Some mentors will MAKE you, others will BREAK you

Posted in PA Branding / Posted By: Global PA

PA Branding Part 5.1: Choose your support system carefully

Some things just make me tick, and not in a good way. Mentoring has always been on my list of important topics, but something happened recently that moved it to the very top.

Sorry, it’s a long post, so bear with me! I guarantee you will be the wiser for it.

Here’s the deal. I’m very much in favor of having or finding yourself a mentor. It can make the biggest difference and fine-tune your direction. Mentoring is a hot topic and there are plenty of articles out there. The best one I have read lately is about the diversity of your mentors.

It basically says that you don’t have to look for one genius mentor. Find different mentors for different areas. And that advice is brilliant, because nobody is good at everything. If you say you are, then I guarantee you’re spreading yourself very thin. The more focused your expertise is, the more it qualifies you to be called an expert.

And the same goes for Assistants. We cannot be good at everything! Lose this perception, lose this eagerness to be perfect at everything you do. It is not doable, it is stressful and discouraging. Why? Because at some point you will meet someone who is way better than you are or you will fail due to limited ‘exclusive practice’. According to Malcolm Gladwell and his famous book Outliers, you need about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at one single something. And there is no way Assistants can be good at everything our professional is capable of in one lifetime. So choose your specialty and make it work in your favor.

I know a lot is expected from Assistants. We need to keep up a perfect façade, be good at everything – and that is just not human. I hope that you have a job in an area where your Unique Super Powers are most needed and appreciated. If you do something where the main tasks do not correspond to your core skills, don’t butcher yourself! Find a better fit. I know it’s a strong and a scary statement in our tough economic times, but not getting appreciated for your hard work is the worst thing for you if you want to succeed in your career or personal life. It’s exactly that crossover to the personal life that makes this so damaging. You take this negative feedback with you, you take it to bed and you start questioning every part of your life.

Back to the topic of having a mentor. It’s important to have one and it can even be crucial. But when you pick the ‘wrong’ mentor, it can set you back a few miles. It might even make you question other support options, like coaching or training. Having the ‘wrong’ mentor can break your spirit in unimaginable ways and you will have a hard time bouncing back. Yes, we have a lot to do, so don’t add this issue to your ‘to solve’ list.

And so, here is a short version of my mentoring adventure: it’s over! No warning, no conversation, just a notification. Just like that: I didn’t pass the class! And what matters most here is the reason behind it. The ‘ending’ part doesn’t bother me. If the connection and goodwill fade then parting ways is the only way forward. It’s the core of the reason for this decision that broke my PA heart.

Every Assistant has strengths and weaknesses. My weakness is grammar. English is not my first language, not even my second. But I write these posts and organize PA events because I’m so freakishly passionate about our profession. Most of all, I’m immensely proud to be an Assistant. It not always easy, but we are up to our ears in it and we love it. My goal is to empower the personalities behind the Assisting titles to be strong at the core and confident at what we are good at.

Does not having perfect grammar make me a less qualified Assistant? According to my ‘mentor’, that was indeed the case! Shocking! How can a celebrated PA mentor come to that conclusion and use it as an excuse? That is exactly what is wrong with our society. We are judged on our mechanical/secretarial skills, but the rest are bluntly ignored. By disregarding the person behind the profession you ignore a gigantic amount of talent out there! That is the reason why most assistants are not confident and proud enough to speak up. This silences us. Because there are always areas that we are not good at. And we tend to focus on those downers, instead of riding on the uppers. It is that need for perfection that is killing our positioning and confidence the most.

I might not be as good at measurable things (like grammar), but I can confidently say that I’m extremely good at less measurable things – things that make a real difference to the people I work for and support. I meticulously manage projects, I engage in team management and stimulation, I support business development and (re)structuring, I deal with business and private finances, I make the lives of my amazing executives run smoothly and, most of all, I make things happen. What is more important? What makes me a high-caliber Assisting Professional? That is up to the people around me to decide! Everybody has their own fit, go find yours!

By the way, be aware of the generation gap here. They say that we are moving away from the knowledge era and into the creativity age. Soft skills, overview and analysis intelligence, leadership skills and interpersonal approach are what will be more important. All the mechanical skills will be outsourced and we can see that that is already well on its way. Have you noticed that a lot of youngsters now aren’t able to solve simple mathematical equations without their smartphones? We immediately disregard their intelligence, right? But why should we be good at something that we can solve in seconds by using an app? Does using the available tools make you a less qualified professional?

I like the story of Bill Gates in this context: Once in an interview he said that he could give the right answer to any question the interviewer might ask him within a few minutes’ time. And of course he passed the test. How? He had a great team of people on speed dial that could give him any info he asked for. Does anyone doubt his ability? No! He saves his precious time for things that really matter to him. And so, if you want to matter in the new age – focus and define non-mechanical skills that you are really good at and find ways to show them. Make a real difference! And if you need more persuasion, watch the movie The Imitation Game. A perfect example of how only after the machine took over mechanical skills, human intelligence prevailed and we saved over 14 million lives during World War II. True story!

