What I Learned as an Administrative Assistant

Like many college graduates, I found the ratio of jobs actually I wanted to the jobs available to be unforgiving. And like many college graduates, I papered the town with my resume, hoping for even the smallest of bites.

During my time in college, I worked in libraries and art galleries, cultivating my love of the arts and obscure archival documents. While I had no clear aspirations for my career post-graduation, I knew I wanted to utilize the Technical Writing aspect of my post-secondary education.

I was pleased nonetheless when I was hired as an Administrative Assistant for a University near the easterly border of Georgia.

SHRM describes the role of an administrative assistant as the following:

Under the direct supervision of the vice president, this position provides administrative and secretarial support for the vice president and department. In addition to typing, filing and scheduling, performs duties such as financial record keeping, payroll, coordination of meetings and conferences, obtaining supplies, coordinating direct mailings, and working on special projects. Also, answers non-routine correspondence and assembles highly confidential and sensitive information. Deals with a diverse group of important external callers and visitors as well as internal contacts at all levels of the organization. Independent judgment is required to plan, prioritize and organize diversified workload, recommends changes in office practices or procedures.

It wasn’t my dream job, but it was a start.

Unfortunately, the next two years in this role did not see me to promising career heights nor did the skills I’d earned lend themselves to promotion within the company. While administrative assistants are often touted as office managers that can start from the ground up in terms of knowledge earned, the hurdles are high and the turnover is great. I also found that the longer I remained as an administrative assistant, the more I was contacted to join other companies as exactly that: an administrative assistant, instead of something more in line with my education and desired career path — whatever that was.

To say that I felt unfulfilled would be a vast understatement. However, those two years gave me a great opportunity to contemplate what I wanted out of my life and career since I didn’t exactly know what it was I wanted.

The most important lesson I can impart to anyone after those two years is this:

It may be that fulfillment and passion in our careers is a modern fairytale. But you still need to find work that’s a balance of what you’re good at, something that fulfills some part of you, and something that compensates you for the lifestyle you want to live.

If you expect better for yourself, you’ll do better for yourself. This ethic will bleed into every facet of your life. It will make you a better employee, a better companion, a better friend. Most importantly, it will make you a better person. And when you’re a better person, you’re a better citizen of the world.

We’re often told “a job’s a job,” or that jobs aren’t meant to fulfill us. We’re supposed to work to live, not live to work.

However, being happy with who you are and how you live your life is just as important. Many of these adages come from a time when life’s only function was to grow up, get married, have kids, and work until you die. The whole of our society no longer lives in this strictly utilitarian worldview. It shouldn’t.

Your mileage may vary, but there are still some basic takeaways that anyone can apply to their own journey.

One of the most important questions I’ve ever asked myself was this:

“In an ideal world, what would your life look like?”

It might not have been in those exact words in the beginning. In fact, it started out as daydreams of the perfect life and career I’d have if I were a different person. Slowly those visions evolved into what life could be if I, being the person I truly am, applied myself appropriately.

People will design strategies for almost any aspect of their lives if they were someone other than who they are, but so many people never create reasonable life plans based on their skills, intelligence, or desires.

I was one of those people. I never created a life plan post-college due largely in part to the fact that I never thought I’d attend college, let alone graduate. Much of this was born from a lifetime of misadventures in self-worth due to an undiagnosed learning disability, so I never believed I would accomplish anything noteworthy.

When I was finally diagnosed, I hit the ground running in my post-secondary education and graduated with honors. But when I had finished I discovered that I had no plans, no goals whatsoever, for life after college.

This had advantages and disadvantages; on the positive side, it meant I couldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t do something noteworthy. But if I had never attended college, I would have been haunted by a sea of never-ending “what if?” doubts and fears.

However, it also meant that I spent a great deal of floundering in a job-field that I simply wasn’t happy in.

