Get Real: We All Make Mistakes

The world of the executive assistant revolves around details. Our aim is to get every single one 100% correct. And not only that but we should be anticipating where things might go south and have a contingency plan (or two) up our sleeves. It goes something like this:

PLAN A: Perfection

PLAB B: Smooth transition to back to perfection

But let’s face it: try as we might, we will drop the ball. We are human. That plan on which you’d just spent weeks or maybe even months could fail and you could find yourself holding the short end of the stick. For me, it happened at 2:00AM – a text letting me know that my boss’s travel was disrupted because he didn’t have a required visa to exit the foreign country he was visiting with his family. Oh shit. I quickly shot out of bed, tried to remember how to put on pants and drove immediately to my office. I was gutted that I had let this slip through the cracks. But it wasn’t so much that it slipped through the cracks. In reality, it had never even occurred to me that he would need a visa. It was an oversight, an oversight that ended up being a huge pain in the ass for my manager.

But I’ve learned a few things about mistakes in my tenure of working as an assistant:

  • The fear of making a mistake is no excuse to keep from being bold. A good assistant needs to act, often with little information. You can’t let the fear that you might make the wrong decision keep you from moving forward. Not sure how to word an email or what to say in an uncomfortable call? It’s OK, just move forward (a good time to let yourself do a shitty job).
  • Use the lesson you learn from making that mistake to help you shore up your procedures. You better believe that ‘visa requirements’ is now on my travel checklist. There is no opportunity for me to forget this again as I don’t plan a single trip without referring to my checklist.
  • That mistake you made? It is not you. It is something you did. There is nothing to be gained from feeling like a failure and ruminating on how awful you feel. It is a good time to remember that your boss has made a bunch of mistakes on their way to the position they hold. They learned from experience and you will too.

I’m taking a page out of my boss’s playbook on this one. He’s a self-professed ‘life-long learner’ – to me, that just means that he’s agreed to keep on moving forward regardless of any setbacks along the way. I plan to do the same.

Walk with Purpose

“We’d like to offer you the position as the assistant to our president” were the words that created a gentle panic in me 3 1/2 years ago when I got the job offer for my current role. Familiar with working in the unknown, I adopted a calm exterior that was likely the very reason I had been offered the job in the first place. This ability to remain cool under pressure continues to be one of my biggest assets.

But in the beginning, I truly had no idea what I was doing. In fact, I felt like I needed to overcompensate for what felt like a fatal flaw: I had just spent the last 17 years of my life as a stay-at-home mom. I knew how to send email but had never opened Outlook and my business-casual attire consisted of solely of clean jeans and a t-shirt. But in carrying out the duties of my temp job for the company, HR saw something they liked. A keen attention to detail, team spirit and a can-do attitude were the very attributes they had been searching for.

New job offer in hand, I set about searching online for information about my new role. There, I stumbled across additional job descriptions that helped me cement what my duties might be as well as various tips designed to help me shine. One of the most captivating was the suggestion to run. Everywhere. The idea was that if others saw you running, it would be obvious how much value you placed on your executive’s time. “I am not walking to the copier, I am running!” The assertion was that by running hither and yon, everyone else would see how important your executive is. The message delivered by this frenzied pace would be, “He’s a little bit more important than you.”

But sadly for my executive, I never adopted that habit of running. Instead, I have been walking with purpose throughout the tenure of my position.

Whether you walk or run, you might want to consider what message you send when proceeding down the hall. Some walk like they are on a mission from God and yet others saunter down the hall like they could be headed to a funeral for a cat. How you walk – just like how you talk, dress, and eat – does send a message about the kind of person you are and the kind of work you produce.

So, come along with me and let’s walk with purpose!