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      Opinion: PA, know thyself

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      Learning to be calm and centred can be the key to a successful professional life, something which Catherine Arden, theatre director and trainer, feels more PAs should strive for. Here, she shares her thoughts.

      “It was a perfect, strategic move,” PA Janice* said proudly, “I turned down a promotion where I would easily excel to gain experience in a more challenging field – one that would catapult me way above others when I go for the position I really have my sights on.”

      Changed days, indeed, from when the career path of a PA was inextricably linked to that of his/her boss. If the boss moved up in the company so did the PA and if the boss’s position was no longer required, then the PA was dropped too.

      However, the ‘perfect strategy’ had come a cropper when Janice, despite her undoubted skills, found adapting to a new office, colleagues and bosses harder than expected and not knowing why. Underperforming, she was now in danger of losing the position – and her dream.

      Yet she showed her mettle by facing up to the situation. Janice realised she could turn her personal drama into an opportunity to advance her career and came to me.

      Over the years, my background in training and in drama has enabled me to transfer empowering specialist skills from the theatre world to help people gain a fresh perspective and break down career brick walls in the real world.

      We identified the stalling of Janice’s career was due to a new working atmosphere where her colleagues had more analytical personalities, a different way of thinking and business vocabulary. This disconnect had caused her enormous stress, however, once she reaffirmed her genuine desire to reach her potential and use it for good in the world, we set to work.

      “In a competitive workplace, I have seen that if a PA wants to forge a successful career path then it’s becoming more and more crucial to have an effective self-development plan too.”

      In a competitive workplace, I have seen that if a PA wants to forge a successful career path then it’s becoming more and more crucial to have an effective self-development plan too –  as my by-line states, develop ‘personal power for the professional edge’.

      The most successful PAs I have come across all have self-knowledge along with self-respect, a calm persona, a sense of humour and diplomacy. This carries with it respect for others, integrity, loyalty and honesty.

      It’s not a new idea. Two centuries ago, the impressive personal qualities of Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies, caught the eye of George Washington who invited him to become his trusted aide de campe. Writing correspondence and speeches and even advising on war strategy, Hamilton went on to become the first US Treasury Secretary, founding father of a Nation and subject of a modern day musical theatre global phenomenon.

      The memoirs of personal assistant, Elizabeth Layton, the closest and most loyal confidante of wartime Prime Minister Churchill, became an important historical archive giving valuable insight into the life and mind of one of the century’s greatest leaders.

      They all had a natural talent no doubt, but for the modern PA, what we don’t have naturally, we can work on.

      Janice, meanwhile, had found she had made a worthwhile decision and embraced the personal strategies I set her to overcome the situation as part of her self-development plan. Learning techniques to centre herself, understand and engage better with her colleagues, very soon her professional expertise came once more to the fore and her self-esteem, confidence and career came back on track.

      So, whether your goal is to move up in the company, create your own network, change industries, run your own business or change the world, it’s worth considering. Working on becoming a more balanced, centred, self-respecting and calmer person, is no longer a ‘soft’ skill, I believe, but a ‘core’ skill that can and should be pursued by the modern PA.

      We live in unprecedented times with multi-billion-pound self-development industry indicative that people are more aware and consciously seeking meaning and fulfilment, as well as a career.

      Good luck as you follow your dream role. May you also seek to improve your connection to your inner self like the PA who had and who was hired, over and above others with more experience, because the bosses preferred the ‘calm presence she had about her’, her personal power giving her the professional edge.

      *Real name changed




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      Jade Burke

      Jade Burke, Editor for PA Life

      All stories by: Jade Burke