11 months in and I'm disappointed. I've racked up more travel miles in that time than I did when I was a touring professional singer. Yet, this time, with the express intent to bring together, meet and teach Assistants from all over the world, imbuing them with all of the usable knowledge, strategies and confidence to ask for and get what they feel they deserve.
That part has been a rousing success so far. My alums are achieving far beyond the levels they had prior to taking my class. They've maintained contact with one another and either folded Assistants into their existing tribes or created and maintained their own special tribes formed at the table. I love receiving emails letting me know that Assistants scored the raises and bonuses they'd hoped to get using the techniques I taught. I love hearing that they've adopted the entrepreneurial mindset I teach and have more confidence when speaking with their execs all but demanding a new working relationship that sees them as business partners vs. that person over there who "creates calm from chaos." And I love hearing that Assistants score brand new jobs from the table with new execs who appreciate and celebrate their myriad of skills, experience and business acumen after working for execs who see and treat them as a mere support function.
So what am I disappointed about?
My experience in the Executive Assistant education industry, thus far, has made me a little salty and suspicious of the industry itself. Passive aggressive emails trying to sniff out what I'm doing. Competitors taking my classes and immediately adjusting their marketing to include many of the keywords, buzz phrases and visuals used in my own marketing. "Queen Bees" from certain markets who feel they need to vet me or shake me down or "partner" in order to send a simple email or two to their vast networks letting Assistants know I'm in town. (Ironically, I ALWAYS offer a $50 referral fee to them for anyone they refer who completes a registration. My registration is $300. 14 attendees. Do the math.) And long-ass, condescending comments on my posts from those who have been around for years whom I call out as elitists creating obvious divisions within the community based solely on exorbitantly high and exploitative registration fees for events with questionable ROI.
There is little camaraderie in this industry. I'm not deluded into thinking otherwise. I communicate with others new to the industry who are just beginning to make strides and they have a similar experience and perception. Which is sad. In order to move forward in my own business I've gone the route of focusing solely on the objectives I'd set from the beginning. I turn down numerous offers monthly to speak, partner, and collaborate simply because the offers don't feel genuine or aligned with the objectives that I've set for my business.
I'm a bit of an idealist by nature. I'm still fascinated by this role and I'm more excited than ever to see the evolution of it. I give up my weekends to travel and teach all of the tips and tricks that made me successful in the role with the hope that Assistants will use them, succeed, and pay it forward. And, again, I've been successful in helping to create this new wave of confidence, competence, and community that was never there when I came up in the role. What I've found is that singular focus on my objective supersedes my desire to hang among or be accepted into the many cliques within this industry whom, I believe, have lost their North Star. If we are here to evolve the industry, create parity and community, and give people a voice, then why can't we even achieve it among ourselves?
I stopped following all my perceived competition and heroes. I'm just not interested. I see no evolution in their game and I've realized that the time I've spent screaming at my laptop reading yet another round of tired, Top 5 lists on a HootSuite loop (instead of original content with a real point of view by these "experts") is wasted time and energy that I can devote to actually making a difference.
So here's my advice for those who either follow me or read my articles who are trying to build their brand or create an audience or start a side hustle of their own like I did.
Sometimes you have to go it alone. An old friend once reminded me "No one will ever believe in your dream as much as you do. Always remember that." Easily, one of the most important lessons I've learned throughout my career. Sometimes in order to move forward you must do it alone and focus solely on the road ahead. Not on the shiny, happy vagabonds you meet along the way trying to hitch a ride. Allowing yourself to become distracted by cliques and those considered authorities in your industry will create subconscious hierarchies and pull your attention in a direction that doesn't serve your objectives. Given your unique point of view and a desire to make big moves within your chosen industry, why allow your focus to be hijacked by the desire to "fit in." To my knowledge, fitting in never paid a single bill of mine. Sure community and networking are important. But not at the expense of pulling focus away from achieving your ultimate goal.
