67: The Roller Coaster

67: The Roller Coaster

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

The Roller Coaster

Panic at the thought of doing a thing is a challenge to do it.

~Henry S. Haskins

My mother claims I was born with a positive attitude. My friends have called me Pollyanna and my husband says I am the most optimistic person he has ever known. There may be some truth in what they say, but what none of them realize is that maintaining a positive outlook sometimes requires a little self-imposed psychological warfare.

For example, when I had completed the required coursework for my doctoral degree, I still had a major hurdle to face before I could begin my dissertation project. I had to pass a qualifying exam. I learned in April my exam was scheduled for the first week of July.

This exam would be unlike any other test I had ever taken. The exam was designed to bring all of my coursework and experiences together. It would consist of three questions. On Monday I would report to the examiner’s office. There I would leave everything I had carried with me: my purse, backpack, notebooks, everything. The woman proctoring my exam would hand me a sealed envelope and lead me to a room with a computer. The computer would not have Internet access. I was to open the envelope, read the question and type my response. I was allowed six hours for the first question. My assessors obviously expected a thorough answer. Once I finished my response, the proctor would print my file and seal it in an envelope. Tuesday and Wednesday I would follow the same procedure, except these would be “easier” questions, requiring only four hours each.

My committee would then read my forty- to fifty-page exam responses. A few weeks later a hearing would be held and I would be required to defend my answers.

How do you prepare for such an exam? I began to doubt my ability to achieve my educational goals. Maybe I wasn’t meant to enter the realms of higher education. Maybe I should give up. Those were not the thoughts of Pollyanna.

The test weighed heavily on me for the next few weeks. April’s rainy weather yielded to the sunny, warm days of May, but my disposition remained cloudy and dark.

The first Saturday of May my husband and I traditionally took our three daughters to Kings Island, a local theme park, to enjoy the shows and rides. I would ride the merry-go-round or the tilt-a-whirl. If it was a hot day I could sometimes be coaxed into riding what my daughters called the “baby flume” but I avoided roller coasters.

As a child I had a very bad experience on a roller coaster. Up until this particular spring I had been able to avoid riding roller coasters of any size, since I could use the excuse of having a young child to watch. This year, however, even my youngest daughter had reached the magical height necessary to ride the major rides. I had no excuse.

As we stood in line at the park entrance, I realized my thoughts were not on spending the day with my family or the beautiful summer-like weather. Instead I was worrying about two things: the pressure I might face from my children to ride a roller coaster that very day, and the upcoming qualifying exam two months away. I was afraid of both. I made a decision right then to ride a roller coaster. If I could overcome the fear of the roller coaster I could surely overcome the fear of the exam.

“Other people ride roller coasters and live to tell about it,” I reasoned with myself. “If other people can do it, so can I. And if other people can pass a qualifying exam, I can too.”

That day I rode every roller coaster in the park. As I plummeted toward the earth on the last coaster ride of the day, I threw my arms up in the air. “I love this!” I shouted into the wind.

Two months later I walked confidently into the testing process. After the successful defense of my exam documents my advisor congratulated me. “You always seem so confident and positive,” she told me.

“Not always,” I smiled, but inside I was throwing my arms up in the air and shouting, “I love this!”

~Rebecca Waters

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