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Journey to becoming a Virtual Assistant

My journey to becoming a Virtual Assistant

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How did I end up as a Virtual Assistant? What on earth possessed me to choose to work on a self-employed, or contractual, basis rather than to find full-time or employed work, where I would be assured of a regular income? And what skills or experiences have I accumulated, to help me along the way?

I’d like to be able to say that it was always a life-long ambition of mine to work as a Personal Assistant, but I’d be lying! I have had various ambitions since leaving full-time education, from Actor through to Editor. Whilst each ambition has reflected a particular phase of my life, and have perhaps all too often been reactive or emotionally driven, they have all nonetheless somehow helped to bring me where I am now and to provide me with lessons, skills and experience which are fundamental to my role in providing freelance PA services.

So, here goes with a few (but not all!!) of the highlights….

Working abroad

I started off with the ambition to experience life in different countries.  I therefore worked as an Au Pair – in France, Italy, Austria and Turkey.  What did I gain from this? Well, apart from the ability to say no or go away with several different methods (and I won’t go into detail), I managed to improve my language skills, especially in French. It taught me also how to adapt – to different environments, cultures and personalities, and it helped to give me the resilience to live through situations which were, at times, stressful and way out of my comfort zone.

Oh, and I developed a deepened respect for a British cup of tea!

Going to college

I went to university in Swansea to study Ancient History, no less. What did I learn from this? Clearly, not a lot about Ancient History, because I can remember very little about my course, and in fact my overriding memory of Roman history is coloured by Kenneth Williams saying “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me…” in “Carry on Cleo”. However, the life-long skills I have taken with me from this time, include the ability to present my ideas or argument in a concise format, and the ability to effectively research information from a variety of sources. Oh, and to NEVER EVER refer to Wales as a part of England, even if I found it hilariously funny after a few glasses of wine down the pub with my Welsh friends. I’d like to be able to add that university provided me with a wisdom, clarity and focus, but I’d be lying…

Editor in publishing

After university, I decided to work in publishing. I therefore took a secretarial course which enabled me to work my way up to becoming an Editor in children’s illustrated reference books. What did this teach me? Well…beyond how to work with some very typically artistic personalities, I learnt how to proof-read to a high standard, how to edit text, how to query information no matter the source, and how to project manage series of books from ideas to publication, in often tight time-frames and budgets. It also, crucially, taught me that, just because you are working in a creative industry, you are still working in a business. Your business therefore needs to run to a profit and make financial sense, no matter how driven you are by the meaning behind what you do.

Professional acting

Surprisingly to some, I always had a passion for acting, despite being quiet and often shy. From a young age, I loved to go up on stage and pretend to be someone whom I wasn’t. As I became older, my involvement in acting increased and I felt that I wanted to train to act professionally. So, off I went to Drama school, accompanied by a massive bank loan. What did I learn from this (apart from the stresses of massive bank loans)? Acting isn’t about pretending, but it is about telling stories truthfully. That all human behaviour is driven by objectives, and that it is these which determine, as much as anything, our personality and how we can understand the personalities of others. I discovered how a self-awareness and a sense of truth is crucial in being able to move forward. I learnt the importance of being able to communicate and, within this, crucially, to listen. Although, now, I never act, the skills and knowledge I gained from this period of my life, will always remain with me.

Personal Assistant and Secretary

I decided to move to London, and eventually, after “temping” in a variety of Corporate organisations, I took a permanent role as PA/Practice Secretary within a Management Consultancy. What did I learn from this? Apart from that, whereas in acting, the aim is to show how you feel, in consulting or in the Corporate world, the aim is very much to keep how you feel in check.  I also learnt, however, that you don’t need to be in an artistic environment to find meaning or a sense of personal challenge to what you are doing, and I very much enjoyed my time at the consultancy.  During this period, I developed my skills in working under pressure and to a high standard of accuracy. I gained experience in dealing with highly sensitive information, and I developed skills in being highly organised and proactive. I found, in my work as a Personal Assistant, that the skills I had developed until this point were now applied in many different aspects of my work.

Being a mother to three children

I moved back to Oxfordshire, where I grew up, and where I am now based.  I am a mother to three children, all now in their teens, or soon to be. What have I learnt, and am still learning, from this period of my life? The importance of never taking anything for granted, of how difficult it can be to separate your own preconceptions, fears and anxieties from what might ultimately be in your children’s best interests, and that you can, in the end, only but do what you believe to be right. I’ve learnt how to listen more proactively to my sense of instinct, to trust my niggling doubts, to deal with a huge amount of stress, and to find the resilience and belief to come through this. Oh, and I’ve learnt a huge amount about football and Fortnite!

And this takes me to where I am now - working as a Virtual Assistant

I took the decision that I wanted to be around for my children. I wanted to be able to take them to their after-school activities and to be there when they came home from school. I felt that this was of high priority for them and for me.

I also realised that there is an increasing demand for virtual business support, with an increasing number of professionals taking the decision to leave large corporations and set up their own businesses, or simply that more and more people wish to work for themselves, but not necessarily wanting to take on permanent members of staff. I felt that I had the skills to provide a service where I would bring value and expertise to my clients’ businesses, and that I would enjoy the opportunity to support their goals.

And how have my own experiences contributed to where I am now?

Understanding how you get from A to B is always useful. Knowing that you are somehow directing your own path, rather than being led by events, is a positive thing. In my work as a Virtual Assistant, it’s important for my clients that I am clear on what they hope to achieve, and it’s also crucial that I am clear with myself on what my own ambitions might be in order that I have the resilience to continue to grow my business and provide a professional service which is to a high standard.

I know that my journey to becoming a Virtual Assistant wasn’t one which I set out with, but my skills and experiences along the way now allow me to provide a high calibre professional support to my clients. I particularly enjoy supporting businesses in what they do. I enjoy becoming immersed in their ambitions and establishing how I can help to achieve these.

I’m still learning to not sweat the small stuff – that some things aren’t worth losing sleep over. But long may my life as a Virtual Assistant continue!