While I knew that I wanted a career in writing since I was a child, I had no clear idea of how to get there. I’d chosen Technical Writing as my minor during my college tenure. I knew at the very least to start there. However, Technical Writing is a vast and amorphous concept, so that knowledge didn’t do much to help in the beginning. It wasn’t until I landed a job as a Search Engine Optimization Copywriter that a plan began to take root.

I am not by any means a professional in my field and I certainly don’t have years of experience in constructing a resume. However, this is what has worked for me and I believe it’s applicable to any individual in any job field where they feel underappreciated and unfulfilled.

Ultimately, it’s brought more meaning and happiness in my day to day life.

Compose a list of goals and visualize how your life should look in a predetermined number of years. Ruminate on these ideas daily, especially when making important decisions. Ask yourself which response to the daily situations that arise will bring you closer to or farther from that goal; a preponderance of constructive thoughts and actions will bring you closer to them. Additionally, constructing smaller, bite-sized goals leading to a larger end-game lends itself to being more manageable and more attainable, which in turn will help you stay on track.

Add everything you do on the job to your resume. Everything. Did you write audit literature for the company? Compile delinquent audit information with supporting literature for an upcoming panel? Organize seminars for the division with international speakers? Write it all down and add it to your resume. If you only put the job functions from the posting on your resume you’re doing yourself a disservice. You will be asked many times in any job that you hold to perform a task outside of your normal job description. Do it. Add it to your resume.

Your skill-set is your selling point, not your job title. I took any opportunity presented to write employee manuals, official press correspondence, and standard operating procedure documents. I leapt into any event that needed to be organized, any literature that needed to be drafted. And because I did this, I had a skill-set more in line with my desired outcome; technical writing, copywriting, and editing.

Learn how to sell your skill-set. This is crucial. It’s one thing to write down everything you did, it’s one thing to present them as a desirable skill-set to a prospective employer. It’s quite another to sell that idea to someone looking to fill a position, especially if you’ve been in an unrelated job field.

Because most employers are only looking at your job title, you’re going to feel like you’re selling them a bridge in Brooklyn with a high-interest rate. Convince them that the interest rate is a non-issue.

Be invaluable. Excel in the things that are within your expected duties. Study. Be proactive. Become familiar with the intricacies of your office. While you’re busy refining your skills, your reputation will grow alongside them. And once you’ve mastered your craft, do it well. Consistently.

It’s okay to fail. Failure is the greatest crucible that makes room for personal growth; you will learn substantially more from your failures than your successes. In the past, I stuck to maladaptive solutions because constant low-grade misery seemed preferable than the potential for short-term but incredible misery — especially embarrassment.

On the whole, this is why I had never shared my writing publicly until quite recently. It wasn’t until my current relationship where after a few years gentle pressure and the volunteering of his free time to check my work did I even begin to consider sharing it anywhere other than locked down file sharing services.

People like stability; in some ways, a miserable but stable existence is more comforting than a happier life with less stability. It’s more comfortable to stick with the devil you know than to risk fear, failure, and vulnerability by taking risks. No matter how calculated those risks might be, they’re terrifying. Giving myself permission to fail and allowing myself room to be imperfect drastically changed how I viewed myself and my successes.

Stay humble. Be thankful. There is someone somewhere in the world, right now, who is more gifted than you, perhaps more intelligent, and more suited for the office you currently hold. And they might be living in squalid conditions with less opportunity and access to all the things you have or could possibly have.

While this is hardly the Misery Olympics, keeping in mind the stark reality of my own benefits I’ve either attained through hard work or been given because of my station in life is something that keeps me grounded — and mindful. There are people in the world who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had — who could excel in my current position and in the positions I desire in every way — and they may never have access to them.

It’s not impossible. After those two years, I received a tip from a fellow writer for an SEO Marketing Copywriter position. I wrote a dummy article for my interview and an accompanying piece detailing why I made the choices I did regarding keywords; a piece on SEO strategies; and a piece on what SEO itself was.

I was offered the position not four hours later.


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