Balance. For a dedicated executive assistant, this can seem like a near-impossible goal. Quite likely, our work is always on our minds. For many, our work follows us home with requests via text, phone calls and emails. The separation between work hours and personal time is not clear. This is not the kind of job where you can walk away at the end of an 8 hour day and leave your work behind.
In the early days of my career, I got a unique text at 7:00AM. It was a picture of a pile of doggie doo. A senior executive had arrived at the office early on a Monday morning, saw the offensive mess and promptly let me, the executive assistant to the President and CEO, know that this was happening in the office. So while I continued to put on my makeup and get ready for the day, I contacted facilities to execute a rapid clean up. I was annoyed that this leader couldn’t take care of it on his own but even more so was captivated at this notion: my role was vital. I quickly realized that my position was a hub for all sorts of communication.
And now, years later, I still am viewed as the keeper of information.
“I know you are taking the day off, but…. Could you answer just this one quick question for me?” Sometimes these requests are overwhelming, other times I like feeling like I have the finger on the pulse of what’s going on in our company. My boss sometimes texts me at 5:00AM because that just so happens to be the time that he’s thought of something and wants to get it on my radar. There are days that I can take a 90 minute lunch but more often than not, I am balancing my salad on my keyboard, trying in vain not to splatter my shirt with vinaigrette. There are times when I am pressed to do more and to do it more quickly. At other times I have space to process and catch up.
Throughout it all, one thing is constant: I am the only one who can monitor what feels fair and equitable. I am the only one who knows when work feels like too much of an invasion of my personal life. I suppose you could say that balance is not so much a set of rules and guidelines but is rather keen attention inward: “How do I feel about my job today?”. Ideally, I am in a state of loving my job and am happy to go there. But when I start to feel stressed, overloaded, maxed out, and used up, I am the only one who can do anything to fix it. For me, a people person, connecting with others is key. If I get overwhelmed by some of the BS (banal silliness) generated by the demands of my job, I spend 5-10 minutes doing what’s really important to me. I’ll find someone to connect with, encourage them, and validate them right where they are. Acting my values and purpose centers me and makes me happy. It gives me a big boost to keep pushing through the stress.
I’d love to hear from you – what helps to keep you sane enough to juggle the complex demands of being a kick-ass executive assistant?