The roller coaster ride of research life is no less scarier than those at Six Flags!
The tale of how Six Flags gave me a close friend and insight into handling the ups and downs of grad school
While I remember most events from my past with an extremely high level of detail thanks to my photographic memory, there is more to why I remember what happened on August 10, 2019. That was the day I went to Six Flags, New England, having purchased the discounted tickets sold by GSC. I had absolutely no idea what Six Flags was or what it had in store for me until my friend, Sharan, sent me a text asking me if I would be down to go to Six Flags. I was on my return flight from India to Boston when I received his text. I was very excited to hang out with him and go to a place I have never been to, so, I immediately responded with “Yes, that sounds great!”. Then, I asked him “What is there to see in Six Flags?”, not knowing what it entailed. He told me that there is more to do than to see in Six Flags, since it is an amusement park with roller coasters.
My first recollection of being on a roller coaster comes from my childhood. When I was eight, I went to an amusement park in India with my family. The park has one roller coaster with a free fall of 1-1.5 seconds, and that was it! In retrospect, it doesn’t even compare to the roller coasters in Six Flags. As a child, I was terrified of that ‘puny’ ride! After that experience, I have no idea what made me think that I could handle the roller coasters in Six Flags. I had no idea how dangerous and terrifying they could be!
When the much anticipated day arrived, Sharan and I went to Six Flags. It was flocked with throngs of people, and we understood that we only had time for a few rides, and decided to only go for the “Thrill” rides. We got in line for Thunderbolt. From my vantage point in the line, I didn’t quite understand how it was a thrill ride! That’s how normal it looked to me. However, I could feel the tremors on the wooden floor while waiting in the queue whenever the wooden roller coaster took off. That was the first red flag, and I started freaking out. As if that wasn’t enough, right after we got into our seats on the ride, Sharan reminded me of the Final Destination movie where the hydraulics on a roller coaster malfunction, resulting in the gruesome deaths of everyone on board. As to not embarrass myself too much, I am only going to say that I screamed a little during the ride, and that I was hoping the whole time that they would stop the ride!
After we were done with the ride, Sharan asked me to pick another “Thrill” ride. I was still reeling from the whole experience of Thunderbolt, and debating if we should do any other rides at all! Unfortunately, I am a people pleaser, and I did not want to disappoint my friend, who clearly enjoyed roller coasters. I looked around and pointed at a ride that was colored in blue and green, just because I like those colors! We went there and found out that it was indeed a “Thrill” ride called Goliath. In my opinion, it is the scariest roller coaster ever! It is an inverted boomerang roller coaster that sends shivers through your spine, quite literally! I was so scared that I could not scream despite desperately wanting to scream. However, once the ride was over, I realized that I made it. Was it bad? Yes, absolutely! But, did I survive something adventurous? Indeed, yes!
We decided to take a break and get something to eat. I could not eat much because I was afraid that I might throw up during the next few rides. And yes, we decided to keep going for other rides despite the paralyzing scare that Goliath gave me! While I was terrified of the roller coaster, I still managed to survive it. And now that I think of it, I can proudly say that I have been on some of the scariest roller coasters! It’s not just about bragging, but the deeper realization I had is that I did something that I thought I could never do. I pushed myself beyond my limits to try something new and adventurous. While every cell in my body wanted to run as far and fast as I could from Goliath, I steered myself towards the ride. Even though I was scared during the first ride, Sharan gave me a lot of courage before getting into Goliath, which helped ease my fear.
During Summer 2019, I was stuck with a research problem which I have been trying to solve for a few weeks. I don’t give up very easily, which is my strength, but I also have a bad inertia when it comes to working on something new or something that I am afraid might not work out well. I realized that I indeed have the potential to push myself even when it is scary, to get something done. This was an extremely valuable lesson to learn, even though I learned it in a surprising location: Six Flags!
I was snapped out of my thoughts when Sharan finished his lunch, and we headed towards more “Thrill” rides. We did Batman the Dark Knight, Joker 4D Free Fly Coaster, Riddler Revenge, and Superman, The Ride coasters. These were amazing rides, and while I initially was fearful, I started enjoying them more the more I tried the different roller coasters. The moment I wiped out the inhibitions and fears about roller coasters, I was able to immerse myself completely, let go, and enjoy the thrills! At the end of the day, I was in love with roller coasters. Later in 2019, I even went to Universal Studios, Orlando and tried every single roller coaster there!
Of course, there are situations where I had to say ‘no’, and I did. Sharan was excited about going for the Harley Quinn Spinsanity ride, but that was something I knew I could not do. Spinning makes me puke! This fact was not something I could change about myself or a fear I could overcome – it was more of a physical limitation. And so, we could not do that ride. I feel that even in research, there are certain problems that I may not be able to tackle, given the time constraints or just an insufficient skillset. And, it is okay to walk away from these problems because forcing myself to address them could lead to, well, not-so-pleasant consequences.
My experience at Six Flags gave me the chance to bond with my friend Sharan. Besides having tremendous fun, the roller coasters at Six Flags taught me some very deep life lessons. As Master Shifu says in Kung Fu Panda, “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are now.” While I learned how important it is to push myself beyond my limits, I also have an understanding that sometimes, it could be in my best interest to walk away from a problem, and that is a-okay!
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