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MY JOB SUCKS! Reflections from a former administrative assistant

It was not easy being an administrative assistant. I admit there were some good times, but they did not last for long. I found the more devoted and conscientious I was, the more I was exploited and treated like a machine rather than a person. Does this sound familiar? If not, maybe the following, more detailed remembrances will hit home.

I've had some rotten bosses. One used to demand that we bring him juice (never coffee, only juice) constantly. That would have been fine, but often just seconds before, he had been standing in front of the fridge!! It was as if someone of his stature would be lowering himself if he touched a kitchen appliance. More likely, it was to demonstrate his power over his assistants. Not such a big deal? Try this one. He would make us set up the envelopes for Christmas bonuses for EVERYONE ELSE except the two women (one was me) that were at his beck and call. He felt he treated us so well during the year (he did not) that we didn't need bonuses. In his mind, if we were given a day off, he was generous. The thing is, when we had a day off, it was a holiday, or we used our vacation time. Even his wife at the time (he had quite a few) was embarrassed that he didn't show appreciation at the holidays. She would go and buy something for us from Tiffany's, which was very nice. She didn't even work there! The worst came after I had broken my foot. It would have been difficult for me with my cast to make it from Grand Central to the office, and the constant pressure I would have been putting on my foot might have affected my recovery. I wanted to go on disability until I was back on my feet. For once, acting like a nice guy, my boss told me to take it easy and work from home. It was no problem. You know the saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, it isn't?" Well, foolish little me fell for it. I would call in to check if there was anything that needed my attention. The receptionist would tell me everything was fine. My boss was rarely in the office (which was part of the reason I put up with the abuse. Oh yeah, and a pretty good paycheck.) He never asked to speak with me; he never called me. Except for once a couple of days before my return. Then he called to scream at me over the phone, telling me that I had taken advantage of him. When I tried to defend myself, he became incensed and screamed louder. I am not one to be insubordinate, but this was too much. He accused me of talking back to him simply because I was trying to plead my case. He did not appreciate me answering him because he wanted to scream at me uninterrupted. Oh well, I always have had a problem with keeping my mouth shut. He had enough when I said I didn't think I deserved to be yelled at this way because he told me to take the time. He fired me, telling me not to bother coming back. I said okay if that was the way he felt. I didn't mention he had done the same thing to his original administrative assistant, but in person. Lucky her. He screamed at her for over a half-hour. She just sat there and took it. He had no grounds to fire her, so he had her sent into obscurity by having her work at a remote New Jersey office. He did her a favor since it was close to her house. She was never seen in the office again. As for me, I knew I could have fought it since he had no grounds to fire me either, but how could I work in an environment like that? It wasn't so great before, but now it had devolved into verbal abuse. Here is the kicker. I went to gather my belongings from the office, but the elevator starter told me they had been instructed not to let me in the building! I had worked there for over ten years and knew everyone in the lobby. They thought my boss was crazy and let me go up to get my things. The receptionist helped me pack up, and off I went. But wait, it's not over yet. I filed for unemployment, but I was denied my benefits because he claimed I quit. If someone told you don't bother coming back, what would you think? Plus, if he didn't fire me, why were the lobby staff informed I no longer worked there. In the end, I was able to fight it. The elevator starter wrote a friendly letter stating that he and the rest of the lobby staff were informed I was no longer employed there and should be turned away. It took two times in unemployment court (the first judge wouldn't even look at the letter), but I won.

Wow, that was a long story! I'll keep the next couple of anecdotes a bit shorter. The following company I worked for (an executive recruitment firm) was a lot of fun at the beginning. Administrative assistants were hired by the company and were then assigned to bosses. I started as a receptionist, which was a step-down, because I felt if I got to know everyone first, I would know who would be good to work with and who wouldn't. They were a colorful bunch. There was one woman who was richer than Roosevelt who would wear the same outfit every day because it was the only thing that fit her. She refused to buy anything new until she lost weight. The thing is, if she bought things that fit her while she was heavier, they could be tailored when she lost weight. I guess that thought didn't cross her mind. She was not an easy person to work for, and she went through many assistants. One went to a dental appointment at lunch and never returned.

I got along very well with a couple of fellows who worked as a team. It was great at the beginning until one of them started getting weird. He would tell me I deserved better than my husband and needed someone to read poetry to me. Eeew! That made me view him differently, and I was always on my guard after that. Another little issue was he would show up at 11:00 (the bosses were free-lancers and made their hours) and expected me to stay late every night. Assistants worked nine-to-five and did not receive overtime. What was worse is he knew I arrived at about 7:30 and would start giving me assignments from home. He would show up later and expect me to stay until he didn't need me anymore. I would not have minded if it had led to a promotion or some other sort of compensation. There was no room for growth unless you became an executive recruiter and they did not promote from within house. I wanted to be reassigned and told the office manager what was going on, that he was expecting me to work 10 - 12 hour days. I felt enough respect for my boss that I asked if I could tell him myself, so he wasn't blindsided. The next day I went into his office and told him I had asked to be reassigned. I explained why that the long hours were making me feel burnt out. He told me he understood and thanked me for telling him myself. I thought it went well until I heard that he was going around saying that I fired him! It wasn't unusual for assistants to switch bosses. It was a ridiculous statement, and it made him look petty and childish. I was supposed to work for him and his partner until my reassignment came through, but he tried in every way to make my life miserable. He became very critical of my work and would complain to the office manager. It got so bad that they pulled me out of there sooner than expected. Another person at the firm requested that I work for her and her partner. They were pretty decent bosses, but they became overly dependent on me. It was hard for me to take time off because "they desperately needed me" to help with emergencies. There was always an emergency. As my supervisor told me, "they suck the assistants dry until they are so used up, they have nothing left to give." In other words, they worked them to the bone until they were traumatized and had to leave. I hit that particular wall about a year later. I had a semi-breakdown and told my husband I couldn't work there anymore. It seemed like I was doing all the hard work, and they were the ones getting paid big bucks. I knew that I was as smart, if not more intelligent, than most bosses there, but they had connections, which brought in money. I left soon after, but not to go to work somewhere else. I had made the decision that I wanted to change my life. I did not want to work for someone else anymore. I went back to school to get my biology degree, thinking I would start my own landscaping business. My college was affiliated with the New York Botanical Gardens and offered classes in plant science. One day I decided to do it full time. It was a bit of a financial struggle, but it paid off. I received my degree, went to graduate school, and ended up with a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution, and behavior. I am now an educator and being a personal life coach and have autonomy and independence I never had before. I never did become a landscaper, but life has many twists and turns.

What does this whole long-winded tale have to do with you, you might ask? You probably have even worse stories than mine. The point is, it took me a long time to understand that I had choices if I were brave enough to choose for myself. I have a completely different life than I did before. I have grown emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I wish I had started long before I did (I just borrowed a lyric from CSN), but at least I can share my wisdom with you, so maybe you will. I was over 40 when I went back to school, and I have had students older than that. It is never too late to change your life. If you have gotten this far in my post, I have some advice for you, free of charge. Sit yourself down and reflect. Are you happy? Do you feel joy when you get up in the morning? Do you look forward to the challenges of each day? If not, it might be time to reinvent yourself. If you need help in doing so, you know where to find me.

Until then, dear readers.

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