Widgets Magazine


Freshly Baked: Choices

If you ever go out for a meal with me, a bit of fair warning: you might want to bring something to do for the first 10 minutes of the meal. Like a crossword puzzle. Or homework. From the minute that I get a menu to when the waiter comes by to take the order, I can be a pretty terrible dining companion, poring over the menu like I’m studying for a midterm. Sure, I’ll nod here and there, chuckle at the right times, slip in some “mm-hmm”s and “do tell me more”s, but I’ll really be racking my brain over whether I should get the pork or the fish. See, I want to try everything, but, like all humans not named Takeru Kobayashi, I can only eat so much, so choosing just one option becomes about as big a crisis as they come for me. Of course, just as all my study time never seems to stop me from failing on my midterms, my intense menu perusing never helps me settle on a dish by the time the waiter comes over.

So, when the waiter asks me what I want, I end up having to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. The first time this happened, I was mildly terrified of what I’d done, but I’ve become used to, and now even embrace, these “game-time decisions.” Sixty percent of the time, it works very well, but really, it works every time. Sometimes, I just knock it out of the park (like the time that I picked out the world’s best corn dog at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk), but I’ve found that I usually end up happy regardless of what gets placed in front of me.

I tend to make other decisions at the very last minute, too. And as with my meals, despite all the worrying I do beforehand, it always seems to work out in the end. Friday afternoon, I had to make one of the biggest decisions of my life so far, deciding whether I would be taking a job in Houston or a job here. For the past two weeks, I’d been asking my parents for advice, talking to my friends, doing research on living in Houston and in San Francisco, thinking about how each position would be best for my career, considering where I’d be happiest and pretty much just getting myself into the worst tizzy. I was trying to be as rational and thorough as possible, but the more rational and thorough I got, the more confused I became. On Thursday, I was up all night working on an assignment due Friday. The next morning, by the time I finished up, I only had a couple of hours left before I had to call the company in Houston and let them know my decision. I thought about just staying up and going over my options one last time, but I decided to quite literally “sleep on it” instead, figuring I didn’t want to be incoherent when I made the call. When my alarm woke me up a couple of hours later, the decision just popped into my head: I would be keeping my talents in the Bay Area.

It might seem a little strange that I spend so much time weighing the different options before seemingly ignoring everything I’d considered to make a decision based on a gut reaction, but these gut reactions actually tend to work out because of all that thinking. If I’m making choices, I’ve probably filtered out the really bad options already, so any choice is going to be better than okay. After that, it’s just a matter of being happy with the choice and not peeking over at the grass on the other side. Besides, uncertainty can be fun, even more so when you’re certain to make a good choice. That’s still uncertainty, I think.

Some might call the say-something-at-the-last-minute-because-I-don’t-want-to-think-more method lazy. I call it being risky, being bad, being James Dean (who, in case you’re under the same mistaken impression that I used to be under, is not the same person as delicious sausage-maker Jimmy Dean). Yes, let’s think of it that way; the next time we go out to eat, the 10 minutes of menu reading is just me getting ready to be full of badness. Maybe you don’t need to bring anything after all — it’ll be quite a show.

Tim is trying to figure out where to go for dinner. Set him up for a game-time decision by e-mailing suggestions to timmoon@stanford.edu.