Roller Coaster Tycoon

One day, a blood test reveals a suspiciously high PSA count.  Your doctor says he’s “99% sure it’s not cancer” but, to be safe, go see the urologist. So you see the urologist who, after the thorough exam, rules out simpler issues and says you’ve “a 20% chance of cancer.”

So, to be safe, you take another blood test. That test comes back and now there’s little chance there’s any problem; looks like the first test was wrong.

Or then there’s the client, whose teenaged daughter was diagnosed with Lupus the day his $10 million financing closed. Or the other client whose lead investor decided he should be fired the day before the company received a term sheet for a new $5 million investment. Or the woman who, on Friday, agrees to marry her boyfriend only to decide on Monday that he’s not her soul mate.

“How do you do it?” he asked over the phone. “How do you go into the office when all you can think about is what’s happening at home?”

Or in your relationship, I think, or, even, your own body.

Dramamine,” I tell him, making him laugh.

Up. Down. Down. Up. How do you ride the roller coaster?

How do you survive the everyday, ordinary craziness that defines life?

Meds can help I suppose. But, the only real chance we’ve got of surviving, indeed maybe even thriving in, the chaos of ordinary life is to develop a centered core: A set of beliefs, rituals, and inner-knowledge that not only remains unshakable with every gut-wrenching drop but, in fact, deepens over time into a philosophy that is at once unique and lasting.

I think of my own ritualistic behaviors–rising before dawn, journaling, exercise, and meditation—and see them not only as manifestations of my own beliefs (journaling develops a greater self-awareness; exercise provides the short-term benefit of anxiety-release while promoting long-term fitness, and meditation as a practice of accepting things just as they are), but as a means to create order out of the everyday chaos.

Regardless of the inevitable drops, such core systems of belief steady the self and make the everyday possible.

  • Steven Kane

    Can I agree 99%?The 1% I’d differ is, I don’t think any individual is best served by a core set of beliefs or values that is “unshakeable”.For one thing, fanatics and extremists are all “unshakeable” in their core beliefs. We don’t to have our heart and mind and soul hardened; we want to have a core directional set of beliefs and values that actually is shakeable. Though we may have a clear sense of our destination or path or means of life-travel, we don’t sail thru life in a straight line. We tack, endlessly.In a lrger sense, we also need to be “shakeable” because we don’t stay the same person all thru a life. My core beliefs and values are quite different today than 25 years ago — even though I aspired to be a good person, and live a life of meaning and purpose and duty, then and nowMind you, I’m a huge opponent of moral relativism and this isn’t an argument for a sort of “there is no truth only individual perspectives.” I do believe there are concepts of right and wrong and good and evil that can be near universally applied. Still, we do tack, endlessly.

    • jerrycolonna

      Not only CAN you disagree…but you’ve changed my mind (how’s that for not being “unshakeable?”)
      Seriously, I think you’re right. It was a poor word choice on my part. I suppose if I were to re-write it, it would be that the ability to access that inner compass is unfailing, so that as we tack back and forth we can always access the mechanism to tell which way to go.
      Thanks for expanding the concept so brilliantly.

      • Abhay Vardhan

        My take on “unshakable” is that our beliefs may change but there is still something deep inside us that is unshakable. My guess is that there is one truth but our beliefs, being imperfect reflections of that truth, change in time and from person to person. As life gives us experiences, we learn and adapt our beliefs to the renewed understanding of the truth.

        • jerrycolonna

          I’ll not wade into the waters of whether or not there’s one universal truth. That’s a whole ‘nother post unto itself.
          But seeing our beliefs and experiences and notions and thoughts as facets of that truth…now that I can agree with.

          • Madhuri

            Forgive my ignorance in this matter, but I’ve always thought of core values as a guiding compass to help make our our day-to-day decisions easier provided we ask the right questions. In other words, I thought of values such as “aspiring to be a good person, living a life of meaning, purpose and duty” as my core values, and they never change. Our decisions/answers might change on a given situation/question from time-to-time, but I think it reflects the changes in our thought process – the updating of our minds, not updating of our core values. By changes in our thought process, I mean changes in the way we use our core values to serve or generate the answers we seek.

          • jerrycolonna

            I think aspirations and core values are different things, Madhuri. But they can both act as inner compasses. And I think it would be unusual if such things didn’t change over time, in some ways.

          • Madhuri

            But aren’t core values the fundamental morals/ethics that define us? Doing the right thing, playing fair, etc.

