Over the years I’ve had some wonderful feedback from readers that I tuck away and come back to when I need a little confidence boost but I never share the messages with other readers. Well, today is a new day, folks. This week I received a wonderful email from an assistant and reader of Practically Perfect PA who attended the Assist Conference last year. The email brought me to tears (which, I must admit is not difficult these days – a five month old baby and raging hormones will do that to you!) and I really wanted to share the powerful message with all of the readers.
I don’t want to be all Tom Hiddleston at the Golden Globes, *rolls eyes*, so here is a little context first…
During last year’s Assist Conference we had a session on work / life balance. We had four awesome assistants on the panel who all had amazing jobs and worked very, very hard for what they had so far achieved. During the session we talked about the hours they worked, what they gave up in order to do the role and how they achieved a work life balance. During the Q&A a member of the audience asked which of the panellists had children and how they felt their organisations would respond if the assistants had to reduce their hours to raise a family. This question was followed by another audience member asking if the panel felt they were doing a disservice to other assistants who couldn’t work long hours. Were these businesses expecting too much of assistants? The panel members answered these questions with such grace. They agreed that things would have to change if they had families (one panel member did have older children so had already been through that juggling act) but they weren’t sure how their organisation’s would support their lifestyle choice.
Personally, I felt really disheartened after the session. As a working mum, and at the time pregnant with my second child, I knew (and still know) how bloody hard it is to have a work life balance with kids and a full time job. With some hindsight, I wish I had a more balanced panel session with examples of assistants who have been able to have a fulfilling career and leave work at at a reasonable time to go home to whatever they want to do with their personal life.
Over the last year I’ve been speaking to assistants about work / life balance and their stories really do give me a lot of food for thought. I’ve met assistants who have returned from maternity leave to find they can’t go straight back into the same role because their organisations are demanding time that they just don’t have. I’ve met assistants who have been made redundant, moved into different, less challenging roles or moved out of the profession all together. I’ve spoken to assistants who are now freelancing or starting their own VA business and I’ve met assistants who have taken the professional hit, so to speak, because they simply want to do their job and go home to their other full time job – bringing up children! Who can blame them, right!?
This whole issue has been playing on my mind for the last twelve months. I wanted to address this issue again so at Assist 2017 we are running a few sessions around work / life balance and we have structured the sessions so that we can hear from all of the attendees about their experiences. I hope that we will have a really good debate and the attendees will leave the conference feeling motivated about their situation and with a few tips to help improve any work / life balance issues they might be facing.
So with this year’s conference just two weeks away, the email I received couldn’t have come at a better time. It was so uplifting for me to read. Someone making a really positive change in their lives, taking the initiative to find an organisation that respects their employees, offers a great work/life balance and puts their staff first. I’m certainly going to take Charlotte’s advice on board – you just have to figure out what makes you happy and go for it! I love writing this blog and organising events. I hope this year I can help some of you to ‘aim high’.
So thank you Charlotte, your eloquent words have made my day… Here is the email in full…
Around this time last year I was working for a luxury hotel company with a very old fashioned approach to work, returning to the office after only 6 months maternity and getting up at 4:30 to be in work for 7am, cramming 5 days into 4. I felt very old, very unfulfilled and I had lost total confidence in who I was. I was also completely out of touch in terms of the EA/PA climate and terrified of the tough recruitment processes I had heard about whilst tucked away for 8 years.
I just have to say that your event last year was the first step in getting out of a hole and pushing the play button. I took a lot away from the conference in terms of fresh skills and ideas, but I’ve also never forgotten the woman in the audience who questioned the panel on whether they had children and whether they were aware of how their work ethic impacted the path for other women who struggle to commit to early mornings/late nights. I felt equal compassion for both parties at that moment. Quite honestly, I wanted to ask the same question as the lady in the audience, yet I was ultimately envious of the panel’s exciting jobs, a world away from mine.
After attending your event, I put a list of companies I wanted to work for in my notebook as motivation. A year on, I have moved to a forward thinking company who embrace family, a work-life balance, value people over profit and remain a top 20 global brand. I am proud to now be in an exciting job working for an exciting company. So, I wanted to say thank you and also that during your upcoming event, please let any audience member know I’m a testament to anyone, with or without children that you can achieve what you want to achieve, you just need to figure out what would make you happy and go for it. Helen Sharman, the first British woman to go into outer space wrote ‘aim high Charlotte’ on a piece of paper for me when I was about 7, I feel like I finally did.
In the words of one of my son’s favourite storybooks, ‘thanks without end’.