The title of this post is also one of my key mantras I use in my everyday working life to train others and also myself.
When I came into this job of Assistant to a leading Industrialist in his private office from a previous career in the corporate world it was a real Baptism of Fire. I really had no clue about the nuances, etiquette and protocol involved but I soon learned from my blunders.
The first hurdle was getting to know my Boss and how he operated. He would send me e-mails entitled VAR and when I first saw this it took me three days to figure out it stood for VARIOUS.
He then sent me some copy in the body of an e-mail asking me to type it up as a letter which I did verbatim. For some reason it had not occurred to me to correct the language or grammar and I left it in the short hand version, exactly as originally sent. I then got a response back from my Boss asking me if English was my second language! I took from this to always question something if not evidently clear upon first glance of what is being asked, although with this one, I do admit common sense evaded me, just temporarily I hasten to add! Nerves of a new job is my excuse.
After only a few weeks into the role I was asked to arrange a lunch for my Boss and a business associate at his residence. I promptly spoke to his House Manager and told him to stand down the Chef, all that would be needed for this meeting were sandwiches and other finger food. I should have realised this may not have been the right course of action from the startled response I got when delivering my instructions. Unbeknown to me in this world, a lunch consists of sitting at a table with cutlery, napkins and an array of dishes. I soon discovered that cucumber on white even with no crusts, together with a few sausage rolls and some Scotch eggs is not the right way to go.
A few years into the job and I was lucky enough to be invited, albeit in a work capacity to a big celebratory party in the South of France by my Boss. His entire family were present plus many other guests. In the role of Assistant it is important to blend in at any function, you are there in a professional capacity, it is not your party and hence you should not attempt to be Belle of the Ball and certainly not try to outshine any of the female guests or attract undue attention to yourself. I decided to ask a fashionista friend of mine if she could lend me a smart summer dress for the occasion as I was and still am much more of a trouser kind of girl. She kindly lent me a very pretty little number and having only collected it the night before I was leaving I just threw it in my case without having tried it on. Come the night of the big gala event in one of the most beautiful hotels in Europe, I got changed very close to the arrival time of the guests and low and behold when I saw myself in the mirror I was horrified. The dress barely covered my top half, there is showing a little décolletage and there is just plain inappropriate for a work function. Even in my personal life I would not feel comfortable exposing this much flesh let alone in professional surroundings! It was so unlike the super proper and controlled persona that is me in my role. I had nothing else to wear and had to think quickly on my feet, another essential trait for any good Assistant. I ended up pulling a Pashmina from the shoulders of a colleague and insisting she lent it to me for the sake of my modesty and reputation. I suspect nobody believed me when I explained that I had indeed not tried on the dress before packing it and to this day when people see photos of me on that night, they still doubt my story. Suffice to add, I have never been to any event since without planning my outfit and definitely not without ensuring all fits as it should.
I have also had another flesh exposing mishap, this time in my office. You need to know that my office is situated in a large house, this is important for you to understand before I recount this tale. Hence I had rushed in of a morning following my daily gym session and was hurrying to get changed into my work clothes ready for the day ahead. I was in mid change mode when I heard my phone ringing. Knowing my Boss was travelling in a time zone 3 hours ahead of me and in my mind being sure I was completely alone in my office, I ran to get my phone ‘sans’ trousers hence sitting at my desk literally only half dressed. Suddenly out of nowhere one of my male colleagues saunters into my office with me still on the phone in mid conversation and stops short of my desk looking at me in total shock and surprise. I sidled under my desk in total humiliation whilst gesturing him to leave the room. I could only blame myself for making the assumption I was alone and berating myself on my unprofessionalism on this occasion. To this day I still can’t look at this colleague without fearing he still remembers this incident. And to add insult to injury, it wasn’t even my Boss that had called when I ran to answer the phone half clad!! Never assume is another key mantra I use and this I will never do again in the context of thinking I am on my own in the office or that nobody is likely to walk in!
I believe it’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes, and I have learnt so much through my own. I am open about my mistakes as in retrospect some of them are quite amusing and if others can learn or glean anything from them then I will have achieved at least in part what I am setting out to do.