Earlier this summer I found myself at a theme park, celebrating my son’s birthday. These places have changed very little in some ways since I last visited one about 25 years ago. But the rides seem to have got bigger and a whole lot scarier. The roller coasters aren’t just a straight-forwardly thrilling white knuckle ride; they now have narratives like horror or disaster films, complete with immersive environments, so that even the queues are designed to increase your adrenaline levels. (Although my favourite ride dated from the late 80s and was very reminiscent of a nightclub from that era, complete with sweaty heat, rave music, strobe lights and sticky floors).
I realised these rides sell the idea of being scared (“face your worst fears!”) while also providing reassurances that they are perfectly safe. Which is quite a strange paradox really. In a society where many dangers are hidden: people want to be scared, safely.
I’ve been thinking a lot about risk lately. Making changes always carries some element of risk. Coaching often involves exploring with someone the level of risk they are comfortable with. When I was thinking about leaving my job to go freelance, the risks seemed enormous. I felt that I wanted to take the leap but was worried about many things - the biggest being that I wouldn’t make enough money. I remember another coach asking me “And how much is enough?” It may sound obvious, but until that point I hadn’t been ready to actually work out what I needed to make, and so the risk seemed unmanageable. Once I had budgeted it out, the risk became more calculated - a known quantity. There were other risks involved too, and it was the process of exploring them more fully - facing my fears - that gave me the confidence to go forward. There was another risk that began to weigh in too - the risk of not giving it a go, of just staying where I was.
By the way, I never did go on any of the big scary roller coasters. Just the ones labelled ‘Family Friendly’ that keep you upright and are suitable for very small children. Facing your fears is all very well, but only when there’s a purpose to it - and to get me to voluntarily hang upside down at 60mph would need a very strong purpose indeed.