Julie Perrine reflects on the things she wished she knew sooner
This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my company, All Things Admin. On one hand, it seems like I just started yesterday; on the other, it seems like I’ve been doing this my entire life. It’s been a wild ride, filled with plenty of trials and triumphs!
When I think back on the past decade, I’m constantly amazed at how far I’ve come from those early days of transitioning from working as a virtual assistant to launching an entirely new division of my company. I have learned so much over the years – and I’m still learning today.
As I reflect on my successes and failures – there have been plenty – I’ve identified 10 things I’ve learned that I wish I’d known sooner.
1. Self-care is a requirement, not a luxury.
Whether you’re starting your own business, or just caught up in the day-to-day happenings of your personal and professional life, there’s a tendency to feel like everything must get done immediately. You can’t possibly find time for yourself when you’re so busy taking care of everyone else!
But ignoring self-care takes a huge toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health. The world will not crumble if you take 30 minutes to hit the gym, meditate, or pick up the phone to call a friend. It’s crucial to establish and honor a regular self-care regimen. You’re no good to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself first!
2. Take charge of your own career. No one else will do it for you.
A career is something you develop, not something that just “happens” to you. You are in control. Creating a career plan – a document that lays out where you are, where you want to go, and how you plan to get there – can serve as a roadmap to your future.
While it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on around you, it’s also important to stay in your own lane. Don’t blindly follow the people in front of you; they may not be heading to your destination. When you have a firm grasp of the direction you want to go, it’s much easier to get there.
3. “No” is a complete sentence.
As an admin, it sometimes seems like everyone wants something from you. And while it’s nice to help out where you can, you can’t do it at the expense of your own career. It’s important to learn how to say no – without feeling guilty.
There are plenty of tactics you can use to lighten the blow, however. Consider delaying your response until you have time to research and evaluate the request, explain what you are able to do, or try to negotiate the terms. Barring that, you can take the sting out of a rejection by simply saying, “I appreciate you asking, but I’m unable to do that right now.”
4. Delegate, delegate, delegate!
No matter where you are in your career, you can (and should) learn to delegate tasks. This doesn’t mean pushing something you don’t want to do off onto someone else; it means capitalizing on the individual strengths of your team members to get a task done in the most efficient way possible.
Administrative procedures are crucial to delegation. When the way you do things is documented and accessible to the entire office, it makes it simple to pass a task onto someone else, even if they’ve never done it before. This frees up other people for tasks that better match their individual skill sets, making the entire organization more productive.
5. It’s OK to let go of toxic people and relationships.
Most of us try our best to get along with everyone we meet. They may not all be our favorite people, but politeness is an inherent trait in the administrative profession.
But there’s a limit. In my last corporate job, before launching my company, I was lucky enough to support the best executive I’d ever worked with. Unfortunately, it was also my first experience with workplace bullying, which came from another person in my department. Despite my best efforts, the environment remained toxic, and I made the decision to leave. No one deserves to be bullied. So, if something isn’t working for you, and your attempts at resolving the situation don’t work, it’s OK to bow out. You’ll be a better person for it!
6. Create firm boundaries.
“Boundaries” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. But not everyone knows how to create them, or how to stick to them once they’re in place. You need firm boundaries in your personal and professional life and, more importantly, between the two. You also need support and accountability on a consistent basis if you want them to stick.
Reading Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, has helped me immensely in this area. The book offers a unique perspective on physical, mental, and emotional boundaries, and gives advice on how to set them in every aspect of your life.
7. Ask for help when you need it.
It’s OK to ask for help. It’s also OK to accept it when it’s offered. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, or that someone thinks you’re doing something wrong. In fact, asking for or accepting help makes you a stronger person.
Too often, assistants have an “I’ll do it myself” mentality. They feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. But by carrying on to your breaking point, you risk burning out or making avoidable mistakes – neither of which reflect well on you. There is absolutely no shame in asking for help when you need it.
8. Invest in yourself.
Sometimes, you must spend money to advance your career. From investing in a career coach to attending an industry conference to joining a professional association, taking charge of your career isn’t always free.
The earlier you invest in yourself, the more return you’ll receive for your hard-earned money. For example, booking a few sessions with a career coach now can help you years down the road. Taking classes for a certification can lead to a significant salary boost. Although paying money to make money seems counterintuitive, it’s one of the best things you can do if you want to advance your career.
9. Stay flexible.
Planning ahead for your career is wonderful. You need to be able to see where you’re at and where you’re going. But don’t get so laser-focused on what you perceive to be your “end game” that you miss the forest for the trees.
The administrative profession is always changing. New technologies are being developed, new trends are emerging, and where you see yourself in 10 years may not be exactly where you end up. It’s important to be open to (and prepared for) new opportunities when they arise. Plan far enough ahead to be ready for today and the foreseeable future but stay flexible enough to course-correct when necessary or beneficial.
10. Don’t get stuck in your ways.
When you’re excited about what you do, it’s easy to get caught up in a personality or their methodology to the point of excluding valuable input from others with varying experiences. Surround yourself with a lab of collaborators and wise advisors who challenge your thinking and ideas in productive ways.
When I started my company, I adhered to the online business models that worked best for me at the time. I followed plenty of experts in the field as well. And while some of them evolved with the online business world over time, others did not. Don’t stick to the status quo simply because you’re in the habit of emulating this guru or that methodology. Pay attention to what’s shifting and adjusting in your environment. Trust you gut. Don’t get stuck in a loop trying to do things the way you’ve always done them. Note what works, get rid of what doesn’t!
The Bottom Line
Administrative professionals need to be innovative – but innovation is often messy, time-consuming, and expensive. This is true whether you’re building a business or a career.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the past decade is to keep persevering. Decide what you want and go get it. Ten years ago, I didn’t know half of what I do today – and I can’t wait to see what I learn in the next 10!