We are always fighting. We are fighting for the job, we’re fighting for the relationship, we’re fighting our partner or parents to be a certain way, we’re fighting to maintain our fixed agendas. We’re fighting to get people to understand us, we’re fighting to get our body a certain way, we’re fighting to make money, we’re fighting to avoid failure, we’re fighting for the next success, we’re fighting to be what we think we should be. All this fighting hardens us, contracts us and makes us sick. Fighting has to do with getting. And a get sense of mind is not a healthy state of mind. When we put out a get mentality, we’ll be got. But when we relax, we receive.” – Baron Baptiste
It is an interesting time for work-life wellness. On the one hand, many companies are making more of an effort in the wellness arena by acknowledging the importance of a balanced lifestyle. On the other hand, the mobility of digital communication has allowed work to become more consuming and all-encompassing than ever. If we let ourselves, it would be possible to never disconnect.
This dynamic is only exacerbated for EAs who are essentially life managers. As life managers, we are professional project managers and our expertise is in the logistics of life. Our tasks aren’t solely work-related or life-related, they are management-related.
Unlike the professional field where sensitivity and intuition are often overshadowed by deadlines and rulebooks, Life Managers must incorporate sensitivity when applying deadlines and use intuition when adhering to conventional rules. We don’t work set hours or report to offices to distinguish work time from personal time. When a manager needs something done, they need it done whether it is within normal work hours or not.
Flexibility is part of the job of a life manager, but it doesn’t mean that we must sacrifice our life for our job. Let’s take a look at what work-life balance really looks like and where EAs can take proactive steps to integrate work-life wellness for both themselves and their Managers.
Defining Work-Life Balance
In the life management industry, the job doesn’t start at 8 AM or stop at 5 PM. EAs know that the job stops when both the Manager and the Assistant have scheduled for it to stop. Fluidity of scheduling is a life choice vital to the success of this duo, and EAs make these scheduling concessions every day, week, and year that they plan their lives around that of their Manager.
In exchange for a fluid schedule, EAs gain the flexibility of working from interesting places, working out of yoga pants and PJs, and working at unconventional times. One of my jobs required me to work full-time Wednesday through Friday and part-time on Tuesday and Saturday. It took some time to adjust to this schedule, but I quickly learned the benefits of having a day off on a Monday. The stores were always open, the bank had normal hours and I didn’t need to account for the bus’ sporadic weekend hours. Ultimately, it was a life win.
Unfortunately, work-life balance doesn’t just come from adapting to a schedule that you must abide by in order to gain and keep a job. It also involves integrating happiness and wellness habits into that schedule.
When I first started working on EM, I spent 14+ hours a day sitting on my couch in front of my computer. Some days, the only time I left the house was to attend an intense power yoga class – the opposite of what my body needed. Before I knew it, I was overwhelmed with all the stress and unhealthy habits that I’d welcomed into my life.
My body started to deteriorate under the stress. That’s correct; I allowed my only body that had already survived a decade of cancer, surgeries and treatments to become overwhelmed by stress at my own hand. Unhealthy habits are just that easy to incorporate into life. That’s probably why the healthy habits seem to be so much harder when, in actuality, they aren’t and their impact is so much greater.
When I decided to make a change, I knew what I had to do; I had to infuse happiness back into my life. Not the kind of happiness that comes with wealth or success or material things, but actual joy.”
So, I thought about the things that once brought me genuine happiness and employed a concerted effort to prioritize them. Instead of going to a hardcore power yoga class, I started making regular trips to play with my favorite toddler and make cookies. Instead of working from my couch, I started working with other friends that worked remotely. Little by little, as I infused my life with laughter, my creative brilliance, inspiration and health returned.
Learning work-life balance is so important at any stage, but it is especially crucial at the assisting level. You are not only taking on two lives for the price of one, but you are also setting your foundation for success should you continue to rise in the management ranks.
The best and most inspired leaders are those who radiate true joy. Their happiness is as palpable as it is authentic. Their coping skills are healthy. Their instinct is to nurture and create. They are the people capable of compromise and the reason why that compromise sticks.”
To highlight the importance of balance in the life of high-level executive assistants, we reached out to the fabulous Rosianna Halse Rojas, celebrity EA to novelist John Green and social-media powerhouse in her own right. Check out EM’s awesome interview with this shining industry leader and learn how she inspires joy in her own life and the lives of those around her.
There’s a quote that says there would be no war if women ruled the world. I disagree. There’d be no war if joyful people ruled the world. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get joyful!
Losing the Balance
It’s one thing to manage your energy, but the ability to access it on-demand is how you unveil your hidden power. IGNITE IT!” – Baron Baptiste
The bane of an Assistant’s existence is also the center of their job description – handling all those pesky details! Amplify the chaos involved in just tending to your own details as a high-level individual capable of performing as a high-level Executive Assistant and add to it those of a high-level Executive. It’s exhausting just thinking about it!
