Thursday, October 31, 2013

Not the Mommy ... Not the Work-Wife Either

On the one hand, I suppose by today’s standards and expectations, “it’s attention” – and any attention, all attention, is supposed to be good.  On the hand I want to tweak people's noses with, though, this little pat on the head is pretty backhanded.  It actually includes the phrase ‘behind every leader’ ... because, as everyone “knows”, a secretary is not a leader (and, apparently, the WSJ mug who got stuck with this article does not understand that in fact admins stand well in front of the leaders for whom we work, because that's the only sensible place for a gatekeeper to be).

My job these days doesn't involve anniversaries and pets – because I am a professional, and my bosses are not celebrities lacking boundaries.  I am anything BUT a stage mommy, as the article sneers, nor the nose-wiping housekeeper for my team.  Indeed, this article’s position that an executive admin’s job takes a huge toll on their personal life demonstrates exactly the sort of extracurricular expectations that twenty-seven years as an admin have removed from my plate.  I’m an admin precisely because when I leave, I get to *leave* my job.

Of course there are those admins who hold their bosses hands as discussed in this piece – but those are not the rule, they are the people who work for those rare and special snowflakes who consider that they have a relevant need for a 24-hour secretary on call.  I plan my bosses’ travel and events such that they don’t need me at seven p.m. nor at four a.m.  They’re grownups too – and I don’t just mean the current ones, I mean all the executives I have worked for over the past fifteen years since I got out of the clerical trenches and upped the professional game for myself.  The one boss I've ever had who called me off-hours was the guy who once asked me one day for a tortuously detailed daily call log, and who, when I delivered it the next day, looked at me like I'd lost my mind and asked me what that was and why I'd wasted time on such a thing.  Sigh.

I’ve described before the wobbling sine wave of my resume, which has been almost a case study in the 20th/21st-century administrative career.  I have worked at very high levels, but the past five years and some change have not been the most vertigo-inducing of those.  I’m secure, grateful, and very fortunate, but as sensitive as my employment still is, it’s not one with the kind of access I had when I worked in Risk Management at one of the largest securities firms in the country.  I worked with the people who suggested that perhaps offering credit to every toddler, puppy, and inanimate object in the country was perhaps a poor idea ... just before The Whole Thing Crashed, and the discovery was made that credit for toddlers, puppies, and pet rocks was a poor idea.  Sigh.

Some giddy heights, it's easier to live without, truthfully.  But access is always an issue for the admin.  I was a little astonished, in one position, when  people asked me pointblank what my boss might be interviewing for when there was a period of executive flux.  It may be part of my job to know such things, but I never even discussed that with the executive, and it is the most important part of my job not to do so with anyone else.  Good gracious.

As it happens ...  Most recently, the “knowing” in our office finally had to go the other way.  This week, I came out of the closet to management that I am, as the classic phrase goes, “considering my options.”  There was a moment of fear and concern some months ago - and, as the HR wheels turn slowly, now have unexpectedly scored an interview out of an application I submitted more out of a need for control than what I felt was realistic expectation.  Huh.

Obviously, it was no insult to get the call – and I have management who are explicitly supportive, even though they did say don’t want to lose me.  If this particular interview were the direction my career goes (and I hold no breath where this is concerned), the access would return me to a position of exposure to the most sensitive information.  It can be exhausting, but exciting too.

Fortunately, the entity I ultimately work for isn’t populated by execs of the sort who’ll devolve me to hoodie-wearing nor feeding their cats – but then, it isn’t a place from which I would expect to retire at 44 and spend a few months deciding what I feel like doing next either.  As they say at my office, you don’t get rich working for our employer.

The good news is – really, you don’t get poor either.

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