By Nancy Fraze
Recently, I experienced an old-school, “you’ve-got-to-be-out-of-your-mind” moment. I’m sharing it with you in hopes our culture can begin a meaningful dialog about respect and perception. Here’s what happened:
Following a 2-day business conference I had planned and organized, I was seated at dinner along with three attorneys, one of whom worked in Australia. He commented on the financial impact of his move there, saying the minimum hourly wage was $20. Everything cost so much. He cited an example where someone worked month on, month off as a sea-going launderer, earning $400,000 annually.
The guy seated across from me turned to me, saying, “Nancy, you might want to look into that.”
After a full day of managing an agenda, his comment caught me completely off guard. The other lawyers and I sat there, speechless. No one said anything.
The next morning, I realized I was still processing his comment. Did he say it because I was an administrator, or because I was female? I wasn’t sure. The remark wasn’t directed at another attorney, just the lone female administrative professional seated at that table.
His reasoning appeared to suggest he viewed money as the primary reason a person would select an occupation, rather than contentment, purpose or gifting.
I thought of various other roles in the “support” category which are admired and venerated, such as the surgical nurse assisting a cardiac surgeon in a transplant surgery; the Vice President serving under the President of the United States; and heck, even Keith Richards who has played behind Mick Jagger for four decades!
When did the important, respectful and honorable administrative support role cease being considered an admirable profession of choice, at least in the eyes of a few ignorant people? Like the character James Bond, who always introduced himself as, “Bond. James Bond” it seems I should preface myself by saying, “Professional. Administrative Professional” to communicate the demanding complexities I unflinchingly face daily.
For example, how might that attorney handle processing a passport renewal while creating complex international travel itineraries while completing Kazakhstan visa forms while juggling network printer repair while redlining urgent contract documents while writing an introduction for an engaging safety video harvested from the Internet while incoming emails poured in requesting help regarding: an email inbox at 98% capacity, an Accounts Payable issue involving a stop payment on a lost vendor check, conference room reservations and an international traveler with a corrupted USB containing important work documents … all simultaneously?
Isn’t it funny how, long after an event takes place, later you think of the retort you wish you’d said? The reply that ran through my mind much later was: “If all I had wanted was money, I would have become a lawyer.”
Oh, I admit I need to earn money, we all do. But oh, I wanted so much more! I wanted to research. I wanted to solve problems and synergize with others. I wanted to create and to write. I wanted to encourage others. I wanted my words, like little glowing embers on a page, once read to become like a flame burning bright in the hearts of others. I wanted to communicate and relate to people. I wanted to belong to something whose sum was more than its individual parts. I wanted alignment, and I wanted to manage projects. I wanted to support. I wanted to make things better, so that enhanced state might become available for all to enjoy and benefit from.
I have always admired those whose actions made giant differences that remain to this day, affecting us all. People like Rosa Parks, Jonas Salk, Clara Barton and Juliet Gordon Low. People like these who have worked to change things for themselves and others are “support people.” It’s a nice group to be a part of, don’t you agree?
It is no different for the role of an administrative professional. We make a positive impact that is undeniable.
So, let’s begin a sincere and respectful dialog about how our perceptions affect who and what we honor. What are your thoughts about support roles? This isn’t meant to be a ‘bash session’ about managers or authority, but rather an avenue to open up honoring the support role more fully.
Consider these venerated heroes who’ve nobly played honorable support roles: The Skipper, Robin, David Brinkley, Butthead, Tonto, Sonny, Ginger Rogers, Donald Duck, Benjamin Franklin, Lou Costello, Ronny Dunn, Jerry Rice, Clyde Barrow, Teller, the aforementioned Keith Richards, and of course, jelly.
The pen is mightier than the sword, so here is my final comeback: Being an Administrative Professional isn’t all I am capable of; it is proof I am capable of anything.
Nancy Fraze is a member of Office Dynamic’s Media Team and a frequent contributor to the OD blog; she also blogs about film at allbestfilms.wordpress.com. She is Poet Laureate Emeritus for the Town of Danville. Nancy runs a creative writing and editing business, “Phrase, Ink” and published her first poetry book, “Paper Wait” in 2008.