The Roller Coaster Effect: Why Women Say No to the Opportunities They’ve Attracted

I’ve seen this dynamic in many of the women I’ve coached where they get clear on something they want, and then it walks into their life, and all of a sudden, they freeze up, get scared, and think I’m not ready.

This is what we call The Roller Coaster Effect. 

You’re about to tip over the edge, and you’re grabbing onto the bars thinking, I’m not ready. I’m not ready. Stop the ride. I’m not ready

And time after time, I’ve seen women freeze up and say no to the opportunity. 

So maybe you were job searching, and someone says, “I’m looking for someone to head this new department. I think you’d be great. Let’s start talking about it.” And you think, I’m not ready. Or, I’m looking for something else.

Maybe you push off the conversation. Or maybe you show up for the conversation, but you don’t truly own it. I’ve seen it happen again and again, and I’ve seen it happen to myself as well.

There’ve been moments where I just wanted to slow down, the ride and I thought, Uh oh, I’m about to get on the roller coaster. It’s time for me to say yes even though I don’t feel ready and to just let it go. 

So why does The Roller Coaster Effect happen?

I think it happens because women are socialized to feel like they can’t disappoint people. They’re socialized to worry about other people’s experiences—other people’s expectations. 

And when an opportunity comes along, the kind of thing you’ve dreamed of that’s ambitious and exciting, all of a sudden you start to get imposter syndrome. 

You think, What if I’m not as good as I think I am? What if I can’t handle this? What if I’m a disappointment? And then you start thinking, What if I didn’t really want this? 

I’ve had students ask me, “What if I was just fired up on my coaching call,” or, “I thought I could do this, but I was wrong.” 

And then you may not say no, but you’ll do self-sabotaging things to slow down that Roller Coaster Effect and to have those opportunities pass you by. 

So in effect, you’ve marshaled your energy to get the things you want, and then you’ve said, “Actually, no, I don’t want that.”

And those opportunities and potential future opportunities pass you by because you’ve shifted the energy that you’ve put up there. 

There are a lot of situations we put women in, where they’re focused on other people’s experiences. They’re putting other people first. Even the idea of “she led him on,” which we now know is actually part of the spectrum of behavior that leads to sexual violence, boundary-crossing, and a lack of consent. 

That basic concept is still embedded in the way we socialize girls and women and lead them to make sure they feel 100% totally perfectly ready. They’ll have someone else sign off on it before they’ll say yes to an opportunity.

And the truth is, most opportunities that you will grow in, that will stretch you, that will feel like you’re really living at your potential won’t be opportunities you feel 100% ready for. 

So the next time you’re experiencing The Roller Coaster Effect, I want you to imagine that I’m whispering in your ear saying, “It’s okay. You can handle this ride.” 

There might be four loop-de-loops, and yeah, that’s a little scary, and your stomach’s going to jump, but you will be okay. You can handle this ride. And even if you freak out, you’ll get yourself through it because that’s the way you can grow into your full potential.

Hi I'm Mia

Mia Scharphie , career coach, headshot

I’m a career coach and strategist with a secret power (I mean, past career) as a designer. I love road trips, graphic novels and helping people like you design the career you love on your own terms.

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