This exercise was turning out to be harder than I expected. Doodling, I drew circles around the two entries on the right and arrows, as if to move them to the middle of the page, somewhere between best and worst. Then I drew circles around the two items in the left column and did the same. It was becoming apparent that both the good decisions and the bad ones had some mitigating consequences. Staring at my sheet of paper neatly bisected by a line where decisions from the left and right sides now converged, I came to the conclusion that there are no "right" decisions and no mistakes—or, anyway, not very many, and not as many as you might think.

And that gave me courage.

I tried to imagine how my life would change when I became a real estate developer. A few more phone calls, maybe. I could handle that. Design meetings with architects. Fun! There I'd be in some showroom, picking marble for the showers, choosing faucets. If you've read Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, you know that people contemplating future choices are limited by their own experience, and so we project our own distorted vision of things as we would like them to be, unable to foresee the grisly details and complications that will undermine the happiness we imagine. If only I'd read Gilbert's book before I bought the Granite Building…but not even Gilbert could have changed my mind. I still would have done what I went ahead and did.

Because, in the end, I had one thought that put all the others to rest: My life will be more interesting if I do this than if I don't.

I signed the papers. The word was out. For every person I met who congratulated me and wished me well, there were two who said Pittsburgh was hopeless, nothing would ever change, I must be nuts. I thanked them for their support.

There have been some glitches that I didn't foresee—that, quite frankly, no one could have foreseen. Any number of people with more experience in the field have come forward to volunteer their help. Sometimes this takes the form of free advice, much of it welcome. More often it has proved to be a bid to take the building off my hands. Some of these white knights turned out to be other developers who had been lined up behind me, back when I had the building under contract, waiting for me to come to my senses and walk away. They were still waiting. Just as soon as I realized that I was in over my head, desperate to get out, they would swoop in and buy at a discount. They gave me a few months to stew, and then the offers started coming in.

There was the developer who wanted to turn the building into student housing: People with the means to afford the condominiums I was offering, he contended, wanted to live in fancy suburbs. There was the developer sporting a dark tan in January, who prefaced our conversation by informing me that, although he was a Pittsburgh native, his success had enabled him to escape to Boca Raton. There was the developer who tried to frighten me by saying he'd be afraid to cross the street at night after parking in the garage directly opposite. "You would?" I asked, incredulous. Pittsburgh's crime rate is low, and my building is situated in the Cultural District, where there's plenty of activity in the evening. "Well," he said, "I wouldn't be afraid, but you should be—you're a woman." Like bad blind dates, these meetings confirmed my resolve to go it alone.


Next Story