Managing your career with intention and purpose needs to be on your priority list, explain Bonnie Low-Kramen and Kim Pilkington

If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I am not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their own lives but will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgement at those of us trying to dare greatly. Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fearmongering. If you’re criticizing from a place where you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in your feedback.

Brené Brown

Lights. Camera. Action!

Welcome to the C-Suite as an Executive Assistant. Congratulations! You stepped up, went through the application process, and were chosen for this responsible role. As Chief Career Officer (CCO) of You, Inc., you have the authority and responsibility to lead your career. You have choices, options, decisions, and goals within your reach. You have all the resources, information, time, salary, professional development, and perks to succeed. All your skills and abilities are used and valued in your new role. You are respected by your executives and your peers. You are well compensated and have ample professional development opportunities.

Cue the Screeching Tire Soundtrack

Reality is tougher than that. Today’s workplace is stressful and unpredictable, and the humans are anxious. For those transitioning from remote work to hybrid work, commuting, making lunches, and wearing shoes (flip flops don’t count) are all back now that we are returning to offices.

Given all the volatility, managing your career with intention and purpose may not be on your priority list. Managing your career isn’t on your executive’s or HR’s list either. It is up to you. It is time to reveal your ambition.

If you work as an Executive Assistant, chances are you identify as a female: 95–97% of all EAs are women. Own it. Part of taking charge of your career is to not apologize for your ambition or for your success. Ambition is not a dirty word, but women are socialized (in general) to pull back from fully embracing their ambition because it can be viewed negatively as being too aggressive and not attractive. This standard does not apply to men. Men are generally strongly supported to embrace their ambitious goals.

It is time to end the double standard.

Now is a great time to take a fresh look at your Executive Assistant career. While managing your career is tough, hard work, the good news is that you are at the wheel, and you don’t have to do it alone. Delegating the process to someone else or depending on systemic fairness and justice is wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy, and we are just not there…yet.

Four Steps to Help Navigate Your Career and Face F.A.C.T.S.

F – Face your fears by writing your actual job description.

A – Assess your current job satisfaction on your terms.

C – Create your stay-or-go plan.

T – Take action as Chief Career Officer of You, Inc.

Face your fears

There is a lot of fear in the workplace. Fear of speaking up. Fear of being labelled ‘too ambitious’ and not a team player. Fear of backlash and being viewed as a ‘troublemaker.’ Fear of clarifying with your executive the actual work you do and the expectations and responsibilities you meet outside of your job description. Fear of being fired.

Few managers and HR staff truly understand what Executive Assistants do. They don’t know what they don’t know. You know and are in the best position to inform your manager and make the case for your career. A good way to face the fear of sharing facts with your manager is to prepare, plan, and practice your case. Take the initiative to write down what you actually do, including projects on the side of your desk. What skills and abilities do you have that you would love to use? Be proactive and articulate what’s in it for them to say ‘yes’ to support, invest, and benefit from a career plan that fully leverages your value.

Make your list!

What you do (skills, abilities)What you want to do (skills, abilities)Benefit to executive(s)Benefit to organizationBenefit to you


How is your current job and workplace meeting your standards of success? You know when you are contributing your unique talents and valuable skills, resulting in working at optimal performance. You know when you are not. Not sure? Take the self-assessment quiz Should I Stay or Should I Go? to assess the fit of your job with what you need. Seeking out trusted confidantes to discuss the quiz results can be useful and enlightening.

Create your stay/go plan

Creating your stay/go plan demands equal parts courage and honesty. Your score on the self-assessment quiz will help you decide where to invest your career planning efforts.

  • Do you like your job and the people you work with?
  • Would you compete for your job today?
  • Is it the job you accepted?
  • What would it really take to stay in this job?

Think about what would need to be added, taken off, or altered to contribute to and maximize your skills, abilities, knowledge, and relationships at your current organization. Articulate your case in writing and stick with the facts, only the facts. Practice the delivery with a mentor and schedule a meeting with your executive. If this exercise strikes fear in you, creating a Go Plan may be what you need.

Take action

Action follows reflection, assessment, planning, and practice. Whether your career demands a total drastic shift or a tweak will dictate how fast and thoroughly you need to act. Start by updating your list of professional advocates, colleagues, executives, and peers who know your value, skills, and attributes. These are the people who know, like, and trust you. Chart their name, title, contact information, and the strengths or attributes they know you possess. This exercise is a courage builder and confidence reminder.

Update your resume and references, and create an inventory of professional accomplishments. Create a list of people in your current company whom you would like to reconnect with or meet for the first time. Seek out people and activities that build you up and limit your exposure to negative people, places, and things. Managing your career is demanding. Your return on investment is in your control. You are in charge of the next scene. Good luck!

BONNIE LOW-KRAMEN is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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