25 Years. And I'm Back For More.
This year marks my 25th year as an Executive Assistant. 25 mutha*#%^@king years! And you know what? I wouldn't trade it for anything.
I have been fortunate enough to have worked for some amazing executives, each with their own individual style, quirks, and level of achievement. And, together, we've crafted our own, unique story that is now woven into the fabric of our individual lives as well as the lives of those within the company.
People constantly ask me why I'd choose a career of daily martyrdom, disrespect, and condescension by the very people I support. I mean, who would willingly choose a career where your professional ceiling still lands you squarely in the sea of servitude? Some chastise me for not taking the next step and starting a company of my own. Clearly, I've learned and seen enough to be quite successful in my own endeavor, right? True, actually.
However, I'm a firm believer that you must do things in your own time. You must hone your skills, master the intricacies, build your brand and build the competence and confidence to make the leap. Full disclosure, I've had a company of my own since 2013. I work it in tandem with my current job. I nurture it like a newly lit campfire, adding kindling and care until one day it rages to a point where I can justify making the leap when I feel as though "my work, here, is done." And I'm close. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't be a 50-year-old Executive Assistant. And I aim to keep it.
So, why do I love being an Executive Assistant so much? Enough to keep me in the game for 25 years?
There is something magical about working daily with someone who has achieved much more than you. Bearing witness each day to a drive and intensity you might lack or an alternative way of thinking through complex situations or a smoothness and confidence that made them successful, there’s no better education. But, let’s go deeper. What I may lack in Ivy League education, connections and money, I more than makeup for in empathy, intuition, and nuance. I can tell what my boss is thinking at almost any time. I know when he’s distressed. I can feel when he needs something but isn’t able to articulate it. I know when it’s been a rough night or when I’ve over scheduled him or when he needs to be left alone to catch up, simply from looking in his eyes or watching his mannerisms or the tone in his voice. It’s my job. And one that I relish.
Once the newness has worn off, there is a friendship that is formed. It’s not a typical friendship. It’s something unique to exec and Assistant. There’s a cordiality and an ease that the best duos achieve. There’s a trust level and a culpability that, once achieved, allows everything to just flow. It takes effort and maintenance, for sure. But once you get there, as a professional EA, it’s utopia. This is what keeps the role interesting and ever-changing.
No two days are alike for me. And I love it. I’ve been in a situation where a beloved employee died, a close friend of my exec, and I’ve had to become the glue that literally held the company together until the grief subsided enough to hand back over the reins. I’ve had one boss escorted out of the building after being summarily fired, tearfully asking me to “take care of the team.” I’ve had a boss throw a deal tombstone at me (I threatened to kick his ass afterward, no lie), yell at the tops of her lungs, drunkenly pee in the bushes at my swank events, call me with a ToDo list while I’m at my grandmother’s memorial service, and so many crazy tales regaled in the book I’m currently writing. For 25 years I’ve witnessed some pretty incredible highs and abysmal lows and, dammit, it’s been one of the best movies I’ve ever watched and acted in. Maybe it’s me who cosmically attracts insane situations. But, again, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Let’s keep it real, people. C-suite Executive Assistants get some pretty awesome perks. And they’re not even the ones in our compensation packages. For instance, we book travel for our execs daily. We can spot a good deal, an incredible hotel or just the right things to do and places to see anywhere in the world because it’s our job to provide these for the people we support. When I go on vacation, I know exactly where to stay, whom to call to score a dinner/event reservation, which car service to use (likely given free from all of the business I send their way) and whom to contact for virtually anything my heart desires. All this from being an EA. Imagine that.
This is the newest and most exciting part. After 25 years of doing what I do and becoming one of the top 1% in my industry, I’m paying it forward. I’m a true believer that becoming an Executive Assistant IS a worthwhile and rewarding career path. It is fraught with opportunity, challenge, and change much more than many so-called respectable careers. I’ll challenge any Engineer to write a book more interesting than the one a C-suite Executive Assistant could write. (Don’t come for me. I love Engineers.)
However, I’m a firm believer that we’ve gotten complacent and mired in this belief that we’re still just coffee getters, the calendar whiz and the one who “creates calm from chaos.” Newsflash: we do that shit on autopilot. We’re now business partners, culture czars, and project managers who drive initiatives, not just schedule the meetings for them. We see everything and know, pretty much, everyone involved which allows us to be fantastic intelligence agents, internally and externally. EAs have banded together, secretly, and have created a network so deep and powerful that our bosses, had they have known, would be tapping us for info on the daily. Sadly, our predecessors in this role have done us a great disservice by not passing the torch willingly or remaining in position a little too long and just collecting the check. Our PR, though improving, is still at an all-time low in my eyes. My calling, I’m sure of it, is to change that misperception starting with EAs in the highest profile jobs in the top companies worldwide. We have a responsibility to set the stage for our up-and-coming sisters and brothers and to start making some demands in the workplace that are completely reasonable, but often go overlooked because EAs consistently lack the confidence to speak up. Time’s up with that BS.
The beauty of being a 25-year vet in this role is that I get a birdseye view of the future, daily. I can stare at a balance sheet or a K-1 and gauge whether or not a company will be viable in 5 years. When I worked in VC and Investment Banking, my bosses would jokingly ask me what I thought about a company since I was putting together the pitch books and had access to all of their financial information. Let’s just say that I dispensed more “nope”s than “yes”s, with frightening accuracy. I knew when Dot Com 1.0 was going to fizzle out and I started a consultancy that capitalized on the liquidation…which sustained me for 2 years. I knew Google would eclipse Yahoo! I once reached out to Jeff Bezos with a heartfelt email expressing to him that “you are the future” and asking him to lunch. He actually responded. No lunch tho, but he offered his thanks and mentorship. We eventually took Amazon public, so there’s that.
I get the opportunity at C-level to see far above sea level. (Might tweet that…that was good.) Over the years I’ve developed a business acumen far superior to most of my EA peers because I’m infinitely curious and fan of “what’s to come” vs. simply being content with “it is what it is.” I purposely put myself in situations just because I’m curious to see what works, what doesn’t, and what could make it better. I love to discover new methods, technologies and incredible people just finding their voice and doing everything I can, through my network, to make sure those voices get heard. They are our future, though often ignored for socio-economic reasons or misperceptions or simple lack of polish, enough to catch the eye of the Big Boys with the resources they need.
So for those of you who’ve disparaged someone like me or my sisters and brothers in this role as “lackies” or “failures” in some way, count three fingers over, starting with your thumb. That's for you. There’s really no other role within an organization that allows for more visibility and autonomy. We connect with people at every level internally and externally, while other roles are only exposed to the people within the meeting. CEOs of top companies know our names and refer to us accordingly. Freakin’ Jerry Yang walked up to me with, “Hi Phoenix. I’ve been dying to meet you. Pleasure.” I mean, c’mon!
So, yes, I’ve been an Executive Assistant for 25 mutha*#%^@king years! And I’m damned proud of it. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve sacrificed a lot and continue to do so. It’s certainly not a job for just anybody. But it’s one that has brought me so much opportunity, growth, and fulfillment. It has shown me far more than I could ever have imagined or achieved on my own and put my name in the mouths of people I’ve idolized for years. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. Now, it’s my turn to help build and inspire the next generation of MEGA Assistants and morph this role into a true business partnership and omniscient resource for execs and their teams. We have a ton of work to do collectively, but I’m up for the challenge. WE WEAR THE PRADA NOW!