From the Personal Assistant’s Desk

Lillian Cohen-Moore

by Lillian Cohen-Moore on July 19, 2011

This is a post by Lillian Cohen-Moore, a freelance writer, editor and personal assistant. When she isn’t spending time in libraries, cemeteries and archives, she’s a stage manager and model.

I didn’t actually intend on becoming a personal assistant. Last year, it was because I applied to be an intern with an editor I greatly respected. Though I was declined for the internship, Jennifer offered me a job as her personal assistant, and I said yes. I don’t work in a cubicle, or in the waiting room of my boss’s office. I have a life outside assisting, but it’s often full of work for other clients. It’s given me a door into a world I didn’t know I’d love. And if you think you have the temperament to survive as the assistant to a creative, there are a few things to consider.

Can you handle being the Gate Keeper for your boss?

You have to decide, aside from the directives straight from your boss, who gets to talk to them. If it’s someone they don’t want to talk to, or shouldn’t have to (because they have you, dear) you have to be firm and polite enough to turn them away, without being a Class A jerk about it.

Can you handle being a lion tamer for your boss?

There will be people who your boss will upset, either directly or indirectly. It doesn’t matter who is or isn’t at fault. At some point, via email or in person, you will get to deal with angry people, often with money involved. The assistant who doubles as a lion tamer has to put fiercely before polite but firm, and aggressively in front of cheerful.

Will you be able to support your boss and their work?

If you don’t admire your boss either as a person, or for what they do, you’re signing yourself up for an incredibly miserable experience with a paycheck. It takes a lot of faith in someone to be happy about being their assistant. If you don’t think you can like them as a person or a professional, walk away.

There are some stereotypes about assisting that stay true, even when your boss is in a creative field. You will answer phone calls, write e-mail, update social media, make coffee, get coffee, spend time at the FedEx/Kinko’s store, open mail, organize and send mail, hold coats and purses, write signage, play with their pets, walk their pets, run errands, set up booths at conventions, travel, talk to the press, draft and send invoices, learn how your boss orders their latte, and a myriad of other gritty details that may bore you to contemplate. But they’re the mundane stuff that work is often made of.

The less mundane stuff in comparison, using my own job as an example: my first cocktail party with my boss was this year. Of the names I’d recognized, most of them were people I had read books by, but never thought I’d actually meet. Post-party, I recognize a lot more faces and names, but a multi-day cocktail circuit while traveling will cement these things. My bookshelf has slowly but surely, been taken over with books my boss has given me, or someone working with my boss gave me, or I bought while somewhere with my boss. For the first time in my life, I’ve been forced to get business cards, because it beats writing down your info on the back of a cocktail napkin. I carry a variety of pens and have become versed in which ones I should hand to my boss to sign a document, write a note, or sign a book. I answer more email for work than I have ever received on a personal basis. I am mentored, spoiled, and given an education I cannot find elsewhere. People surprise me by learning my name.

Being an assistant to someone in a creative field is rewarding, frustrating, educational, and rarely boring. I have the career I have, and clients I have, either from being an assistant or from the skills I gained on this job. People have joked that I’m following in the footsteps of my boss, and there’s a lot of truth to that. We often try to be like the people we admire.

I can’t say a lot more — mostly because I need to get back to putting out fires in my inbox – but I can tell you this. If you become an assistant, to someone in a field you love or are intrigued by, your life can change. You’ll work long hours. You’ll pay a lot of dues, metaphorically and literally. Yet along the way, if you’re open to it, it can stop being a paycheck and become a path to finding your way to your dreams.

Lillian is rumored to have many more stories up her sleeve and may well return to Another Passion to share them. In the meantime, you can follow her as @lilyorit on Twitter.

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