The future of Assisting is bright and bursting with opportunity. I think Assistants and Managers are not only prepared for the change, but they’ve been proactively advocating for and creating the shift for years.
As assistants, we know how valuable our presence is in every situation. Every day, we watch the line blur between our role as skilled taskmaster and the one of empathetic advocate. It seems that the years of fierce, unbridled loyalty to our Managers’ personal and professional lives are finally paying off, as assistants are now receiving the public recognition they’ve earned.
As our profession rises in rank, it continually evolves into one of the most highly coveted and acclaimed professions for the meticulous multitaskers of the world. We’ve stepped out from behind the desk, released the shackles binding us to the keyboard, and emerged into a world primed for radical change and growth. Although still skillfully managing backstage, our lives are no longer required to blend into and, eventually, become the lives of our Managers.
As this trend continues, I think our industry will see a lot more structure and support to ensure that we, too, receive loyalty and advocacy in return.
Getting In Position
It is an exciting time to be an Assistant because we have the rare opportunity of positioning ourselves to embrace these changing tides and create the life and career we want. The best way to position yourself for these changes is to continue being the same flexible, loyal and hardworking individuals you’ve been all along.
Use your flexibility to embrace the new support structures as they arrive and your IQ to implement these new tools to maximize efficiency. Then, use that coveted EQ to speak in your Manager’s language as you state your case for change and facilitate smooth transitions.
At the end of the day, your Manager loves and appreciates you. If something makes life easier for the both of you – he or she just needs your assistance to recognize and embrace the benefits. Teach them how to use the tools that bring you happiness.
My Toolkit of Experience
In this profession, EAs have the unique opportunity of working for someone extraordinary while also learning how to be extraordinary. If done correctly, what results from the duration of their time together is far more than hourly wages and a job title. What we actually gain is the most coveted and pure form of role modeling.
As such, much of my personal evolution happened as a result of 1) the cards I was dealt, and 2) the Managers who believed in me along the way. In return, even after moving on to new career opportunities, I remain open to new belief systems and ways of doing things suggested by my former employers.
What I’ve absorbed from my extraordinary Managers thus far is that the more I actively listened to their requests and instructions, the more I learned about the fundamentals of success. I found (and continue to find) that to be successful you must make peace with never knowing it all, but always continually strive to know more than you did. Like authenticity, curiosity is a vital component to my growth as an assistant and as a human being (see more here: Top Predictor of Career Success).
When I was a child, my grandmother encouraged me to make an Important Things Box (aka ITB). Being a typical 8 year old, I started filling an old shoe box with things that I deemed valuable. Inside, I placed pretty rocks from our gravel driveway, fur from my favorite dog, my first old fashioned glass Coke bottle, and a little beaded purse that my grandmother gifted me for the purpose of collecting things while out in the field. Recently, I opened the box that has since become a time capsule of my past and realized that the curiosity my grandmother encouraged has since evolved into the way I approach everything in life.
The ITB, although essentially just an old shoe box, forced me to look at the world through open eyes and with an open mind. It taught me how to prioritize and be selective when choosing to bestow value upon things. I wasn’t holding on to baseball cards that would increase in value over time, so nothing in the ITB ever amounted to any monetary value. Instead, everything in that box ties to a sentiment or memory that remains crisp in my mind because as I felt it or experienced it, I also acted upon it by placing a symbol into a box. The ITB allowed me to pause and embrace a moment, so that as I aged, I could look back on all my moments and extract the bigger lesson.
If I were to look back on my many years of assisting to compile an ITB, I would find this curiosity in every lesson and experience. Much like what is eulogized about Steve Jobs’ curiosity-fueled passion, I, too, believe that “curiosity fuel[s]… passion and provid[es]… us with access to unique insights, skills, values and world-class people who complement… [our] own skillset.”
Below you will find all my curiosity-fueled lessons from my career and life. Think of it as a peek into my Important Assisting Things Box. Use it as your code, your reference or your acronym for personal and professional excellence. It is my hope that it can help you prepare for the career and life changes awaiting you, so that, when the time comes, you can welcome the shift with open arms.
- Asking for help is NOT a sign of weakness.
Despite what popular culture tries to sell you, asking for help is a sign of strength. Pride, in no way, equates to strength. Instead, strength is found in the hard decisions made in the most vulnerable of moments.
- Stop trying to force round pegs into square holes. Full stop.
Youth teaches us to possess things. We think that if we capture something it will always be ours. Truth of the matter is that the things that stay aren’t the things we trap or possess; they are the things we love.
- Systems must be dynamic because life is not static.
This lesson extends from preferred organizational systems all the way to preferred relationships. Think of yourself as a vessel carrying a heavy load. Distributing the weight makes for an easier and more enjoyable trip. That ideal weight distribution will always depend on the size of the vessel, the weight of the load and the length of the trip.
- Inquisitive individuals find out what’s behind the doors that others are too afraid to open.
Want to really shine as an asset that other executives covet? Be both smart and fearless.
- Simplify. Complicated creates chaos.
Your job exists because life is complicated. You are the expert in chaos management. Don’t stand in your own way. Do your team the courtesy of removing as many of the mental and physical roadblocks as possible.
- Thank you is a small sentence with a big impact.
The gratitude I genuinely feel and extend to those around me never fails to circle back.
- AUTHENTICITY is one of the few things that can outshine an ivy league education.
Your EQ is higher than that of the average human. You know when you’re manipulating a situation for your own good and not for the benefit of your team. You have the power to change your world. You hold the keys to success and failure. Like Arianna Huffington says – the wolf that wins is the wolf you feed.
- No is a powerful word. It should be used as such.
I won’t say no to a task I feel is beneath me; I know that there is always someone out there willing to work twice as hard to be in my position. Alternatively, I will say no to a task that jeopardizes my health and well-being because you cannot serve others if you cannot serve yourself.
- Timing is everything.
There’s a gentle balance between when to add value and when to keep your mouth shut. Remain observant and mindful so you can fine tune your ability to be perceptive.
I am human, so there is continual room for improvement in adhering to these lessons. However, these lesson also highlight the clear correlation between the person I am, and why I excel in the EA career path. As a human, I will always be flawed. As an assistant, I am given the opportunity to use my ability and empathy to be of service to others.
A life dedicated to the molding and helping and inspiring and supporting of someone outside of ourselves extends a genuine reminder that our flaws are small in the big picture of life. An EA’s instant gratification doesn’t come from a constructed number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers, it comes from something and someone real.
We are the professional caretakers of the world – minding less about the glamorous moments and more about the impact of all moments. We never stand on the sidelines of life. We can’t. There’s always a job to be done.
This way of being is powerful and I’m honored to be one of the amazing souls traveling this path. Thank you for following The EM Blog’s first series of blog posts on how to inspire and enable the lives of executives and executive assistants. As EM grows, The EM Blog will grow in tandem. I look forward to growing together and creating magic on and off the computer screen.