When you were 17, what did you want to be?
So when I was 17, I had a bit of a different situation than most teens. A month before I turned 17, I became a mom. So that’s not the norm. But I actually knew I wanted to be a secretary (back then the term administrative assistant had just started floating around). Although I was firmly planted in this, no one was excited about it, everybody thought that was where you start and you work your way up from there. They didn’t think that being a secretary was noble, but I did. I really thought of it as you get to serve people; not everyone can be the CEO, not everyone can be a founder. I always saw it as a really pivotal role and I was not swayed by anyone’s opinion. In fact it probably made me more determined.
I graduated from high school a year early, which was a big deal since I wasn't a good student. Being pregnant gave me a lot of reasons to get my act together. I started college at 17 and graduated a year and half later when I was 19. I went to a secretary school called Hill Business College. It was a vocational school, so you had the option of being different kinds of assistants. I chose medical office assistant, because I thought that would allow me to help people the most. It turns out I hated it.
You would make the most money if you worked in medical billing, but it was the most negative part of the medical profession because you spend your day calling and asking people for money who just don’t have it. But what we learned you could transfer to any field. We were learning behaviors and patterns that have transferred throughout the years and are still applicable today. Our classes were all day and we had to wear business clothes to school, no jeans. And in fact, when I first started they hadn’t passed the law yet that women could wear pants at work, so we were not allowed to wear pants until my last semester at school. Some of the professors only wore pants from then on out. We had the option of getting our associate’s degree, so that if we wanted to move on to get our bachelor’s we could transfer credits. I did go ahead and do that, but I still had no desire to go to college.
School was not a fun place for me. I never really felt like I fit in. I didn’t know I was smart until I went to college, because I wasn’t smart in the same way my brother and sister were. They were in honors classes and they had 4.4 GPAs and they never studied; I struggled. The areas that they were really strong in, like science and math, were my weakest areas. And then in college, it was all practical. I excelled at it, and I ended up graduating in the top in my class with honors. And I just knew that if I went to college, it would not be that way.
And on the funny side, I ended up being an assistant in education because I do love to learn. I just don’t always like the traditional path that people take to teach; I’m not interested in sitting there and listening to anyone lecture without having the opportunity to ask questions, or the opportunity to actually apply it and then come back and say, "Well, here’s what happened to me." But I’m a huge fan of education; my career path has led me into education, professional development, continuing ed. I’m constantly surrounded by education and now provide that as part of what I do. I love learning, but for me, college just wasn’t the way to get more education.
How did you get from school to where you are now?
I was active in the PTA at my children’s school, and one day they asked me if I would start working there as the administrative assistant in the school’s office. At that time I was working in sales at Nordstrom. I had left the administrative field because it was not always the case that you got health insurance as an administrative assistant, this was the late 90's. My husband was self-employed, and health insurance costs were rising so I went to Nordstrom where I could get insurance. So this job was a decrease in pay, but there was no longer a commute, no weekends, no nights, and I would get to be around my children so it seemed like a no-brainer.
From there we moved to Georgia, and at first I was working at a bank, and I took over the admin side of it. It’s funny, in all the things that people do there’s always this administrative side that needs to get done, but most people either don’t know how to do it or don’t want to do it.
I started working at University of Georgia back in administration, and I was really, really happy with that. I was working in continuing education, and I loved it. They were all online courses so we had students from all over the world, and I coordinated the professional development for about 1,000 students online. I loved my department head, who was the first woman I had worked for. I learned so much from her, and we’re still good friends. And then it just got to the point where I had already gotten a promotion, and I wasn’t going to get any more than that. Everything was running seamlessly, so I went over and started working at the law school.
I was the executive assistant to the Dean of Administration and Student Affairs and Admissions, who was one person. I oversaw the Masters of Law (LLM) program, which was an international program, so I was responsible for going through the applications for international students who wanted to come to the States. I loved that job.
