How I Got Off An Unintentional Roller Coaster
We all take risks in life, and hopping on an amusement park ride is one of the safest ways to get an occasional thrill. National Roller Coaster Day on Aug. 16 celebrates how fun it is to be a little scared. If you want to be terrified, I recommend the Big Apple Coaster in Las Vegas. It sits on top of the New York-New York casino, includes several hairpin turns, and even briefly drops down the side of the building.
But as fun as a roller coaster ride can be, no one wants to feel held hostage to one. We often compare the ups and downs of life, careers, and business to a roller coaster, but nonstop adrenaline isn’t good for anyone. We’ve got to learn to weather the highs and lows while keeping our heart rates in check.
I had to learn that lesson quickly as an attorney. During my first six months on the job, I went to court and lost a motion. But I didn’t just lose — I lost badly. The judge was harsh and gave me a good dressing down. I felt embarrassed and even wondered whether becoming an attorney was the right call. I went back to the office with my head down and spent an hour or two moping.
Eventually, one of the other attorneys at the firm came in.
“So,” he said, “I heard you had a motion this morning, and it didn’t go so well.”
“You heard right,” I grimaced.
“I bet you feel like you’re making a bunch of mistakes and aren’t very good at this,” he said. “Does that sound right?”
I nodded, somewhat worried he was about to agree. But instead, he replied, “You’re not special. Everyone feels like that. So, pick yourself up, and let’s get some lunch.”
It was some of the most meaningful advice I’d ever received: Stop being so hard on yourself. I had much to learn but could only improve if I kept trying. Meanwhile, I realized my failures seemed much more significant to me than they did to anyone else.
But while I learned fairly early that you can’t win them all, it took me a lot longer to stop fixating on the ways I might lose. An attorney’s job is to look for risk and consider how something could go wrong, and that tendency can feel impossible to turn off. The what-ifs bled into my personal life and created stress. I couldn’t stop thinking about the endless negative possibilities.
Eventually, I had to decide enough was enough. There’s a difference between having a plan and worrying nonstop, and I needed to teach myself where the line was. Both at work and home, I learned to consider a problem’s possibilities and set them aside. I worry about things only when and if I need to. In truth, it’s a matter of self-preservation.
Since I began looking at things that way, my personal and professional lives have been considerably enhanced. An amusement park ride can be fun, but getting on one must be a choice. I’m happier now that I’ve learned to disembark the unintentional roller coaster I created in my mind. It’s so much more peaceful on solid ground.