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 I have “mad” skills…. 

I can type almost as fast as Jeff Gordon can drive.

 

I can file with an efficiency that would make the heads at the IRS spin.

 

I can answer a phone call, greet a visitor and pour coffee simultaneously with great ease – AND with a smile on my face.

 

I have access to the utmost confidential data and know almost as much as the CEO about running our organization.

 

Yet….I am just a secretary.

 

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and an MBA, both from accredited state universities.  However, all of my entry-level positions have been in the “administrative assistant” genre.  I have type-cast myself.  But how does one get an entry-level position in the field of their choice?  We’re always told that “someone has to start at the bottom.”  But, unless they are willing to let a new college graduate (and a woman at that) have those positions, we can’t start anywhere.

 

And so…I have these incredible skills and a depth of knowledge, yet no one takes me seriously.  How can I escape that trap?

 

When I was hired as an assistant to the president of a college over 7 years ago, I met with a counselor about continuing my education beyond my baccalaureate degree.  The counselor asked me what I wanted to do.  I replied that I would like to be in an administrative, or leadership , role in the college system.  Her advice?  To get out of the secretarial position as soon as possible.

 

Now, this seemed callous to me, because it was a new job with new challenges, which I was seeking at the time.  It was an increase in pay, and I was happy.  But her words haunted me as I went back to my desk.

 

I tried for about a year to find a more “administrative-like” position at my current employer and another educational institutional, but lacked the “collegiate experience” to even get an interview.  In other words, I should be lucky to be in the position I was in.

 

My resume stated that since college, I had been a Branch Service Manager (i.e., sales rep) for a loan company, an Office Manager for a small commodity trading company, and an assistant (secretary) for the CEO of a college.

 

Where were my leadership skills?  Well, the leadership skills that a secretary has, can’t be put into writing – in a pretty title like Director or Vice President.

 

My writing and oral communication skills are impeccable.  I know how to talk to trading floor executives, diplomats, other presidents, CEOs, politicians, public officials, upset students and parents.  I can pull off a classy gala and/or event with ease and delegate the work accordingly.  I can get directions to almost anywhere in the continental United States with a less than 10% margin of error – and that includes places I have never been.  I can dress like a million dollars, although my clothes come from Old Navy or Kohls instead of St. John.  I can write a letter for my boss that covers issues I have little knowledge of and in a way that looks like it was his/her own words.  I can sense a conflict situation and work ahead to deflect my boss’s involvement.  I can talk to the media with confidence, even though it’s not my job to do so.  I know more about a computer than most people my age, tackled the new phone system without incident, have taught myself shortcuts and tricks that have been shared with my office mates, and can make a decisive decision without thought for recourse.

 

I am a secretary.

 

But, I am also a leader.

 

I have been asked for advice from Vice Presidents, Deans and Managers.  Yet, I am just a secretary.

 

I have stayed while other managers, directors and administration went home during a crisis.  Yet, I am just a secretary.

 

So, you may be wondering why, if I have all of these skills, am I not a leader?  Why am I not invited to attend national leadership development conferences?  Why am I not encouraged to stretch my wings in a more leader-oriented role at my institution? 

 

A former CEO once corrected a visitor in our office when they referred to me as “a secretary.”  She said “she does more than type and file.  She knows as much about being a president as I do.”  This made me proud to be who I am – of what I do.

 

I am breaking free of this secretary mold.  I am embracing new projects and challenges.  I am seeking leadership roles in my organization.  I am making myself a leader.  I can’t sit around and wait for someone to see the leadership in me – I must create my own opportunities.  And I am.  And I will continue to do so.  For as long as I live. 

Behind her the noise escalated following a busboy’s mishap on his way to the kitchen.  It should be expected at a restaurant that adorns its tables with fake, dew-laden roses in hobnail milk glass vases. 

  

Alyce sighed as she recalled approaching the new owner last fall to offer him a deal on fresh flowers to spruce up his restaurant.  He did not take the suggestion kindly; explaining to her that when he thought his business needed “spruced up” he would be the one to decide. 

  

She took another sip of her herbal tea and glanced across the street at her shop, Petals by Design.  It was exactly three years ago that she returned from New York City to take the business over from her ailing father.  The flower shop had belonged to her grandparents and then her parents.  And by virtue of her feminine gender – her three brothers were in more “masculine” professions such as football coach, pipe-fitter and auto mechanic – she was the likely child to assume the family business.

  

Thinking of her brothers – she glanced at her watch and realized that Rob was late.  A single father, he was frantic when he called and asked Alyce to meet him for coffee at Laredo’s. 

  

Alyce loved her brothers and would have done the same.  Adam, the oldest, to Beth and they had two boys who were star athletes at the junior and high school where Adam taught.  Carl, the “middle” brother married his high school sweetheart, Ashley, who was finishing her Master’s degree.  Rob was the youngest child, just three years behind Alyce. 

  

Rob had always been the troubled child – getting through school was a challenge and the family celebrated his high school graduation with great joy.  His hobby growing up was tinkering with cars, so after high school “Uncle” Max gave him a job at his garage.  Just when the family thought he was getting his act together, Rob met Mallory. 