As an Assistant, you are on call all the time. Middle of the night, middle of the weekend, middle of a date, middle of a vacation – you name it and I’ve probably had to work through it. When in the midst of incessantly running around, sometimes you don’t realize that you’re running on empty. Your mind is so busy working and anticipating that you forget to be present in the present. That mindfulness we talked about, while in the thick of it – it still applies to you and your work, but somehow you stop applying it to you and your life.
There is a downside to high emotional intelligence – it is that the ability to empathize, once learned, is hard to ignore. I think Rosianna said it best when I asked her to isolate the hardest part of the EA job. She said, “It’s ok to say – I physically can’t do that today. We think that whatever our boss says is the law because we are so accustomed to over-delivering. We forget that they will understand that we are human.”
It is part of the Assistant DNA to nurture, to love and to sacrifice. It is part of the Assistant job description that sometimes prevents us from nurturing, loving and sacrificing for ourselves. That is why wellness is such a crucial element to the work-life of an EA and a Manager. For most executives, their work is also their life. For most assistants, their Manager’s life is just as important to them as their own.
The Good and Bad of Boundaries
Boundaries are so important, but also so difficult to define. In an intimate relationship like that of an EA-Manager, the boundaries will vary by personality and circumstance. One of my advisors, Kiersten Mooney (who is also the owner of a wellness organization), made an excellent suggestion when I asked how Managers and EAs can most efficiently and successfully develop and enforce wellness boundaries. She suggested that they take some time to workout together.
At first blush, it seems unlikely that an EA and Manager would or could actually workout together. They spend most of their time passing balls back and forth to ensure nothing is overlooked. How could both of them possibly put the balls down at the exact same time just to exercise? But, when I pause to think about it – it’s actually quite brilliant.
We are most accountable for our actions when we work in pairs.
That’s why this relationship works so well – the EA and Manager are constantly holding each other accountable. Why would we not infuse wellness into this mix? If an EA and Manager are such a successful pair in every other aspect of life, why not ask them to hold each other accountable where it counts both externally and internally? Even if they can’t manage to work out in tandem or don’t see the appeal in sweating in front of the other, they can still hold each other accountable in other ways. Setting time aside on the calendar for wellness and enforcing it. Announcing goals to each other to help create and adhere to a wellness plan.
If an EA and Manager are compatible and their foundation is strong, this pair can do amazing things in all aspects of life – not just in the boardroom. Prioritizing each other’s wellness, sets a boundary founded on gratitude. That gratitude reminds us that we are human. And when we think of our Manager or our Assistant as a human first, it sets our default to kindness.
When to Add more Life into Work
We all know the signs of fatigue, depression, disease, and illness. When you are constantly attentive to something external, you get to know these four things quite well. You get to know them so well that you begin to make excuses as to why you can’t change. But, like I said before – when it comes to cheating perception, the only person cheated is you.
Signs You are Overworked and Under-Joyful:
- Unprompted Resentment and Anger
- Feeling Unable to ‘Turn Off’
- Neglecting Important Relationships
- Infusing Friends & Family Time with Hostility or Exhaustion
- Neglecting the Boundaries You Have Set For Yourself
Before my experience with cancer, I wanted to be successful, glamorous, famous and rich. I grew up in Naples, Florida with parents that were very driven to see me succeed to the same level of affluence I’d grown up around. I worked all through high school. I graduated college in three years while working two full time jobs. I busted my butt working until I literally passed out in my office hallway and had to be transported to the hospital.
After my experience with cancer, I wanted nothing more than a life filled with real love.”
I wanted to experience things and to feel them down to my bones. I wanted the people around me to stop pushing me so hard and to start embracing the joy I’d almost lost.
In a meeting with Kiersten last week, we discussed wellness and why it’s only genuinely embraced after a health crisis occurs. When it comes to wellness, we are a reactive society when we could and should be a proactive one. The American Dream looks glamorous because we rationalize it that way, but working non-stop for the goal of “beaucoup dinero” doesn’t mean you’re working less hours for more wealth. It means you’re forsaking the wellness of the body you have now for the chance that you might have grand success later. You’re letting someone else determine the value of your life.
So we take pills for high blood pressure, seek counseling for a growing number of insecurities, jump off bridges and buildings to end our depression, ingest adderall to study longer hours, and drink cocktails to unwind. We lose sight of the joy in life for the “promise” of something that isn’t even guaranteed.
As a close friend once said, disease comes from chronic dis-ease. Use that mindfulness to find your way back to the joy. Do what you love and love how you do it. You will find that the reward for true success is the ability to live a life filled with true ease.
Work-life balance is not something unattainable that only a few of us are lucky enough to have. It is available to each and every one of us as long as we are willing to work for it. We can do this by setting boundaries for ourselves and others, making time for joy in our lives and be willing to ask for help from a friend, co-worker or manager.
What lies ahead is the possibility of fresh pathways and a whole new kind of power to light up yourself, your life and your entire world.” – Baron Baptiste
In order to be our most productive selves, we must take care of ourselves and make our lives whole.
How do you find balance between work and life?
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