And I had this really fun opportunity where I was an assistant to the Global Internship Program. Rising 2 and 3L’s would spend at least 8 weeks in a foreign country, doing work based on what field they were interested in. It could be anything from something super-modern like working in Belgium with the EU; or they could be in Cambodia, logging stolen art from years and years ago. We would take in the applications and we were responsible for getting their living situation set up. We would have these training sessions, and even though I’d never been out of the US and didn’t have a passport, I would tell them all the things they needed to know about traveling abroad. But then my boss came to me one day and he said, “I think that you’re doing a fantastic job, but just to let you know, you’ll never get promoted.” I looked at him and I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because you don’t have a law degree.”
So then I went over to the same position at the vet school. And on my third day there, my husband died. We moved back to California, and I got a job as the assistant to the Head of School at an independent K-12 school in Oakland, Head Royce. It was the most amazing place. It was the first job that I had ever taken sight unseen. We had all the interviews over phone or Skype, we had talked about me flying out to see things, but with it being the summer and people being on vacation, we just did it all by phone. When I got to California, I took the first week to buy a house and a car and get situated, and I started at school the second week.
I absolutely loved it there. I thought, if I had gone to school there, I might have really enjoyed school. I started learning about all different things, about my love of reading, about different types of poetry. I picked up a book on poetry, which I have on this trip; I never leave home without that book, [a book of poems chosen by Garrison Keillor]. For me, working there was almost secondary.
Unfortunately I had to leave because my daughter had to come back to Georgia. I didn’t want to go and the Head of School said, “What can we do to keep you?” I said, “Well, I don’t have to be here to do everything I do. I can do most of it virtually.” So I started remote working from Georgia for them. I thought, if I could do it for them, what if I could do it for myself? I finished out the school year with them, and then I started figuring out how to run my own business as a virtual assistant. In October, it’ll be three years.
How is it going?
It’s going really well, but it didn’t start off that way. I was a hot mess. Running a business and working are not the same thing. With an employee mindset, you just get paid for working hard. So the idea that I have to ask people for money was weird to me. Don’t people just know to pay me? I didn’t know how to close on a consultation, because at the end, don’t they just want to hire me? It doesn’t work that way. So I did the only thing I know how to do: I read every book, I took every class, and little by little things started to make sense. I hired a business coach and that really helped.
Finally I came onto something that worked, and this was one of those aha! moments for me that other people talk about in their business. I had been doing a lot of networking and meeting a lot of people, but they weren’t in my niche as a virtual assistant. I was educating them on all the things that a virtual assistant could do and at the end, they would say, “Well that’s great, but where does one find such a person?” And I thought, “Gosh, I’m sure I know someone.” So I started matching them up. I thought, “I wonder if someone would pay me to do this.” And so I tried it and they did. I wrote a bestseller [Hire the Right Virtual Assistant ], which was a really challenging growth experience. I started working with others, and then I decided I wanted to do a virtual summit, so I just did the virtual summit. And then I decided I wanted to teach virtual classes, to teach people how to be a successful business owner as a virtual assistant.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
What you start with, you’re not going to finish with. No matter what career you’re in, it will change. Even if you never leave the profession, everything evolves. So where I started, no one could have ever imagined that a virtual assistant would be a thing. But at the time, you can’t see it. The whole point is just to keep going forward. There’s a great book for after college called Pivot that says every time you do something, you’re making these little pivots in your life. And when you’re starting a business, or when you’re in school, or when you change majors, you’re making these little changes. It may not seem to work out, but somewhere along the way, if you’re seriously into it and you’re pushing forward, it will work out for you later.
Even though I’m not in any of the fields I was in before, all those things shaped my career. It sounds super simple when I say it now, but it wasn’t simple at the time; it was very difficult. At times you think, “Am I doing the right thing?” But then you do it and you’re not afraid anymore. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the type of person to do something for the first time and not be afraid. But I think through all that I’ve learned, I’m not afraid of being afraid anymore. And I’m still doing what I love to do, I’m still helping people, helping both clients and assistants now, helping people become virtual. I’m helping myself, traveling. And I love that my kids think that I’m setting a good example for them.