  

Mallory was the most conniving woman on the planet and everyone knew it but Rob.  It was no surprise when Mallory ended up pregnant and then left when the baby girl was only three.  Daisy, named for their mother’s favorite flower, was a beautiful, bright child.  Rob was a most attentive father – attending all school functions and providing a stable home life for Daisy as a single parent for the last eight years.  However, when an issue of a female nature came up, Rob always called Alyce.

  

Alyce had never married; never had children.  She never really had a desire for either – her work as a stock broker had been her life.  However, she loved her niece and nephews and showered them with more love than most parents can give.

  

The sound of the restaurant door bell broke Alyce from her revelry and she saw Rob, tall and dark, walking toward her – already in a posture of apology.

  

“I am SO sorry, Al” Rob began. “Mrs. Humphreys came in with a bent tailpipe and needed it fixed ‘right now’.  I’m sure that she had another curb to hit.”

  

Rob sighed and Alyce a small giggle. 

  

“What’s up, Rob?” Alyce asked her brother.

  

“It’s Daisy.  We have a serious situation, Sis; and I don’t know what to do.”

  

Imagining the worst, Alyce stiffened and anxiously asked, “What is it?  Is she okay?”

  

Rob sat with his head in his hands, and Alyce grew more worried with each second that ticked away.  He sighed and looked up.

  

“Daisy has been asked to a dance, Al – by a boy.  Did we start dating when we were in fifth grade?”

  

Alyce let out an audible sigh of relief, and seeing that this situation really unsettled her brother, she quieted the urge to laugh.

  

“Um, Rob?  You boys were asking girls out in second grade, remember?  And, if I’m not mistaken, Adam and Carl were threatening every boy who even glanced at me until I was in…well, college.”

  

Rob grinned.  He knew that Alyce was the one who could make sense of any situation.  He sought and appreciated her advice.

  

“So, what does Aunt Alyce need to do – chaperone, check out the young man, sit and bite nails with dad?” 

  

“Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, Al…it’s…well…it’s….the dress.”

  

“The what?!?” asked Alyce in amazement.  It was no secret that Rob had done his best to raise a daughter, but the fact that Daisy was a die-hard tomboy was hard to disguise.  In fact, the last time Daisy had worn a dress was when Carl got married, and that was at the insistence of their mother, who passed away 5 years ago – just months after the wedding.

  

“Yeah, bizarre, isn’t it?  She actually asked me for money to buy a dress.  Al, I don’t even know what a dress costs.”  Rob looked like a whipped puppy.

  

Alyce chuckled and said, “You really had no idea that this day would come, did you?  You thought she’d stay your little tomboy/sidekick forever.”

  

“Yeah…boys would have been a lot easier to raise, don’tcha think?  This must be some sort of weird karma, coming back to haunt me for my evil ways as a kid.”

  

Alyce laughed.

  

“It’s not karma, Rob.  It’s life.  And believe it or not, your Daisy is growing up.  She’s spreading her petals and ready to bloom for the world.  Pardon the floral puns.”

  

Rob laughed and said, “The folks would be proud of you, Al.”  Then he paused and reached across the table and took her hand.  “I’m serious, Alyce.  I don’t know what any of us would have done if you hadn’t come back home.”

  

Alyce patted his hand, and said “Thanks, Rob.  It means a lot to hear you say that.  But it’s true – I’m where I am meant to be.”  They sat in silence for a moment.

  

“So…the dress?”  Rob asked tentatively.

  

“Dress?  Are you nuts, Rob??  This is Daisy’s first official debut as a woman.  There will be dresses with matching shoes, manicures, hair styles, flowers…” Alyce winked as she trailed off.

  

Rob chuckled and said “Well, thank goodness I can get a discount on the flowers…”

  And they both laughed.

I recently read a comic strip in which teenagers were talking about how their parents had not upgraded their cell phones in two years, how the computer monitor was as big as the dishwasher and how slow their internet connection was.  The punch line was “in terms of technology, we’re almost Amish.”

It is amazing how dependent today’s generation has become on technology, particularly computers.  Ask a student to “write” you a paper, and it is handed in as a printed page.  I had students unable to turn in their homework assignments because their “USB key crashed” or “their printer was out of paper.”  It never occurred to them to hand write their paper and turn it in on time – without excuses.

And this dependency is not limited to the youth of today.  Upon arriving at work one day, our network was down, meaning no access to the server or the internet.  Most of the staff asked if they could go home – a handful were not joking.  There were still phones to answer and physical papers to file, yet without the computer they were at a loss as to what to do.  Have we become that dependent on technology that we can’t operate a business without it?

The joke mentions the Amish.  The Amish shun technology and all of its vices.  No cell phones.  No electricity, so no computer.  Generators run the necessary appliances.  When the systems go down, they still function.  While the rest of the community (world?) sits and waits for a reboot.

Am I a hypocrite as I sit at my computer and write this article?  Most would say ‘yes’; however, if my computer went down right now, I’d just go read a book.  Or maybe I might work on learning to knit or crochet.  Or maybe I’d bake.  Yes, I have other things that I could do to continue to function.  Despite the need of a computer to write and to earn a living, I would be okay.  I could survive in a computer-less world.  I might even enjoy it.