Accepting the roller coaster

I'm big on metaphors. Anyone who coaches with me knows this. There's something about an image — a visual representation — that just locks in an idea for me. Even better, I've found that the perfect metaphor can resonate universally; it's a powerful tool that can connect a vast amount of people in a very simply way. This proved true just recently in a group coaching session at One on One — I threw out the idea that navigating a career in this business is a lot like being on a roller coaster, and the entire room gave a collective sigh and emphatic "YES!"

Let's be honest, when things are going your way in this industry, it can be THE BEST feeling in the world. It's one of the reasons why artists often put up with all they have to — there's nothing like the thrill of success in this business. Talk about peaks! And, the funny thing is that even the valleys can be exciting; the natural rush of going from one extreme to another brings its own sense of drama that, for artists in particular, can satisfy a desire for excitement. It's kinda of like a constant series of mini-adventures! There's a moment from the movie Parenthood (one of my faves!) that literally speaks to this idea, as the grandmother talks about how much she loved feeling thrilled, scared, sick and excited all at once when riding roller coasters in her youth, as opposed to the people who loved the consistency and sameness of the merry-go-round. Take a look:

Of course, she's using it as a metaphor for life itself, just as I'm talking about a career in the arts. And, just as in life, there are some of us who are more drawn to the nice consistency of the carousel in our careers. And why not? It's nice to know exactly what you are getting into — the pace is methodical; you don't get shaken up too much; you can plan for it. The carousel is, essentially, the 9-to-5 day job. But, a career in the arts isn't like having a steady, 9-to-5 job. And imagine the problems that could arise if you were to expect the experience that comes with the carousel (or the ferris wheel) when you're actually in line for the roller coaster. The ups and downs...the adrenaline rush...the fear...none of it may come off as satisfying or exciting if it subverts your expectations.

And then there's the waiting! Space Mountain is a lot of fun...for three minutes. After you've waited in line for two hours. Unless you are absolutely prepared for the experience of long waits that are occasionally punctuated by bursts of extreme excitement, you can easily grow weary of the entire process, and that feeling of weariness can affect your entire life.

What does all of this mean? It means that when you choose to pursue a career in this industry that you need to accept that you are indeed waiting to ride a roller coaster, and you have to embrace that choice!  If you can't, then you are likely in line for the wrong ride. Maybe Space Mountain is not for you. Perhaps It's A Small World or the tea cups are more your jam.

Something that may make waiting for the roller coaster easier is making the most of your downtime in between rides. You can do this by investing your time and energy in things that bring more consistency, stability, and grounding to your career as you wait your turn. Think of it as a halfway point between the exciting drama of the roller coaster and the steadiness of the carousel. You can have the best of both worlds — it just takes a little bit of work.

So, what ride are you in line for? And is it the ride you're prepared to take?