I’m a Hollywood assistant. What does this mean? It means that I work long, sometimes indefinite hours making sure some of the most powerful people in Hollywood have what they need to create the works of art you see on television every day. Sometimes this means a clichéd coffee run to give my exec a little liquid fuel to jump start the day. Sometimes it means organizing action-items in order of importance from “happening as we speak” to “can wait a few days.” Sometimes it means getting to take notes in writers rooms or sit in on pitches. What’s needed from day to day varies – which is partly why I like the job. It’s rarely routine.
I moved to LA last year to pursue my dream of writing comedy and took on a big assisting role. It was absolutely the hardest year of my life.
There are two things you need to know about me:
- I’m a major, major homebody.
- When I feel I’m losing control, my workaholic tendencies go into overdrive.
Leaving my beloved hometown of Chicago was extremely difficult for me, mainly because I wasn’t running away from anything. I’m very close with my parents. I had a really secure, fun job at the time. And there was a Chipotle less than a mile from my house – seriously, what else do you need?
Starting over in LA with only a handful of acquaintances was not what I wanted but what I felt was necessary to achieve the goals I had set for myself. To make matters worse, my (now) fiancé transferred to San Diego, so we were doing long distance as well.
I was alone in a new city in a small apartment with nothing demanding my attention besides work. So… I worked. And worked. And worked. And then went home. And worked some more.
When dinner menus came out at work, I rarely refused. After all, it was free food, and what was the alternative? Going home to my box-sized apartment to heat up soup on my two-burner stove? Thanks – I’ll take the salmon.
And you want to know what? I burned the hell out. I started experiencing weird health issues, emotional extremes, and utter exhaustion.
Wait, it gets better, I promise.
The long story short is my fiancé moved to LA, proposed to me, and I’ve learned to set work/life boundaries. The story ends well, I swear. But last year at this time? I was fried.
For anyone who copes with life by throwing themselves into work; for anyone who feels the need to push themselves beyond their limits on a daily basis; for anyone who feels crushed by the weight of societal pressures – I totally understand. And I want to share what I learned in hopes you can avoid the burnout I experienced.
- Not Everyone is Your Lois Lane
Hey, superwoman – guess what? It is not up to you to rescue everyone. This was the hardest thing for me to learn. My mom is an extremely compassionate person, and my dad is an extremely hard worker. Put them together, and you get someone who wants to work hard to help others. I’m not saying that it’s not okay for you to lend a hand every once in a while, but I strongly urge you to monitor how many times people come to you for help. Who are they? Do you report to them? Are the same people always looking to you to save the day? And do they reciprocate the help when you need it? It was very hard for me to identify the people I was required to assist, and the people who were taking advantage of my work ethic. If your energy is your work currency, be careful on who you choose to spend it. Remember: there’s a reason that flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. You are no good to anyone, least of all yourself, if you are run down.
- Learn to Delegate
Because I tried to be a superwoman, I was convinced I had to do everything myself. I’m also a control freak and a bit of a perfectionist, so that didn’t help the issue. I took on everything with which I was tasked and made it my job to complete it. At one point, when my workload was extremely heavy, I was waking up at 7AM, opening my eyes, and then opening my computer. I didn’t shut either until 12:30AM. Good executives (and good executive assistants) know how to delegate tasks in an effective way to maximize efficiency. They employ qualified people and tap into their strongest skill sets. You are not bossy if you delegate. You should not lose friends if you delegate. If people resent you for delegating, they didn’t respect you in the first place. (I should add: delegating doesn’t mean you’re not doing your own work. It means you’ve prioritized what YOU need to personally tackle, and you are delegating the remaining tasks in order to complete everything in a timely manner).
- Saying No
I hate conflict. I will go out of my way to avoid any sort of uncomfortable confrontation. This usually means appeasing people to steer clear of any tension. It means becoming a “yes man.” I thought by saying yes to everything, I was proving myself. All I was doing was proving that I was available to serve. I wasn’t respecting my own time and energy – why should I have expected anyone else to? I’ve had to learn to say no. No – I can’t attend that event because yes, like most normal humans, I have laundry and dishes and other life things that need tending to. No – I can’t take on that project for you because I’ve already committed my time and attention to too many other things, and I need to honor those commitments first. No – I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to your question, and I’m not obligated to help you find it. It sounds harsh – I know. But sometimes we have to draw very clear boundaries for ourselves in order to protect our minds, bodies, and souls. If people can’t make you feel inferior without your consent, then they can’t run you down without it either.
Don’t try to save everyone. Learn to delegate. Develop a healthy relationship with the word “no.” And when all else fails, turn off your phone and grab some guac at the nearest Chipotle.