How ‘Sink or Swim’ Decision Making Got Me to New York City


This post was contributed by Till Kaeslin.

I am terrible at making decisions – always have been. I’m not kidding when I say that walking into a CVS can be as stressful to me as taking the SAT was in High School – only instead of staring at impossibly-alike answers A, B, C and D on a piece of paper, I’m standing in front of what looks to me like the Mt. Everest of skin-care products – “What does this serum even really do? Do I need it? Yes, but do I go with the more expensive one or the budget version? Budget version. Ooh but this says it’s for dry sk – what kind of skin do I have? *Feels literal layer of oil on skin* Sure dry is fine *confidently leaves aisle* … … … *walks back into the aisle* Ok but what does this serum even really do??”

I’m not sure if everyone can relate to my decision-making anxiety down to the skin-care aisle, but I am sure that everyone reading this has experienced at least some sort of decision paralysis – the fancy term for when you get stuck in the “weighing your options” step of the process for so long that you delay (or never make) an actual decision. 

Anyways, like I said this has always been an issue for me, but I’ve never noticed it more than after I graduated college and was hit with the decision of what the hell I should do next with my life. 

I know it’s a huge, massive cliché – but for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to (eventually) move to New York City. Growing up near New York, it was always the place at the end of the train line where exciting things happened – where time moved faster, lights shined brighter and each person was more ambitious than the last. 

Decision paralysis: the fancy term for when you get stuck in the “weighing your options” step of the process for so long that you delay (or never make) an actual decision. 

Those illusions didn’t last very long by the way – there’s only so many times you can watch two rats fight over a slice of pizza or a man pee on the steps of a subway station before you retire those rosy glasses. But still somehow an inkling of those original, wide-eyed conceptions must have held-on, because 21 years later, after the shock of walking across a big stage and grabbing my official college diploma had worn off, I found myself still dreaming of making the move out to the big city. 

But did I really want to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world, live in a tiny apartment room with complete strangers as roommates and hop on the hamster wheel of a New York hustle I always heard about? Hell, was I even up for the nightmare process of finding a place to lay my head down in the city? 

Then another, competing idea popped into my head – why didn’t I just go traveling? Instead of having to think about what direction I wanted to steer my career in when I still really had no idea, I could leverage my freedom and work more short-term jobs that could help me move abroad and travel. 

I found myself caught between two big life decisions: pack up my bags and hit the road, or make the move out to New York. At the peak of my decision-making (or lack thereof) crisis, I had just gotten a remote job working for a tech startup (where I still work!). Because the work was remote and only really required a laptop and a solid Wifi connection, both New York and hitting the road were relatively doable options – a huge privilege I admit, but wow if this didn’t make my decision paralysis even worse. 

I remember not knowing what the hell I wanted to do. Could I even afford New York City in my entry-level job? Why did I really want to go there? Hadn’t I always wanted to take off and bounce around the world in true freedom? This was my chance!

I remember talking (ranting) at length to my Dad about all this – how stuck I felt in this decision and how much anxiety I felt at the thought of making the wrong one. In an effort to help me out, he told me a story.

Just shut up, make a decision and stick with it, or else you’ll end up standing still … or worse. 

Here it is (it’s short, I promise): A ship sinks in the middle of the ocean and all the crew are left treading water. Luckily, there are two islands on either side of where their ship sank. The two islands are equidistant from each other, but since it’s pretty much impossible to gauge the distance from the crews place in the water, the captain chooses one of the islands at random and everyone starts swimming towards it. After about half-an-hour of swimming, the group is about halfway to solid ground – but from the crew’s vantage point in the water it looks as though they’ve barely made any progress. Frustrated and constantly looking over his shoulder at the other island behind them, the captain convinces himself and his crew that the other island is in fact much closer than the one they originally chose to swim towards, and so all but one of the group decides to turn around and swim towards the other island. The single swimmer continues on his way to the first island, convinced that despite what it looked like to everyone else, he was closer to making it than he would be should he turn around with the others. In the end the lone swimmer is able to drag himself onto solid ground, safe and sound, while the rest of the crew, having to make up nearly double the distance since they turned around, all become too weak to continue … and eventually drowned. Yikes. The basic takeaway from this story? Just shut up, make a decision and stick with it, or else you’ll end up standing still … or worse. 

This story came to me at just the right time, and it hit me right where it hurt. As annoying as my little decision making quirk always was, it never truly occurred to me that it could be one of the biggest things holding me back. 

Direction is important when making any decision – just like one of the islands could have had more food or less cannibals than the other, any decision you make (from the smallest to the largest) has its consequences, both good and bad. But I truly believe that you are always better off betting on your dreams than you are living them out in your head. 

So here I am, sitting at a cafe in the East Village, clicking and clacking away at my computer keyboard late into the dark of night (because somehow it’s like midnight at 5 PM now … ) I can’t say that I haven’t doubted my decision here and there, or that I don’t cringe every time I open Venmo to pay rent for my tiny closet of a room in Harlem – but what I can say is I would choose this a thousand times over when it was all just a dream. 

I’m not sure how long I’ll be in New York, but here I am for now.

And you? Where do you want to be?

I think it’s time to decide. 

Meet Till: 21-year-old, new-New Yorker navigating post-grad life, figuring myself out along the way and writing it all down. Keep up with with him on IG. 

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