until the Screamin’ Eagle at Six Flags in St. Louis, Missouri.
The coaster became an instant Guinness World Record holder on the day it opened (a record quickly bested by others) but is considered a “classic.” One of its biggest draws is the layout—which for me was its biggest drawback because I couldn’t employ my strategy.
It boasted 3,800 feet of track taking you through long runs of hills through country and trees. Sounds great, right? The problem for me was that the way it was designed you couldn't see it all. I couldn’t therefore determine what was coming.
You begin with a steep 110-foot climb looking straight up at the sky, or you could lean over and glance down to see the vast area the park encompassed. I had to take other's word for it because I don't lean or stretch when I am on a roller coaster. Nonetheless, if you take note of where you are in relation to the ground, that’s when the brain reminds you of some simple physics – what goes up must come down.
It was on our plummet that I remembered I had no idea what was coming next. All of a sudden I was upside down or being drawn up another incline without knowledge of the direction we were going or at what speed it might be.
Was it a thrill? Yes. Was I scared? No, not really. I knew eventually I would be delivered back to the unloading area and could carry on with my day.
This time of year many delight in attempting to give us a scare. Haunted houses, eerie costumes and ghoulish yard decorations are designed to startle or give us a bit of a fright. While it's not activity that everyone participates in, there's another element to looking for something scary that perhaps we all should.
An idea attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt encourages us to 'do one thing every day that scares you.' The quote is actually much longer but what many take from it is that we need to find courage to step out into something new, different and…scary. To head straight into something that we wouldn't normally do, or something we've put off, and do it despite how scary it might start out being. The question we could then ask ourselves is, "What scares us?"
Some people have phobias; be it fear of flying, or spiders, or heights. Some enjoy the startling that comes with a suspenseful movie. Others seek heart pumping experiences that defy gravity. But Roosevelt, and many others aren't speaking about a momentary rush of adrenaline. Doing something that scares us is much deeper than that.
When we push ourselves, we might learn we are capable of something we didn't realize we could do. We learn something new about ourselves and those around us. And we just might surprise ourselves along the way.
"But what if it doesn't work out?" we ask ourselves. But…what if it does? Isn't that a better question? Besides, if we fall we do what we tell others, particularly our children, all the time—get up and try again.
What Eleanor Roosevelt actually said was, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do."
Of course that ‘thing you think you cannot do’ is going to take you places you can’t see, and at speeds you can’t predict. You may not be able to scope out where you’re headed next, but if you are willing to climb aboard you can bet it is going to be a great run.
In a time when so many are looking for ways to give us a fright, this just might be the perfect time to do something really scary and change your life. That's my outlook.