Or: The downside of never giving up
In any project, there comes a dark moment in the middle where you have to look yourself in the eye and ask, “How much do I really want this?”
I took in the 72” x 48” box in our living room — its contents containing a new whiteboard that I’d convinced myself I needed for optimal “work from home” time — and knew in an instant that there was no way this box would fit up the stairs to our new office loft.
The delivery man and I exchanged a look: Would I really dare ask him to carry this monstrosity back down the four flights of stairs just to return it to his truck? His stern eyes and sweaty brow told me I wasn’t even allowed to entertain the question.
So he left the box in the living room. Time for me to figure out the rest on my own.
New York is a crazy place. But if you can hoist a piano into an apartment through a window, I knew it had to be possible to do it with a whiteboard.
As luck would have it, we live in a quirky duplex with outdoor space. On the fourth floor, our living room opens up to a small breakfast nook with a table and two chairs. On the fifth floor, our office loft opens up onto a roof terrace.
It’s a straight shot down from the roof to the breakfast nook and when you peer over the ledge, the lower level event juts out from the wall. Let’s call it a 12-foot drop down from one level to the next.
Of course, if you drop something off the breakfast nook, it’s four flights to the concrete on the bottom.
All I needed was a handyman to help me rig up the whiteboard and pull it over the ledge from one floor to the next. Easy, right?
I remembered back to my very first apartment in the city, where, in Astoria, I would visit the Home Depot and see “guys for hire” meandering around the parking lot, waiting to be paid in cash for any odd jobs that needed to be done.
So I figured it would only take me 2–3 phone calls to my local hardware store to put me in touch with a willing and able volunteer for the job.
This proved to be a challenge.
“We don’t do that,” I was told by six different moving companies.
“Our guys can’t help you there,” said the hardware shop owner.
“Nah man, that’s not me,” said the most highly rated handyman in my area.
“Why don’t you fill out a proposal on our website, and you’ll hear back from someone within 48–72 hours to see if this is feasible?”
“Our insurance won’t cover that,” said another. “Too much of a liability. Try this other guy.”
“I can only help you if you’re moving cross-country,” said the other guy. “I could move that whiteboard from New York to California, but I can’t move it from one floor of your apartment to another.”
“Sure, we could do that. But we’d need three guys, a truck, proper rigging, and certificates of insurance. You sure you want to pay for all of that?”
My head was spinning. Then finally someone directed the conversation back at me.
“Hang on a second here,” one of the moving company owners stopped me, interrupting my now well-rehearsed story. “Can we just push pause for a moment? Why do you want this thing? Do you really even need this whiteboard?”
I took a beat to respond. “I mean..yes?” I replied, a little less sure than before.
“What are you going to do with it?”
“It’s going to go in our home office.”
“But for what? You need to ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish here. What are you going to use it for?”
It’s rare for someone to call me out like this. Maybe this was the voice of reason that I needed to hear. Even articulating my thoughts out loud made me realize I had crossed over from the brink of logic to pure emotion. My voice grew even softer on the other end of the line as I answered in the meekest voice I could muster.
He was silent on the other end. I felt like an idiot. Thankfully he didn’t press me any further. Instead he offered this:
“Look, if you really need the whiteboard, here’s what I’d do. Just cut the board in half and bring it up the stairs in two parts. You can glue it back together or just place the pieces next to each other on the wall. There you have it. But don’t go out of your way on some crazy overpriced racket just for this.”
I hung up the phone, utterly dejected.
That was my 14th phone call in 40 minutes. I had called movers, hardware stores, handymen, and rigging companies. On my laptop I had three different Yelp tabs open, the Handy app, TaskRabbit, and Craig’s List. And yet, every single phone call that ended in a “no” just sparked a heightened sense of mania for me to get the job done.
It wasn’t until that conversation when it hit me that I might be going insane.
I took a deep sigh, put my head in my hands and asked, “How much do I really want this?”
I walked back downstairs into the living room. That box was massive. Who the hell was I thinking that I could just order a utility-sized whiteboard into my apartment? What sort of operation did I expect to be running from the fifth floor of a Manhattan apartment? Was I just doing this all for the show of it to entertain myself and others?
I picked up the phone and dialed the next number on my list. Four calls later, I had my first real option.
“I have two guys available who I can send at 3 p.m. today. They say they can do the job to tie up your whiteboard and get it up onto the roof. But there’s one condition.”
“Okay…” I started. “What do they need me to do?”
“You’ll need to provide the rope.”
How much you really want it
I’ve been talking about getting a whiteboard at home for months.
Maybe it’s weird. But writing things out helps me process information. In the office, I find frequently need whiteboards to map out ideas — outlines for presentations, project timing game plans, even occasionally I’ll whiteboard while on a phone call. The act of stringing words together visually helps me consolidate my thoughts
But was this worth it? Paying two guys to come over to my apartment and risk eviction by pulling a stunt outside that, if it failed, could seriously injure or even kill somebody five floors down?
I turned to Twitter for a gut check. “Am I insane?” I wanted to know. Results were mixed.
I’ve never been good at knowing when to give up. Once I’ve set my mind to something, I will push and pull at every possible lever until one of them gives way to a success.
Don’t get me wrong — this characteristic has served me well over the years. I’m persistent and stubborn to a fault about seeing projects through to completion. But sometimes along the way, I stop seeing the forest through the trees. So long as I’m making progress on clearing a path, it doesn’t matter to what end. I couldn’t tell if that’s what was happening here too.
I had been so laser-focused on the idea of a whiteboard that I failed to consider any of the practical considerations. Not the least of which would be moving out one day.
These are the hardest calls to make as a business professional. How much effort (be it time, money, or risk) is worth it to achieve the end result? How do you know how much is too much? Where do you draw the line? And if you do push the limits and take that risk, will you want the consequences on your hands for making the call?
I texted my husband one final sanity check.
“Just be really really safe. If it falls, that’s like…a whole world of trouble.”
In the end, we didn’t use the rope.
The guys thought they could do it just by having one person stand on the breakfast nook and one person stand on the roof, then simply hand it off.
The box wasn’t quite long enough to reach. The guy downstairs stood on his tiptoes pushing it up as far as he could, meanwhile the guy on the roof precariously leaned over our railing…reaching down. Through the confusion and lack of contact, I saw the box start to teeter slowly away from the wall. My jaw dropped and I instinctively put my hand over my mouth in shock. “Somebody is going to die,” I thought.
The moment passed as soon as the thought struck me. Once I snapped back into it, I snapped this photo of the box reaching the threshold of our roof. Seconds later, it was inside the floor of our office.
We did it.
I asked them if this was the weirdest job they have ever been asked to do. Not even close, they told me. I offered them beer and water. They took the water.
When I opened the box, I discovered that, due to poor shipping, the box was badly damaged, my whiteboard had two large scratches on the frame, and I was missing all of the pieces to attach the wheels. I promptly called the provider.
“We are so sorry for this inconvenience,” said the operator. “To make up for it, we’ll take back this whiteboard and send you a full replacement whiteboard free of cost…”
“NO!” I nearly shouted. “I mean, that won’t be necessary. It was already kind of a hassle to get it up here anyway…. What would you say about discounting me for the damages?”
The refund I negotiated made up for for about half of what I paid my on-call movers, making me feel a little less conflicted about the whole ordeal.
And by the end of my first (outdoor) whiteboard working session on Friday, I knew I made the right call. In the case, it just happened to take 17 other phone calls to get to the one yes I needed.