Braving the Rattler

The ups and downs of running a business are a lot like a roller coaster ride – with one exception.

My 10-year-old daughter dragged me onto our state’s largest roller coaster, the Rattler at Cliff’s Amusement Park this summer. She insisted on riding it, and dad wanted to support his daughter’s courage. When they strapped us in, Mari turned and said, “Dad, I’m scared.”

I laughed and refrained from saying, “Mari, I’m sure I’m more frightened than you.”

As the coaster click-clacked up the first tall, tall hill, I knew I had made a dreadful mistake. Mari was fine. She looked around the tiny park below with a huge grin. I tightened my grip. If I’m scared now, what on earth will it be like when we top this hill?

I felt different the last time I road on a roller coaster. I was 14. “A Hard Days Night” was the summer hit, and I rode all day at Edgewater Park in Detroit. That park’s long gone. So are the Beatles. And so is my courage for this nonsense.

As we moved closer to the top of that first hill, I reminded myself that the Rattler was actually safer than the drive along San Mateo that brought us to Cliff’s. That was no solace as the Rattler slowly crept over that first hill and began its sickening descent at roughly 400 miles per hour.

We rushed toward a dark tiny tunnel at the bottom of the hill. There was no way we were going fit. The kids in front all had their hands high in the air. Didn’t they know the top of the tunnel was going to rip their arms off? The three-minute ride took about half an hour. I didn’t breathe the entire time. As we came to an abrupt stop, Mari turned and said, “Let’s do it again, Dad!”

As I shakily got to my feet, I noticed that the oldest rider on the Rattler was a good twenty years my junior. Only the young parents are willing to risk death just to please their kids.

I remember my father’s famous words when he finished a day at Cedar Point with my youngest brother. As he got off the roller coaster at the end of that day, he turned to my mom and said, “Last kid, last ride.”

The roller coaster is exquisitely designed to trick the body into thinking it’s in grave danger without presenting any actual risk. The thrill in the ride – some call it a thrill – is that the mind is not able to convince the body that it’s safe. This provides kids with a great deal of pleasure. Mari was certainly pleased.

So why don’t adults enjoy the ride? Even those parents willing to ride along with their kids wouldn’t crawl onto the Rattler without the demanding prod of a sticky-faced child. My guess is that functioning adults face the real fears of life on a daily basis and they’re not about to spend their off time teasing their bodies into terror.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule. One is the parachute enthusiast and the other is the serial entrepreneur. Having started many businesses, I can attest to the fact that entrepreneurs don’t launch companies to gain the thrill of putting the family’s fortunes at risk. Yet each time I started a business, I experienced the familiar feeling that comes as you begin that long click-clack climb up the first hill. And like the Rattler, once you crest that first hill, the exhilarating ride will take away your breath.

But the goal isn’t fear, even when you spend a few sleepless nights trying to crack a seemingly impossible business problem; the goal isn’t the thrill of risk. The goal is freedom and the satisfaction of meeting a tough challenge. Ted Turner was succinct when he explained why he started CNN. “I wanted to see if I could do it.”

The difference between riding the Rattler and launching a company is that the Rattler brings you home in one piece, and you are more or less that same person at the end of the ride. When you climb onto an entrepreneurial launch, there are no safety belts. As you crest that first hill, you have no idea where your business might take you, and when you get off the ride, you won’t be the same person.

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