As our profession has 150 variations of titles, every Assistant has a variety of skills. You cannot be equally good at everything! In my day-to-day life, I’m a freaking rock star at what I do. None of my clients nor assistants that join GPA events have ever questioned me or my qualities over some typos. But my ‘mentor’ was different… My qualifications turned out not to be up to the standard.

It makes me very sad to realize what such feedback does to us. How can others, ones that we trust, pigeonhole us to this extent? Most of these statements leave a mark – but not the one you strive for in our fast-paced and extremely demanding workplace. You need every inch of your confidence and inspiration to survive in our cut-throat economy and age of relentless competition. My ‘mentor’ has no right to label me like this. Especially because that specific ‘mentor’ is also pioneering our profession.

Again, it makes me tick, and not in the good way… So here are three points that you need to keep in mind if you are looking for an external support system:

Support Role Definition

When you want external support, be aware of the definitions:

  • TEACHER: the one who focuses on your mistakes and disciplines your action, so you know what to practice to improve. This is a great way toperfect your hard/mechanic skills. Being harsh the ‘old school’ way can help you focus on what you need to practice.
  • COACH: the one who shows you new ways of doing things, analyzing what holds you back and making action plans on how to move forward, inspiring and cheering you up along the way. This is a great option if you want to make a leap forward, up the ladder or up the pay scale, or prove yourself working on a demanding project.
  • MENTOR: the one that challenges you to discover a better version of yourself. The one that questions your perceptions and your thinking so you get some perspective and grow on your own, reaching great heights and making new turns. It’s the deep wisdom, the profound experience and the outstanding people skills that matter here. A mentor helps you grow from within first, the outer (mechanical) growth is the logical outcome.

If you know what you are looking for in a support system, define specific topics to find the right experts.  Only then decide the level and the form of support (Teacher/Coach/Mentor).
My ‘mentor’ turned out to be a teacher of hard skills. But that’s partially my mistake. I was head over heels just because we agreed to work together. It was an honor to be considered.

Have clear deliverables

I know it might sound weird in personal development, but that is exactly what got me into trouble.
I thought I was clear on why I wanted the support of that particular mentor: I was launching Global PA Academy and needed advice from someone in the industry who knows the ropes. It surely was not because I needed an editor. But for some reason, all we ever talked about were things that I did wrong.

Our short-lived collaboration was not for nothing. I had my introduction to this awesome world of PA training and events. For this I’m grateful. But it ended at that introduction. My bad: I wasn’t clear enough.

Make sure the goodwill of time and effort investment is present

As it turns out, this is a crucial point! Again, I’m a rookie at being mentored: I assumed that there is a certain goodwill from the mentor to invest time and effort in my growth, supporting me on my way of finding my way while doing something completely different (when you assume you make an ass of u andme). But it resulted in me asking for feedback and only getting grades back for everything that I didn’t do well. That proves the level of miscommunication. I do get the irony of it!

An honest and direct approach is important in any version of external support. But all of those versions need to have the element of helping you move forward. Otherwise, what’s the point?


I take responsibility for my weaknesses. Some things I’m aware of, some I just don’t see. And no matter how many editors I hire to check my work, they all slip out once in a while. I understand that in some areas of our profession flawless writing skills are required. But knowing my flaws, I’m not working in those positions, never have and never will.

So please, if my grammar in these posts or anywhere else on GPA material really bugs you and you lose faith in my qualifications and the value of our content as a result of it – be my guest to unfollow me, unfriend me or ignore me.

I strive for value delivery in your personal development. It’s true that I pay less attention to grammar. In our digital and international world with all the tools and nationalities equally represented you don’t have to be a grammar expert in every language. And even those tools are not perfect. Well, it’s a risk of our ’new age’ borderless technological world that I’m willing to take.

I will find another editor, but my main focus will still be on content. On finding shortcuts for you to be even more awesome. Reciting tips and tricks to boost your spirits and your confidence. Finding amazing experts out there to help us to LEVEL UP our personalities. Because that is still the main reason you are good at what you do – your personality, who you are inside, behind the hard skills.

And yes, I can imagine a lot of you will fearlessly defend the fact that I should have taken more time and reread everything. But time is scarce and I’m ambitious. I have awesome clients that need my support. The time spent supporting them is better invested than time spent searching for typos. We are all busy, we only have one shot at life. I’m going to live mine with the focus on excelerating others, both executives and Assistants. If you’re with me, you will go on a wild ride to fulfilling personal growth and success. If you’re not, for whatever reason, it’s totally fine.

Whatever you choose – more power to you! Live your life the way you want to, find support systems to make your growth possible and faster, but most of all – be awesome in areas of your preference! Mine is soft skills, yours might be hard skills.

PS: I enrolled in a new coaching program, with clear deliverables and a great sense of goodwill. Finding my way in the world of PA events and training is still very rewarding and I’m sure it will remain a path of trial and error. My hopes are high that there is a quantum leap ahead for me!


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