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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.”
“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.
When Trudy Love awoke on December 14, there was a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. There was something comforting about how the snow softened the earth and made for a quiet walk to the bus stop. Trudy was lost in her own thoughts when she was bumped from behind by a huge stack of wrapped gift boxes.
“Oh! I’m SO sorry….” came a voice from behind the boxes. Just as Trudy was about to scold the gift bearer for being so rude, the boxes moved to reveal a kind face with rosy cheeks and electric blue eyes.
“I can’t believe I did that…please accept my apology.” The man was young and so friendly that it was impossible not to be forgiving.
“Apology accepted.” Trudy said, as she brushed the non-existent lint from her coat. She had never before felt so unsettled by another person.
The young man went on to say, “I knew I should have stopped sooner, but you know how it is…you’re caught up in your thoughts when walking and the next thing you know….” he took a breath.
Trudy simply smiled and nodded and wondered where her bus was – it was usually never late.
“My name is Chris,” said the stranger. Trudy pretended to be lost in thought; it seemed like the man could not be detered.
“Is this your bus? I’m waiting for the 9 bus,” continued Chris, as Trudy stood ready to board.
“Well, Merry Christmas, Miss” was the last statement she heard as the bus doors closed. But as Trudy made her way to a seat, she glanced out the window and watched as Chris rearranged his packages and looked for his bus. It was then that she noticed that her heart had been pounding.
As she processed loan applications at her desk and almost missed lunch, Trudy’s thoughts continued back to those friendly blue eyes. “Why can I not shake this feeling?” she mumbled to herself. She was so deep into her own thoughts that even the “it’s 11 days to Christmas, and my Tru Love is giving me” jokes flew right over her head without so much as disturbing her.
As Trudy rode the bus home, as she did every day, she realized that she was anticipating the stop more so today than any other time. Would he be there? Should she speak first?
When she stepped off the bus, she was alone at the stop. She glanced furtively around, sighed and then slowly made her way home. She tried to read her novel while eating her tuna fish sandwich for dinner, but was disturbed to find herself reading the same line over and over. She could not shake Chris’ face from her mind.
Trudy fell to sleep that night, wondering if she would ever see those wonderful blue eyes again.
To be continued…
On the 12th day from Christmas, Trudy Love was once again the butt of many office jokes. It was like that every year….”hey Tru Love, it’s 12 days from Christmas, what’re gettin’ for me?”…and then hysterical laughter. If there was ever a time that she regretted inheriting her Grandmother’s name, it was during the holidays.
Because of the ridicule that she received growing up, Trudy swore that she would legally change her last name when she became an adult. However, her parents always gave her “the look” when she talked about changing it. “It’s your birth name. Are you ashamed of your heritage?” The usual guilt-ridden questions. So, she relented and kept the name, but silently dreaded Christmas. This year was going to be no different.
It was December 13 and she was walking home from the bus stop, squinting from the glare of the holiday lights along the street on which she walked. Her tiny home was the only one on the street that had no holiday lights. It never did. One year, some neighbors, thinking she could not afford decorations, surprised her by stringing lights on her porch. She smiled kindly and thanked them, but took them down in the dark of night. They never tried again.
Inside her house, she hung her coat on the hall tree and left her boots on the rug by the door. Her evening meal consisted of canned soup and a cheese sandwich as she read a mystery novel. She never watched television or read a newspaper after October 1, since they all contained stories and advertisements for Christmas.
It’s not that Trudy WANTED to hate Christmas…but she could never remember a happy holiday moment to bring her from her deep harbored resentment of such a magical time of year when most people were overjoyed. She continued to wish that the next 12 days would pass quickly and quietly and that she could get on with the normal 9 months of her life.
To be continued…
Prompt: Write a story about an empty glass.
On the table, there were three glasses. One was half-full, one was half-empty, and one was empty. The glass that was half-full was always optimistic, while the half-empty glass was a nay-sayer. Both made fun of the empty glass, for it had no purpose. The half-full glass frequently admired its contents and its ambition to be the glass chosen for thirst satisfaction. The half-empty glass lamented about its prospects of ever being chosen and actually fretted about its contents turning sour before consumption. The empty glass sat still and quietly happy; for it had once been full. However, its delicious contents had been too enticing for anyone to leave even a partial residue. The empty glass had fulfilled its purpose and was neither half-full nor half-empty.
Prompt: write a mini story (100-250 words) that begins with “they had nothing to say to each other.”
They had nothing to say to each other. Why either had agreed to meet was a mystery. However, each had their secretary set up the meeting, so they didn’t have to talk to each other. Both showed up at the pub, on time, sat in a booth with arms crossed and waited for the other to speak. A server brought water and asked if they wanted a drink. Neither spoke. The server sighed and walked away. Moments ticked away into minutes and finally an hour passed without utterance. Finally, one spoke and said “I thought you wanted to talk.” The other responded, “Well, I thought YOU wanted to talk.” Another uncomfortable silence again stretched into an hour. Each allowed three hours of their day to pass, simply sipping water and staring at the other. Yet, they had nothing to say to each other.
Prompt: Write a 300-word mini story using these words – paper clips, principal, lunchbox, swing, and girl with a pink ribbon.
Tommy had liked the girl with the pink ribbon since first grade. Emily was her name and she had a Princess Barbie lunchbox. But like most fourth-graders, Tommy never talked to a girl, so he was relegated to daydreaming instead. When the principal’s secretary came to take Emily to the office, Tommy wondered what kind of trouble Emily had gotten herself into. His imagination sprang into action!
Tommy took all of the paperclips from his desk and started fashioning a chain rope out of them. It was amazing how many paperclips he had stashed in there. When he thought it was long enough, he anchored his lunchbox to the chain and when the teacher wasn’t looking, threw his lunchbox out the open window. Then, he climbed out the window and down the chain far enough to start to swing it back and forth. When it swung to the window of the principal’s office, he caught the ledge and pulled himself up. He burst through the open window and rescused the girl with the pink ribbon from the fate of the principal.
The opening door of the classroom broke his revelry when the girl with the pink ribbon returned, carrying her Princess Barbie lunchbox. She had simply forgotten her lunch and her mother brought it to the office. How could he have not noticed the lack of pink when she came in to school that morning. After all, she was the girl with the pink ribbon.
Prompt: Write as a coffeepot that short-circuited.
It began as any other day; the office is quiet as the troops trudge in to work. My job is very important. They come to me first thing, for their motivation. My pot is removed and filled with water, which is then poured into my reservoir. My filter receptacle is swung out and gourmet grounds are placed carefully into the basket. The button is pushed and…..nothing. The button is pressed repeatedly…hey, that kinda hurts, buddy. Then a snap, crackle and pop. [sniff, sniff] Does anyone smell something hot? It’s getting a little warm in here…wait…I – see – a – bright – light…..