I Sing a Song of Secretaries

It’s great we have a day to recognize “Administrative Professionals” or, as they used to be known, Secretaries, and I always appreciated the efforts made to acknowledge my contributions as one. But just as one “aw shit” eradicates a thousand “atta girls”, I will never forget how much it hurt the couple of times those I supported “forgot” or worse, the year I was told, “You’re an Office Manager; we didn’t want to insult you by calling you a Secretary”. Oh, OK, I’ll stop answering your phones then. But I didn’t say that, because I needed the job. Instead I cried in the bathroom, then dried my tears and went back to work, like all good secretaries do.

secretaryAdministrative Professionals Day is one of the more Hallmarky of the Hallmark Occasions, but for me (who is admittedly rather close to it) it’s an important one, because those stalwarts bearing the title, well, they hold up the work-a-day Universe.

Think of the secretaries you know: the ones who do exactly their job, no more, no less, they answer phones, do their clerical stuff, and nothing else. They don’t last long, do they? But the other ones…. the ones who do a great job and always have an aspirin or Tylenol when you need it; the ones with a band-aid, mending kit, tissue, or snack when your head hurts, your body hurts, you lost a button, or your blood sugar is low – they’re the ones we depend on. They are the ones who remember the customer’s birthday, children’s names, whether the customer is going through a divorce, or just bought a new car and what color it is. They remember where the client used to work and for whom, and whose name you might invoke at just the right time. Do I have to even go into secretaries being the first one to bear the brunt of a customer or parent’s rage when things go badly? No, no I don’t, because if you have a secretary, you already know you get the blunted edge of that particular knife.

We depend on their skill, efficiency, memories, attention to detail, loyalty and reliability. We depend on their ability to juggle metaphorical balls and bricks and flaming torches, something not taught in college, without ever breaking a sweat.

And most of the time they do it all so quietly and calmly, you never notice. They are easy to take for granted, because they’re always so remarkable you become accustomed to their remarkableness. Until that terrible day they get sick, too sick to work or worse, they leave you and go somewhere where they will be appreciated. Then comes the lesson, too late.

If you haven’t bought him or her flowers yet, or lunch, or gotten a nice gift you still have time. Better yet, maybe make a point of getting out of your own head once in awhile (say maybe, monthly?) to notice all the things they do and remind them how much you appreciate them. Maybe even let them go home early. Or better, give them an unplanned day off with pay – I will guarantee they have busy home lives demanding the balance of energy you’re not sucking out of them, and they could use the break as much as your recognition but, if you can do only one, choose recognition, and choose it more than once per year.

To all my former secretarial colleagues, I wish you a happy Administrative Professionals Day, and I hope your bosses bought you lunch and flowers and told you how awesome you are. You’re the ones who taught, supported, listened to me and kept me sane when I was about to break, because we know a thing or two about trench warfare and being brothers/sisters in arms, don’t we? I hope I did the same for you. I send you my love and deepest respect.


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