Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rambling Arose

This morning, sitting in one of those very large pep-rally sorts of meetings where my brain simply never escapes the ‘except the admin’ clause in everything that is said, I got to thinking, too, about how the role has changed.  We still remain that necessary evil some types of management wish they didn’t have to have at all (nothing but overhead, an administrative position ... and, yes, I have actually worked at places where that was pretty clear and overtly the outlook) – and yet, particularly at the level I’ve attained, having been doing this work for the best part of a whole generation now, being a secretary ain’t what it used to be.

I’ve long stressed that a good admin is a relationship manager and a project manager.  Lacking the gumption for meetings, classes, and tests, I don’t have the legitimacy a PMP confers, but if I had a schedule of meetings the like of which pretty much all my coworkers endure every day, I’d shoot myself in the neck in a New York minute.  From my chair, I get to PLAN the meetings.

But everybody knows the admin does that.  The changes are more profound.

Every couple of weeks, I round up my two executives and have a short come-to-Jesus with them.  Here’s what’s done, here’s what I’m working on, what have you got for me?  During our most recent one, a hotel issue came up, and – the head honcho decided it was easier for him to handle the problem.  Assistant Vice Honcho said the same, and I was pretty chagrined and joked about me calling them together to make them do my job.  This actually turned into a fruitful conversation, though.

The Moneypenny position used to make every bit of sense.  Executive has important things to do, so part of what secretary does is manage the administrivia.  But ... these days, an awful lot of administrivia has reached a level of convenience for which that irritating joke is apropos:  “there’s an app for that.”

After the 2008 financial crisis and massive job losses across the country, the greatest sector affected was administrative workers.  The evil overhead positions were cut, divvied up, and a shocking percentage of those eliminated will never come back.  I’ve read about this and heard it most recently on NPR, but there’s plenty of material out there (I am being too lazy to link for you; this time, I won’t be your secretary and do it for you ... heh) illustrating this sea change in our career culture.  There are many who think the day of the secretary is over, thanks to helpy little apps and all the functionalities in the calendars we carry with us, which “personally” manage so much more than schedules (without so much as a person involved).

And yet, the death of the admin is just another buzzing in my ear, like the death of Real Books, the death of rock and roll, the death of civility, and so on.  People like to honk on about this stuff, but what I see is evolution.

As my bosses strategized a path forward where, as the best writer, the best editor, the creative core of our group, I’ll take on more presentation work and thereby gain the benefit along the way of a better understanding of the technical side of what our team really does, I heard echoes.  None of this is new.  I have done newsletters for the better part of twenty years.  I was the customer service agent for orphan insurance clients who did not have an agent, at one job.  I assisted the house attorney in penning a book about estate planning (no, it never published; still, I did the work, and typed the phrase “death tax” more than a body ought to have to ...).  I have been in ownership of our staff recognition program for nearly two years now.

I’m still the secretary.

Yet I own all these things, and have owned this sort of thing for almost the length of my career.  If I saw myself leaving the title of “admin” behind, it would always be in the name of taking fuller ownership of a function like this, with a much more sophisticated level of involvement and execution.  A friend recently left the title behind to take on video conference coordination at her location.  It’s nothing she hadn’t had plenty of exposure to before; as an admin, we have exposure to all sorts of things.  Indeed, to take on a job like that is a NARROWING from the breadth of a secretary’s job duties – but a deepening of the authority over this area.  From a coordinator, she’ll become much more of a technician, and build a niche with an identity people relating to her will find more concrete.  The change is, I have no doubt in my mind, something that people will perceive as a “better” job.

Me, I love my job.

But it is hardly beyond my ability, to imagine that little recognition program I own, and remembering when I was part of that much much larger quality assurance program, and when I wrote that newsletter way back when, and to believe that in the right universe, that could be a job unto itself, and a more complex and interesting tool than it is.  It isn’t beyond my ability to perceive that so much of what I have done for many years includes entire programs, managed by me, because budget isn’t “there” for those programs to become something bigger.  What has kept me from acting on dreams of “I’m going to rule the world of” (fill-in-project-blank-here) tends to be corporate structure and money.

Since September 11, 2001, tasty little jobs devoted to telling people they’re simply spiffy are thin on the ground, at best.  More to the point, since that day, my career has been one of sustained *sustenance*.  I lost my place with a boss I loved (shoot, I even miss his wife and his dogs) and spent eight months unable even to *volunteer* my time because everyone else had lost their jobs, too, and you literally couldn’t give it away back then.  Habitat for Humanity didn’t even return my calls!

Then I got in with WS – interestingly enough, in their quality assurance division.  I parlayed that temp job into a low level gig which represented a massive pay cut for me, something over twenty percent.  Networked and WORKED, and parlayed that into a midlevel gig.  Networked and WORKED, and parlayed that back up to executive status.  I was at the top echelon of one of the largest securities firms in the country (working with the guys who *didn’t* want to hand out credit to every Tom, Dick, and Fido) when, thank you 2008, the economy once again collapsed.  In the seven years since it’d done that last, I had promoted myself three times.  And once again I found myself at mid-level and thanking my lucky stars to be even there.  When the next layoff came, it took only three months for me to get a senior administrative gig, and I have been grateful ever since – and, frankly, baffled that I even got seen.  My resume hit this employer electronically, I knew nobody here, and I got my foot in a door most people can’t even get close enough to knock on.

Even today, I still haven’t regained the trajectory I had begun in 2001, or rebuilt by 2008.  In 2007, it was possible to imagine building a job all its own out of the responsibilities which have always been part of an admin’s roster of projects.  That isn’t the world right now, and that is okay.  It is probably one of the unseen motivators which got me to write a novel, and to take on the great load of work that brings with that, which can be so much harder than the actual writing.  I wouldn’t want to give that up for a “real” job, either.  It doesn’t mean I’m not motivated, and don’t dream at my job.

It just means that I never forget, I work because it pays for my life.

I write because that’s a big part OF my life.

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