Sometimes you need to take on your heroes. I have no fear of anyone except my Higher Power. And, maybe, my Mom. We are all human and step into our pants one leg at a time. Successful people are physically no different than the person standing next to you. But because they've mastered their focus, invited in a lot of luck because of hyper preparedness and resourcefulness, they've managed to become what most people deem as successful and are treated as superior beings. I don't fault them for them that. In fact, I respect the grind that got them there and take notes like a MF. But, heroes are just as human and with the same vulnerabilities, inadequacies, faults and character flaws as the rest of us. If my heroes' ethos and mine don't align and I'm floating within the same orbit, I have no issue differentiating myself from what they espouse if I don't agree even if widely accepted as "the right way." For example, I find it odd that several of the top practitioners in my industry have either never been Executive Assistants or haven't been in the seat long enough to be considered seasoned experts at the role. Others haven't been in seat for decades yet still purport to be relevant authorities. Kudos for creating an amazing business based solely on research, not actual time in the seat. I bow down to that kind of resourcefulness as a business person. But as a (now) 26 year veteran in the role I reserve the right to give them side eye especially when I don't see evolution in their game and their business creates divisions (financial, inclusion, etc.) in the very community they purport to want to bring together. As an attendee of these conferences, I drank the Kool-Aid because that's what was being served. Now, as a player, I'm less impressed and have no issue taking on my heroes, especially when I sense bullshit, complacency or elitism. It's not with the express intent to be disrespectful or to steal someone's dinner off the table. It is, however, to tell the truth and call out the obvious with hopes that we can get back to what we say we are here to do: bring the community together, inclusive of EVERYONE, teach them well, and help them succeed so that we can finally evolve and elevate the respect level of the role to where it should be. In theory, kinda simple. In practice, not so much.
Would you rather be liked or respected? No, these aren't mutually exclusive. But it's important to draw the distinction. I'm not for everyone. I know I've made enemies within my industry and to be honest, I really don't care. It wasn't my intent or some grand, calculated effort to do so. Who has that kind of time? It's because I have a voice that I refuse to allow to be silenced or censored. I have a very distinct point of view and I'm opinionated. But my opinions aren't flippant or uninformed. I research the shit out of everything and before I say something in a public forum I make sure that I can stand behind it 100% with facts and receipts. How many others trolling the comments sections do you think go to such lengths? The way I approach life and especially my business within this industry is this: You may not always like what I have to say, but you will respect the fact that I tell it like is, which is often not the way you expect to hear it. I believe we've been force fed political correctness for so long that we've not only forgotten how but actually shy away from being 100% honest and forthright. We're so concerned with how people will perceive us and so worried about being liked that we squelch our own voice and dumb ourselves down to a standard we didn't even set ourselves. Over time it does a number on our self confidence and our ability to speak up or draw a necessary line in the sand with our voices in the lead. Being liked is a privilege in my eyes. It's not a goal. Being respected is goal, not a right. My integrity is tied to self-respect. And my self-respect is paramount to garner the respect of others. That's my focus. Not being liked, which is something that's subjective at best and based on factors I can't control. Really audit your motivations and figure out if you're more interested in being liked or respected. One holds far more weight. Choose well.
I just had an awesome chat with my mother who reminded me of her decades-long journey from file clerk to one of the top-grossing salespeople for an internationally recognized commercial insurance firm. As you can imagine she dealt with discrimination and racism in an industry that, like mine, is dominated by those who don't look like she and I. But she never allowed herself to fall victim or victimize herself based on her gender or the color of her skin. If only you knew of the crap she had to deal with, the misogyny, racist comments, the sabotage, etc. But my mother is a f*ckin' badass who instilled in me the confidence to go after absolutely anything I set my mind to and to not worry about being accepted or "liked," only respected. As such, I've risen to the top of my field and continue to evolve and grow as an Assistant in my brand new role while also continuing to be a resource for a community of Assistants who "get me" and attend my workshops religiously because they know they'll leave with something of value EVERY TIME without going broke in the process. I don't speak at large conferences. I don't need to. I don't belong to any cliques. I find them banal and rife with insecurity. I do ME. Phoenix Normand. And MEGA University. That's my focus. And I have never felt so successful professionally.
Stop allowing your focus to be pulled from what you hope to achieve by worrying about the opinions or validations of others. Sure, ask for help or advice where necessary but put all of your energies and focus into the CLEAR objectives you've set for yourself and make it happen. All the external noise is just that...noise. Be thoughtful, bold and always come correct with research, facts and receipts in hand. People may not always like what you have to say, but they will respect the fact that you had the balls to say it, especially when it's the truth.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.