December 11, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Knowing too much

By |2018-03-21T19:48:44+01:00February 24th, 2016|"American Girl"|
Opting for New York City means taking on challenges, both uptown and down.

very New York City transplant has a story. How they got here. The hard knocks along the way. The couches they slept on. The awful jobs they had before getting on their feet. Some survived and now thrive. Others tried the city on for size only to leave within a year.

Then there are those who’d like to come but talk themselves out of it. My niece Muriel, who lives in Minneapolis, is one such person.

Muriel got in touch with me by email. We’d never been close. She rarely came to family functions. She was quiet and plain and seemed uncomfortable with the chaos of extended family gatherings.

The email was a surprise.

“I have a job offer in Manhattan,” she told me. “I’m considering coming to the city to explore my options. Will you be around later this month?”

Muriel, a cancer researcher, had been offered a dream job at Rockefeller University in Manhattan. The job she was in now, she’d told me, required long hours and management work she found cold and unfeeling. It was well-paid work but she felt unfulfilled and wanted a way out.

But the timing of the new offer was odd. She’d just bought a house and was settling in. Along with the house came other American dream trappings: a car, a yard, and a pet.

The idea of moving to New York was compelling. She said she loved museums, culture and art. It seemed a no-brainer to me. Take the great job you want, sell the trappings, and move to the city. You’ll figure it out.

But Muriel’s thinking was very different from my own. Not until she finally visited me as part of her scouting visit did I understand. She shared every pressing concern aloud.

“How do I sell my house while I’m in Manhattan?”

“Will all my furniture fit, and if not, how much will storage cost?”

“Will I be able to afford the cost of living and also save for retirement?”

None of these details entered my mind when I decided to move to New York years ago. At first I admired her rational thinking. It seemed thorough and clear.

Yet the more I listened, the more overwhelming the process became. Could these calculations actually add up to what a new life offers? Was it really possible to measure the satisfaction of taking a risk or the fulfillment provided by a new job?

Her queries continued:

“What could I get out of the rental market in terms of cost and size?”

“How long will my commute be?”

“What would be my annual transportation costs subway fares? How much is parking for my car?”

We live in an age of big data. Every behavioral metric seems knowable. Maybe having these figures as a guide helps with our sense of security.

But the future is ultimately unknowable — thank goodness for that.

It’s anyone’s guess what forces enter any given life at any given time to enhance and generate joy and opportunity. But giving those forces a chance means stepping outside comfort zones and testing personal mettle. It’s not for everyone.

I thought New York would be a great fit for Muriel. I looked forward to getting to know her. But after she got home, she sent me a simple text message telling me she’d turned down the job. Her reason stumped me. Her taxes were higher than she’d anticipated. In the end, finances trumped a future that seemed to contain some of the ingredients she wanted.

“I’m going to stay where I am,” she wrote. “Everything was just not adding up.”

Muriel will be one less story for the “How I got here” archive. She’ll be one less member of the crowd that walks Sixth Avenue at lunch or takes the A-train at rush hour, one less person to leave the old for the new.

Does it really matter? It can’t be measured. And that makes me glad.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.