Decisions, decisions

That feeling when the choice is yours, or, since when are we all grown up?

5 minute read
When do your decisions give you a birds-eye view? When do they keep you on the ground? (Photo by Alaina Johns.)
When do your decisions give you a birds-eye view? When do they keep you on the ground? (Photo by Alaina Johns.)

I remember the drivers’ ed classroom when I was a teenager—especially our instructor. He was a huge, barrel-chested man who wore a black leather jacket at all times, regardless of the temperature. Talking during class, arriving late, and any number of other petty crimes would have the same result.

“You will be asked,” he rumbled, pausing to let the dread settle over us, “to leave.”

Rules of the road

But it was comforting to surrender to such clarity from someone else, especially given what we were about to face on the road. The drivers’ ed handbook emphasized that driving is a state of constant decision making, and if you’re not used to it, it really wears you out.

I still think about this today when I get behind the wheel. Even when a GPS is feeding you every turn, every second with your foot on the gas brings another decision. How fast should you drive? When should you put your blinker on? How close are you coming to the other cars? Can you hustle through that yellow light or should you stop? What’s that thing in the road? Should you swerve or hit the brakes?

Choices in love

Bigger decisions, while they don’t feel as constant, are even more demanding. I heard from a lot of people last week about my piece on being single over the holidays, and one thing I keep remembering is that being single isn’t just a happenstance of my life. It’s a choice I made.

Sometimes, a decision doesn’t feel like one at all. I got married a month before my 24th birthday, not because I had weighed all my options and chosen what I wanted the rest of my life to look like, but because (after growing up in a religious community that values women as wives) I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Years later, the decision to leave my marriage felt like the most terrifying thing I’d ever faced. For a long time, despite undeniable abuse, staying married felt as inevitable as my march to the wedding had been. I couldn’t imagine another life. And then, somehow, I could. It was agonizing. It saved my life.

Neil Bardhan looks at the camera and smiles; he's leaning against a brick wall with the background out of focus
BSR executive director Neil Bardhan is ready to work. (Image courtesy of Neil Bardhan.)

Choices at work

The career decisions that brought me to BSR go back almost 10 years, when I chose to submit my first BSR piece to our founding editor, Dan Rottenberg, and he chose to buy it. I lost my job in the local tourism industry later that year, and there was another decision: continue collecting unemployment while I searched for another traditional job, or make the leap into writing freelance full-time?

Guess the path I took. In 2014, it allowed me to accept the associate editor job at BSR when Judy Weightman succeeded Dan as BSR’s editor-in-chief. When Wendy Rosenfield came into the editor’s chair, I happily chose to stay on. In 2018, when Wendy asked me over vermicelli if I wanted her job, I said I’d think about it.

You know how that decision went.

What I didn’t know until after I’d accepted the job was that it’d be like learning to drive again. Small decisions stack every moment of my workday. Which pitches to accept and why? When should the stories be published? What structures can I build for my colleagues and me? Even the work of writing and editing itself is a thousand tiny decisions, line by line, graf by graf, page by page.

Sometimes, by the end of the day, I’m so tired that when a man asks me, “What should we do tonight?” I’m tempted to cancel the date rather than make one more decision (see: my ongoing singleness).

Knowing our worth

A portrait shot of Kyle V. Hiller smiling.
BSR associate editor Kyle V. Hiller. (Image courtesy of Kyle V. Hiller.)

But every decision is worth the effort—like last year, when I talked to our brand-new executive director, Neil Bardhan, about taking on the editor job. The chance to work alongside him clinched the choice for me. And together, we built a team that now includes our social media manager, Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer; our new proofreader, Meg Ryan; and our associate editor, Kyle V. Hiller.

I came into the editor-in-chief job almost exactly a year ago, and since then, Kyle and I have partnered on more decisions than I can count: the pieces we’ve published; the diversification of our writers and coverage; spotlighting accessibility whenever possible. Now, it’s hard to imagine a workday without Neil and Kyle—emails, calls, texts, and Slack—where we make the choices together about what BSR is and what it will be, from questions over a single word in an article to questions of how we’ll raise the money to power BSR in the coming months and years.

Time to go?

That’s your decision, too—in a sea of decisions about your own finances and a thousand worthy causes flooding your inbox at the end of the year. We on the nonprofit BSR team have so many exciting decisions on the horizon about what arts journalism in the Philadelphia area can become, but your decision to donate—whether it’s a few one-time bucks or a small monthly gift—makes all of our future decisions possible.

As foundations and individual donors decide to step up and support BSR this season, it’s like hearing the opposite of what my old driving instructor used to say. Make a gift to BSR, and in a world that feels like it’s telling independent journalists to leave, you’re asking us to stay.

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