Pages Navigation Menu

Changing Perspectives to Honor a Promise

NYCA Promise Made
We had made a promise to my 20 year old daughter that I didn’t want to keep.  Actually my plan was that my husband, David would make the promise happen, but due to bad ankle, he was on the bench for this one.  The promise was to find an apartment in NYC for Gretta’s junior year in college.  We had made the deal based on two conditions; she would find a suitable roommate and get good grades.  Her best friend in NYC, McKenna was more than a suitable roommate and she made the dean’s list both semesters last year.  It was clear I had to honor the deal.

NYC is very intimidating to a woman who spends most of her time in Southern California and at C Lazy U ranch in the Colorado Rockies riding horses.  Admittedly my navigation skills in a city without mountains were terrible.  I was clueless about subways or how to hail a taxi.  In the West, we drive our cars everywhere.  My girlfriends with college kids in NYC said, “Don’t rent an apartment, it’s too expensive and the process is kind of like buying a house.”

Dan Sullivan, a life and business coach and founder of the international Strategic Coach organization for entrepreneurs at says Obligation minus Commitment equals a Mess.  And that rang true.  This mess I wanted to stay out of involved a big commitment to a series of steps in a place of many unknowns.  I just didn’t have the commitment for the big task or the mess ahead.

Changing Perspectives and Building a Mission
It finally occurred to me as coach who specializes in transformational change that I needed a new perspective.  I was telling myself all the wrong information and asking the wrong questions.  The longer my list of reasons about how hard and expensive the task was, the more stuck I got.  It was time to change my self-narrative and to ask better questions of myself. It boiled down to four questions.   What was possible?  How could I make this goal an adventure?  What if partnered with McKenna’s mom, Mari?  What if we structured the task like a tactical mission?  Quite suddenly it became an interesting planning task and my resistance faded.

Mari and I agreed to work as team to find the NYC apartment. Using friends from the ranch, I found a real estate broker who for a fee would set up apartment viewings the first day in our targeted neighborhood.  Mari agreed to take on the daunting paperwork task of assembling all the financials to qualify as the guarantor.  I would find out from the girls what neighborhoods were acceptable and relatively safe.  I would bring a tape measure and note pads to map out floor plan the chosen apartment so we could identify future furniture.  Mari would be our navigator around town (she was better at figuring out subways and maps).  Now we had a strategy, tools and a plan. 

Apartment Hunting from the Wrong Place
A few weeks later, we met at the Courtyard Marriott in SoHo on a Sunday night.  We reviewed our map identifying the lower East side as our target for an apartment.  24 hours later, we knew how to hail a cab, read a subway map- well Mari did anyway, and succinctly eyeball a pre war walkup apartment in a few minutes.  We also made a quick decision after walking everywhere for hours the first day that we wouldn’t need the treadmills at the Courtyard Mariott gym.

We saw many disqualifiers.  An apartment with a shower pan that required wearing shoes for hygiene reasons.  Tenement hallways in walk ups that were dark, narrow, and smelly with piles of gutter trash outside the windows.  Dirty apartments that required a liberal use of liquid sanitizer after our hasty exit.  An apartment with bedrooms that would ONLY contain a small bed with no place for clothes or a desk.

At the end of the first day, we had a contender for our girls.  A two bedroom, one bath apartment on Church Street that was being renovated.  Each bedroom had a closet and two windows with a view, new hard wood floors, a new bathroom with a tub and an elevator.  Best of all it was priced at the lower end of our budget. 

Mari and I knew we couldn’t settle on an apartment for our daughters without checking out conditions after dark. Our plan was simple. Go back after dark, hang out and watch. To our surprise the shuttered, graffitied storefronts had transformed into restaurants and cafes filled with young people. An open air coffee shop a couple doors away was featuring a classical music performance.

We spotted an old man sitting on a bench near the top of the block. He had a cup attached to a string around his neck for donations. I put ten bucks in the cup and we struck up a conversation. He was the “mayor of upper Church street.” Benjamin had sat on that bench almost everyday for 12 years. The old man was surprisingly lucid and pleasant. He said, “Mostly what I see is young people who are students. This street is their startup neighborhood, then they graduate and move away”.

We had seen and heard enough. It was time to go back to hotel and ready ourselves for a bank run and landlord meeting the next day. We were feeling good about our find, until we learned there was a big hitch.  The landlord didn’t rent to Californians.

The Mommies Hold a Meeting
We insisted on a meeting with the landlord.  We could have a meeting if we brought a six month security deposit, plus first months rent, plus broker’s fees preferably in cash!  YIKES.  A couple of quick calls to our husbands, began with “Are you out of your mind?”   So we pushed back with three months security in an escrow account at 1% interest bearing and some improvements to the apartment.   A meeting was set with our broker, the landlord’s broker and the landlord.

From a SoCal point of view, we were about to meet a group of characters right out of central casting.  We were meeting the landlord, Venturi in his office.  The office was in the basement below a vacant Italian restaurant.  It was dumpy with broken down chairs, two beat up desks, a punch clock from the 1950s, and a large stand alone old green safe.  His office was hot and airless.

Venturi was a well-dressed small Italian man in his 80s with failing eyesight.  His Polish broker Robert, read our paperwork out loud to Venturi to establish our financial qualifications.  Most of the paperwork Mari provided he skipped over.  In the background, was Venturi’s assistant, an elderly Asian woman named Miss Lucy who’s primary job was to handle the paperwork.  While signing our lease, Venturi called the bank to make certain they were open later that day for his next deposit.   This seemed out of the ordinary, but later we discovered most of his tenants are in Chinatown and pay cash.   Venturi and his broker agreed to some improvements for the apartment. 

During the entire transaction, we were referred to as the mommies which felt a little weird as 50 something professional women.  But we overlooked this as our mission was to secure the best apartment we could find within budget. After exchanging checks and signing all the papers, Venturi told Robert to give us his personal phone number in case we ever needed anything at all.   He had our money and we had his blessing. 

The rest of our stay was busy as we traversed the city to take a water taxi to IKEA, check on the renovations that were ongoing in the apartment and explore the city.   Mari and I got what we needed done and became good friends in the process.  The bonus was my new friend Mari.  It turned out to be not only a great adventure but we did a wonderful thing for our daughters too.

The Big Lesson
Would I have done anything differently next time?   Staying stuck with why I couldn’t, and wouldn’t take on the task was a waste of time and energy.  The essence of good coaching, whether you hire a coach or opt to coach yourself is reframing the task or mess at hand by asking yourself transformative kinds of questions.  Marilee G Adams, Ph.D wrote a wonderful book about this very concept called, Change Your Questions Change Your Life   She starts with asking the big how and what questions as you face an obstacle in the path of change.   When coaching clients, often I use the Dr. Adam’s first question  “What is possible?”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.