What do you have the power to change? asks Teri Wells
Several PAs have spoken to me about people, circumstances, issues and situations that they don’t like, are not comfortable with, wish were different, wish they could change, that cause stress or add to it. And my answer is always the same:
If it is within your power to change it, do. If it is not within your power to change it you have one of two choices, learn to live with it or walk away. If you choose to learn to live with it, you may not bemoan your lot in life.
As Assistants, we are presented with “issues” on a daily basis and then there are “issues” that creep up on us and before we realise it, they become part of our reality.
Being asked to help someone complete a task so they can meet a deadline is a good example of “creeping up”. The next time they have a deadline they turn to you again and the next time and the next time, and as it is in our nature to assist, we keep obliging. Before we realise it, it has become part of our job and, ultimately our responsibility, adding to our existing workload for which we very often don’t have the time.
Once I became aware that this was happening to me, I resented that I had been trapped and had to make a choice about how to handle it. It was within my power to change the situation and I came up with a simple plan to manage this and, in some instances, curtail it altogether… On the initial request, I assist if I have the capacity to do so. When confronted with the second request for the same task, I contribute to a lesser degree using “I’m a bit snowed under but will assist as much as I can.” This way I’m still being helpful but guarding against doing the entire job. I also look for little ways to ask for assistance in return to gauge if the relationship is symbiotic or parasitic.
I am in no way advocating only helping with a view to getting something in return but rather using this as a means to determine if the relationship can be mutually beneficial or potentially harmful.
Learning to live with it
There are numerous times I chose to “learn to live with it”. On reflecting on the issues at the time, I realised that I was blowing them out of proportion either as a result of stress, fatigue or a preconceived notion of how it was meant to be. Making the choice to “learn to live with it” can only be done successfully after careful consideration of the facts and a brutal examination of your own circumstances, frame of reference, mental and physical health. You can then formulate the “how to”.
If you are not totally honest in this process, you may find yourself living with a choice that continues to cause you anxiety, anger and unhappiness. You need to be in the mental space where you are comfortable to zip your lips. To this day I live with some of the choices I’ve made along the way. I made them and I live with them. On the plus side, if circumstances change, these choices are mine and I can choose to change them.
The “walk away” option can be quite severe and you need to be prepared to face the consequences. There is no blame to be apportioned when you choose to walk away as it is your choice, not the other party’s. After 21 years at the same company in the same position as an Executive PA, I chose to walk away. It was incredibly scary and the fear of the unknown gave me endless months of anxiety whilst no one knew about my decision. When I finally vocalised my choice it was so liberating. My future came into focus and my passion for my future was rekindled.
Whilst the decision ultimately rests with you (and you need to take responsibility for it), if you are struggling to make a decision there are people you can rely on to be your sounding board. Talk to someone you trust who has no vested interest in the situation. Something they say may just provide the clarity you need. There are also forums on social networks where you can present your dilemma without fear of judgment and within 24 hours you will have more unbiased opinions than you even believed existed.
Sometimes the choices you have to make are really hard. It may mean leaving your comfort zone, standing up to a difficult and unreceptive individual, and being brutally honest with yourself to determine your emotional investment in the issue. But I can assure you, it is worth it.