  • Abhay Vardhan

    Very true. Until we find the inner core within that is unshakable, inseparable and indestructible, the mind is at the mercy of the day to day vagaries. On the other hand, when we are mindful of our inner core, then external ‘mishaps’ do not sway us and knowing that the core is unshakable we can go about handling the situation the way we can.

    I have found that meditation and exercise help a lot. Good sleep is also very critical. It is also important to figure out what is in life that is actually real and lasting.

    • jerrycolonna

      Well said Abhay.

      • brentter

        i agree 100%. It’s actually why I left a job about 6 years ago and actually was still doing (as far as work is concerned) the same thing just it was for myself rather than the condition I was in. There was a very quick + noticeable change in my entire view of how I was living my life….. and with that came a whole gaggle of other benefits including being able to sleep better (not to mention more), which always helps the mind/body/spirit. My work also (even though it was the same/similar) took on a new meaning, i don’t want to use this strong of a word but it became more ‘real’ to me.

  • matt_winn

    Love the title here. Simulated system as backdrop to a (semi-) engineered life. Never played roller coaster tycoon, but railroad tycoon was an absolute favorite growing up… and an early taste of that wonderful innovation/commerce mix.

    • jerrycolonna

      I loved all the “Sim” games. My oldest son had this maniacal streak…he’d build amusement park rides that would cause the sims to vomit. Nice kid.

      • matt_winn

        Haha… Sounds like the Roller Coaster version of letting loose Godzilla on your Sim City :)

  • John Lynn

    Exercise also is the best medicine for depression. Studies show it’s even more effective than any medicine.

    Here’s a good challenge. You’re mostly centered, but your wife is not. For some reason it seems that most wifes like stability instead of roller coasters.

    • jerrycolonna

      I’ll steer clear of the gender-based generalizations but will agree that it can be hard when you’re out of synch with your spouse as to whether or not you like the roller coaster rides.

    • Tereza

      Although I’m definitely the more roller-coaster-y of my marital pairing, I think you’re probably directionally correct that more women opt for the stability. But for sure not all are, so it’s not a failsafe generalization.

      I could be wrong but I suspect most sustainable couples have one who’s more up-and-down and one who’s more stable. Two stable, and life’s a snooze. Two up/downs, and it could get dangerous.

      But I gotta tell you there is a terrific exercise you can do with your spouse, that’s quick and effective in both relieving depression and getting you aligned. The trick is you have to make sure you do it several times a week.

      Wink, wink, nudge, nudge….

  • Charlie Crystle

    The same can be applied to running a company–establish a framework of core principles, and hold everything up to them. Lots of decisions suddenly become very clear.

    Personally, if I believe in my mission, I use succeeding at it as my beacon. That commitment to a positive outcome drives me, regardless of changing circumstances, or tectonic shifts beyond my control.

    • jerrycolonna

      I think that’s exactly right, Charlie. Individuals, families, and organizations all tend to repeat the same patterns. Your antidote makes a ton of sense.

  • Tereza

    A long time ago someone told me the wisdom to “bend like bamboo”. It really works for me.So imagine yourself rooted…and yet while rooted you can move, respond, be agile, and go with the flow. Maybe even be patient. Everything’s kind of okay when you know that you’re rooted, because you know you’ll come back home.My ritual for rootedness is very simple and possibly sounds silly: I try to be nice to people and create connectedness. It’s my own kind of meditation. It makes me feel really good in the moment and that I’m being true to who I am and where I come from. Lo and behold, frequently, people are really nice in return. And that releases anxiety.Another thing I take comfort in is that in my experience adversity really does make you stronger. When really awful things happen in your life, they provide you perspective which can actually make you much more functional in your work life. Actually I take that back just a little. There are some differences. If you were not culpable in the awful event, then your challenge is to get back on the horse and accept the randomness of life. Possibly learn how to trust or to love again. Very challenging, but doable. On the other hand if one was culpable (e.g. cheated on a spouse and this broke up the marriage) his or her culpability is a whole other thing to wrestle with. And a conscious choice must be made of whether that character is part of who he or she is moving forward, or not. Or, I suppose, they never deal with it and bury those anxieties and the guilt. Sooner or later, it’s going to seep out.What are your life’s Yes’s, what are your No’s. And then how do you navigate all the space and circumstances in between.

    • jerrycolonna

      “Everything’s kind of okay when you know that you’re rooted.”
      Brilliant. I’m gonna steal that line and use it with my clients.

      • Tereza

        By all means!

