It was 2009 and I was bored. Bored and frustrated.
As the new bright-eyed and busy-tailed Social Media Program Coordinator for a non-profit, I found myself staring out the window most days, wishing I was at the beach. My manager resented me for taking her “smart young lady” role in the office—and despite my title, my CEO didn’t understand what social media even was.
I went above and beyond in every area of my position—drafting new marketing plans, offering ideas for rebuilding our archaic website, managing all of my projects with ease, down to every last detail. And yet there were still several hours of every day that I had nothing to do. I would sit, and sit, and try to be useful, while waiting for approval from the powers that be.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I didn’t mind the work. In fact, when I was making progress with my manager and building connections within the program I was developing, I found true joy. It was the idle time—the time spent impatiently waiting for someone to cut down the red tape—that slowly drove me mad.
I remember thinking, “Why am I in this office for 9 hours a day when I can get my work done in 6?” and, “I could totally do this stuff from a coffee shop!” and, “Shouldn’t I be out in the field talking to the community about what they want from this program?”
Asking myself these questions, joining some new social networks (namely Twitter at the time), and sitting silently with my thoughts helped me come to the conclusion that I didn’t need to love my work every day to be happy. I needed an environment where the things I did mattered, where my projects made a difference. I needed a career where impact trumped hours.
Saying “No” to Get to “Yes”
Now remember, this was 2009. The economy was in the toilet, and most college graduates couldn’t land any sort of job—let alone a job they actually liked. I was fortunate for the opportunity to work in a position that I truly desired, and I’ll admit that I didn’t fully appreciate that at the time. (Blame the Millennial in me.)
But what set me apart from some of my peers is that I was willing and able to choose my own adventure at this point. I felt completely confident that I could build something with just my current skill set and my drive to succeed.
(Thinking about it now, I have no idea why I felt that way. I knew nothing! But that’s beside the point…)
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I certainly knew what I did NOT want to do. I didn’t want to sit inside a cubicle for 9 hours a day. I didn’t want to let me productive hours go to waste. I didn’t want to be forced to work under a devil woman. I didn’t want to crunch numbers all day. I didn’t want to wait tables.
The freelancer lifestyle seemed to fit within my values, but I didn’t have the experience to be a consultant or to build computer programs or design marketing materials. What was I good at?
Organization. Process. Efficiency in the workplace. Making people’s lives easier.
Enter the Virtual Assistant Proposition
Jay Baer was my very first client in early 2010. I had interned for him a few years prior, had stayed in touch, and followed him on Twitter when I had nothing better to do in the office. (I still feel sad admitting that the office environment was that inefficient, but it’s true.) He tweeted something about needing a virtual assistant, and while I had no idea what that was, I knew I could do anything an executive assistant could do, so I was probably qualified.
Looking for a virtual assistant to work on travel , research, blog mgmt. Interested, or have recos, please let me know. Thanks!
— Jay Baer (@jaybaer) January 6, 2010
Plus, my internship with Jay involved a lot of days where he wasn’t in the office, so I figured, “We’ve done this before, why not again?”
Working virtually for Jay was the perfect fit for me. I’m more of a visual person, and I love to learn new things, so his rapid-fire email strategy with very little explanation actually worked for me. I loved making lists and crossing things off, all while immersing myself in this new “social media” industry within which Jay was growing his following.
Soon, my hunger for more work became apparent to Jay. And while he didn’t have more for me (yet) he was generous in making introductions to his connections—other solopreneurs who knew they couldn’t do it all on their own.
Where Are We Now?
Flash forward five years later, and it’s become apparent to me (after some coaxing from fellow team members) that this virtual workforce isn’t just a flash in the pan. It’s the wave of the future.
The difference, however, between my original plan and where we are now is that my team and I are not virtual assistants. We’re something more.
In the best relationships, we become partners in our clients’ businesses. We have a seat at the table when it comes to making strategic decisions because we’re in the weeds of the day-to-day projects that allow their businesses to run smoothly.
We are able to get inside our clients’ heads and determine their needs often before they even realize them. We’re able to make decisions on their behalf when they’re overwhelmed and overworked. We become their proxy, in a sense.
And we have the opportunity to play a role in leading innovation for this industry.
Purpose Trumps Passion
I’ve talked to tons of people who ask me things like, “How did you get into this?” or who say things like, “So cool that you were able to follow your passion!” But the truth is that I didn’t follow any particular passion. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “All I want to do is be a virtual assistant!” I thought hard about my experiences and how what I’m good at could help other people.
Assisting people in their scheduling and content marketing isn’t my “passion” per se, but making a difference in someone’s life is. And the only way I knew how to do that was by offering a digital hand to entrepreneurs and managers in need.
The tough thing about passion is that it’s fleeting. It evokes images of rainbows and sunshine, when the reality is that some days are filled with storm clouds and frustration. Passion doesn’t last, but an innate feeling of being valued and respected does.
The truth is that I’m not always happy with some of the projects that I’m assigned, but I’m content with the way this career has allowed me to meet new people, explore new places, and grow every day through new adventures.
Our Growing Purpose
As it turns out, the lives changed by this little business haven’t just been our clients’. Among our ranks, we have team members pursuing their dreams, growing their families, and living their ideal lifestyles as we help clients achieve their goals.
It’s become clear to me that there are many other people out there who have the same basic needs as I do: being useful at work, going on adventures, and finding their community.
So, how do we provide these opportunities to more people? How can I share my expertise with you and help you further develop the skills you already have that can help other people?
That’s what my team and I have been discussing lately, and we have some exciting things in the works. If you’re interested in being notified when I’ve got some trainings and classes available, just enter your email here. I promise not to email you about anything other than my new virtual assistant courses, launching in early 2016.
I look forward to embarking on the next phase of this journey as I’ve learned this isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle.
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Jess Tyson, CEO & Director of Calm
Jess is the founder and proud Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management. (And yes, she invented that title because that’s what you do when you’re the boss!) She wrote the book on how building a successful relationship with a virtual assistant can make all the difference in helping business owners get to the next level. Her life is often a whirlwind of wrangling her toddler, speaking at conferences (virtual and beyond!), researching productivity hacks, and meticulously making matches between overworked entrepreneurs and focused virtual assistants. Jess's first book, Panic Proof: How the Right Virtual Assistant Can Save Your Sanity and Grow Your Business is available now: panicproofbook.com
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