Stuff Bosses Say

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Lydia Whitlock’s book of promises to her future assistant will resonate with anyone who has ever been employed

Lydia Whitlock will never be short of an anecdote at a party. Her first job after graduating from university was as an assistant in a film production company a role she stuck at for five years.

Having encountered countless Miranda Priestly-style bosses in her time, she has just written a book about her start in LA. To My Future Assistant: Your Foolproof Guide to Handling the Boss from Hell is a light-hearted take on her experiences, and those of other assistants. It deals with bosses’ ridiculous requests, offered up in the form of promises to her future assistant, listing all the crazy behaviours she won’t partake in when she becomes a boss.

After she started an anonymous blog, others began to offer stories of their own. “I wasn’t surprised by the amount, [but] I was surprised how terrible some stories were.”

For someone who has been asked to do everything from wait around for installation men because her boss didn’t want to, to having to miss an important dinner with her family because she was asked to listen in on a conference call, she is surprisingly forgiving of her previous superiors.

“They were probably treated poorly as an assistant so therefore they’re like: ‘Well now I have an assistant so I can treat them however I like.’ I also think that sometimes people just don’t notice how they’re coming off.”

Whitlock did not readily walk into an assistant job. Despite having a degree in film, she struggled when she first arrived in Los Angeles. “I sent out hundreds of resumés just looking for an unpaid internship, and I finally got one working for someone who wasn’t even in town for most of the time I was there, so it was very boring.”

to-my-assistantThis kind of boredom is something that will be all too familiar to many job hunters, as well as those who have felt the pinch and taken jobs they feel overqualified for.

“After years of answering phones and scheduling other people’s lives, I did feel a bit underused,” says Whitlock. “I think it’s a lot easier to be doing menial tasks that are below what you think should be your pay grade when you think there’s a goal in sight, but when you’re an assistant at a company and you’re not sure you’ll ever get promoted there, it’s very frustrating.”

Why then, did she stick with it for five years? “From the entertainment industry side of things, it’s very difficult to say no to your boss. It’s possible you could be fired on the spot by some people, because not many people are said no to around here, so you pretty much have to be like, ‘yes, I’ll do this ridiculous thing’. It’s part of the job. There’s fear, and hope that if you’re the most efficient at doing the menial jobs, then maybe you’ll get promoted one day.”

Blog and book are now to be made into a television series, she says. Though the show’s full details are still being worked out, it is likely to centre on assistants at a law firm.

Same deal, different industry
It was the interchangeability of the industry that amused and surprised her on the blog. “It’s funny. It’s really universal to anyboss-assistant relationship. I’ve gotten stuff from legal assistants, publishing assistants, even stuff from medical assistants about surgeons being really egotistical and treating them badly,” she says.

Whitlock remains positive about the whole experience, despite how absurd her job has been at times. This is reflected in the book’s tone.

“I wanted to be good- natured, not spiteful or a tell-all or anything like that. It is like a gentle reminder to bosses to take a step back and look at their behaviour,” she says.

“It’s coming full circle. It feels great. I am happy that I was able to turn my terrible experiences into something good. I’ve learned a lot. I call it film-industry grad school.”

The real test of her graduation from the school of her own creation will be whether or not she can stick to her own promises. This, however, is something she’s happy to put off: “No, no assistant yet. Hopefully not for a very long time.”

Five things bosses say
Challenge (n) – Typically said in an enticing tone of voice; anything described as such is really just a tedious and difficult project in disguise.
Internet, the (n) – A blanket word used by bosses to describe anything to do with internet connectivity or even just basic technology, from email to YouTube.
Let’s . . . (v) – The beginning of a sentence spoken by the boss who wants to tell you to do something but is too passive-aggressive to actually give you a direct order, and therefore starts everything with the incorrect suggestion that both of you will be performing the task.
Political (adj) – A word used to describe any situation that the boss is too lazy/scared to deal with.
Thanks (n) – A word used by bosses when they realise their assistants are almost at breaking point, in an attempt to make them feel appreciated for just a little bit longer, so as much work as possible can be sucked out of them before they’re allowed to go home at 9pm.

From ‘To My Future Assistant: Your Foolproof Guide to Handling the Boss from Hell’ by Lydia Whitlock

Originally published in the Irish Times on October 2nd 2013.

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