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  • daveschappell

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last 12-15 months. I’m about to begin my 4th year as the founder/CEO of a small company (TeachStreet) — the first year was pretty hard, with lots of soul-searching, guilt, and internalized stress, trying to ‘will’ the behavior of others. When the behavior didn’t equal my unstated expectations, I’d either lash out, or more normally, communicate with my passive aggressive tendencies.

    More recently, I’ve become much more aware of the highs and lows, as they’re happening. I now actively anticipate the highs (that must be around the corner, because the lows are just so low), and steady myself for the coming lows, when we’re screaming along with everything going great.

    I still haven’t found my ritualistic behaviors — I’ve found that my good habits get thrown out as soon as things start going really well, because I want to keep them going. And, that it’s almost easier to keep my good habits when things are not going so awesome. I’m much closer to that contented balance, but need to keep striving for it.

    I did recently become aware of the importance of 3 must-haves for my own personal happiness, (1) healthy living (2) friends/family and (3) aspiration/striving — summed that up in this post (

    Thanks for your continued great posts — I really enjoy them.



    • jerrycolonna

      Hey Dave…thanks for adding to the dialogue.
      You’re three “must-haves” reminds me of something Parker Palmer writes about:
      We must have work that sustains us (feeds us, helps us make sure that we can be bodily sustained); work that allows us an expression of soul (so who we are can manifest in the world); and a community of people who get us, hear us, accept us.
      When we have all three, we’re closer to whole.
      Thanks for your comments.

  • Deb

    Then there are those of us that have surrendered to the fact that the best course of action is to throw our arms up in the air, emit a howl from the core of our bellies and enjoy the ride. Sometimes it’s our friends and loved ones around us that need the Dramamine! Unless of course we can convince them to join us in the ride of their lives.

  • panterosa,

    I find this post very timely personally, having been subject to many large Ups and Downs recently. I am happy to hear the debate from so many angles.

    I think I equate your sought after “unshakeable” more with centered, balanced, and grounded (which are words I got from you specifically on this subject). I agree with Steven Kane’s notion of constantly tacking as a metaphor for the actual way we travel, instead of in a straight line, though I’d like to take it a step further.

    I think we are talking about traveling in/through space/time while also “traveling”/changing within during that process. To me that is really about the quantum mechanics of electrons bouncing from level to level, or on or off the atom, in response to outside forces. The forces within and the forces without. It is more complex than just tacking in as much as the tack changes you as you make it. I think you really are talking about the fact that as complex molecular machines that we are able to evolve – that is the definition of not only humans, but of all life on the planet, constantly adapting to all our collectively changing situations. As I understand the Buddhist sense of it, it is a series of ever changing “nows”. Nows which must be embraced to keep up, and be in each “now”. Here the unshakeable thing is actually the now itself.

    My own sense of the larger picture – life in social, geographical, political, or moral groups corresponds to Newtonian physics. The life of the individual corresponds to Quantum Mechanics. Quantum and Newtonian Physics are two systems coexisting but not yet reconciled. It is here, I think, that the concept of Tao shows that if one respects the larger laws of nature, or as Sun Tsu called them the Five Fundamentals, then you will know how your daily ups and downs, the “how do you manage? stay focused?” fit into the larger picture. It is only by knowing nature, the laws of nature, big and small, human nature, of periodicity and polarity, as well as knowing oneself, and allowing oneself to evolve, can one express one’s centered, grounded, balanced self.

    I drew a first animation about this growth. And perhaps I should have been dropping acid at Esalen before my time. Your call.

  • brentter

    Well the rollercoaster will always have to hit the bottom before it can climb to the top again…. sucks but this line of work isn’t for people who can’t deal w/ stress….

    • jerrycolonna

      Maybe so. But I don’t think the roller coaster is unique to entrepreneurs. I think it’s endemic to life. And that line of work–living–is for everyone.

      • brentter

        Well we might be agreeing actually, what i meant to be included in ‘dealing with stress’ is how that then correlates to the rest of your life… i.e. personal. Like the story said, u get fired a day before the big contract comes in, or your’e working long and strange hours, etc….

        Some can find a life-work balance even when their work is chaos.. some need more structure, which i understand.. That was more what i was implying rather than just the stress of work by itself. I don’t know if that helped or we’re still taking what was meant by the article differently.. Just had to clarify.

        • jerrycolonna

          The clarity is welcome.

  • Charlie Crystle

    dear monster blog,

    surely you have more to say

    • jerrycolonna

      Just practicing the art of saying, “no.” When the spirit moves me, I’ll write again.

      • Charlie Crystle

        fair enough–thought maybe a reminder would help. this blog is great

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