Colossus the Fire Dragon at Lagoon is a serious roller coaster. At least I thought so as a kid! The idea of flying down its steep drop and through two loops filled my little heart with trepidation. Until I was ten years old, I could not be convinced to ride it. But with a decade of life behind me, my older siblings felt it was time. “You will love it,” they promised. “Even if you don’t, it will be over in a minute anyway.”
As we climbed the ascent, I squeezed my sister’s hand. When we reached the top, I closed by eyes tight before the fall. As we turned upside-down in the loops, I screamed. Only when we came to a screeching halt did I realize how much I loved it. When my brother leaned forward to ask what I thought, I could only answer: “Let’s do it again.”
The Roller Coaster Ride of Living Your Dream
Several of the individuals interviewed for Take Back Monday compare pursuing their passion to riding a roller coaster. We couldn’t agree more.
The highs are exhilarating. Excitement about your idea fills your stomach with delightful butterflies. The steady climb upwards is worth it because you know the ride will be awesome. The feeling that you’re living on purpose is akin to soaring. There are moments when you feel on top of the world.
Then there are times when you hit bottom. Fear about how everything will work out turns your stomach into knots. Loneliness makes you wish you weren’t solo on this crazy ride. The jolts and bumps give you second thoughts about taking risk. You wonder if steady ground—something more certain and secure—is a better option.
As you experience these lows—and you should know you will—the first thing to remember is that they represent something powerful. You are taking in the full spectrum of emotion and touching the edges of the human experience. You are no longer in the middle, living in neutral. Numbness and boredom are no longer options—and that’s a good thing.
When you land in these tough times and grapple with feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, or malaise, take a moment to sit with these emotions and recognize where they’ve come from. Did you just finish a successful event and now miss the anticipation of its unfolding? Did you spend an hour on social media looking at perfectly curated versions of other people’s lives and wish you could have the same? Did you receive a rejection letter to a proposal, or perhaps no response at all, and wonder if your idea even matters? Did you review your bank statement and feel like you need to dash out and rob a bank to survive?
Each of these moments will bring with them uncomfortable emotions. You’ll likely want to close your eyes tight and wait for them to disappear. Instead, open your eyes wide and look these feelings in the face. What can they teach you? Feelings of withdrawal after an event means those precious moments were worth it. Discontent from comparison can be soothed by celebrating others’ success and remembering we all put only our best face forward. Rejection and silence can be reinterpreted—no can be redefined as next opportunity. A hard look at the financial reality of pursuing your vision can help you recommit and redouble your efforts.
That said, internalizing these lessons is often easier said than done. It can take time and may only happen when you’re back to a more upbeat state.
So how do you get out of the slump?
Take a Temporary Break from the Ride
When you simply can’t shake feelings of disappointment or ambivalence, take a moment to get off the roller coaster. Before sending that next email or composing another to-do list, allow yourself a short break from the ride.
Personally, I reach for something that is either soothing or inspiring, depending on my mood. I have an arsenal of go-to TED Talks, book chapters, and Pinterest pages ready to give me a boost. For example:
- Ruth Chang’s talk How to Make Hard Choices reminds us that we are the authors of our own lives.
- Larry Smith’s talk Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career is a witty push toward taking risk.
- In the first chapter of Mindfulness in Plain English, the author reassures us that negative feelings are normal, but we have the power to transform them.
- Jay Kaslo’s Embiggen board on Pinterest is filled with 2,000 inspiring quotes to remind us that life is short—and wonderful.
These are only a few resources, of course. Your best arsenal will be the one you curate for yourself.
Take time to start building a folder on your phone or computer with links to videos, songs, images, quotes and other materials you can turn to when you hit those inevitable lows. A big part of overcoming frustration and melancholy is a shift in perspective. Allow these resources to turn you in the right direction.
When you take some time to get off the ride and steady yourself, you can get back to it with a new sense of equilibrium. The most important lesson is to remember that even with its low points, the thrill of living your dream is worth it. We’re certain that at the end of the ride you’ll only have one response. “Let’s do it again.”