This. Is What My Work is Like.
Director of Finance. Mail Carrier. These are job titles that make one’s responsibilities during the work day obvious. For much of my career, my work has been a mystery and my accomplishments anomalies to my friends and family. Assistants are like servants, right? Like butlers but with computers. No?
I’ve actually had a friend ask me if I tended to my employers’ toileting needs. And let me tell you, it just took me three tries just now to come up with a way to write that in a nicer way than she said it. Estate Manager. Managing an estate. But, you know, also planning events, liaising with PR, taking the girls shopping for graduation, doing the tax prep and procuring the nanny a fur coat. Uh… what?
This is so much the case that I resort to using a three-second description, rather than a title, followed by a movie reference. I’ll say, “I work for super-achievers: entrepreneurs and CEOs, who typically have busy offices, staffed homes and complicated lives that need someone to keep it all together. Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada? That’s me, but, you know, doing it intentionally, and being well-compensated." This usually gets traction. But even more difficult to explain is the way one learns to operate, inside the life of a high-profile person.
I just came across this LONG but hilarious Kevin Smith talk at Kent State that I had to share, in which he’s talking about interacting with someone very much like clients I have supported, who have teams and gatekeepers and staff members whizzing about to make midnight phone calls, last second trips to Guatemala, and whatever other bizarre or impossible dreams they have come true.
“It’s three in the morning in Minnesota. I really need a camel.”
People like me and you, who aren’t surrounded by support teams and extreme wealth, still know how to take public transit, do our own taxes, throw a dinner party. And most importantly, we just work through obstacles we encounter on the way naturally, without realizing that that often, the overachievers we admire and aim to be, particularly those with celebrity, have actually lost that capacity. Momentum is created when better and better support teams are assembled for high-profile folks like the one described in this talk below, and access becomes easier, network stronger, money flows; their work is allowed to deepen. Work success is more readily guaranteed in this state because the current is working in their favor. The house is clean, the car is always full of gas and in pristine condition, the flights are booked, all the simple parts of an existence are muted. The focus is allowed to be the work.
Surrounding yourself with "yes" people is the single best way to end up out of touch with reality. There's certainly something profoundly freeing (particularly for anyone in the arts) about being able to let go, but after a time (and depending upon one's inclination) it becomes dangerous - decisions are made outside of the framework of what is true and untrue, but inside the framework of what makes you happy. Your friendships are drawn from your admirers - not from people well matched to encourage and challenge you. Even family dynamics change as your bright star eclipses and alters the nature of Thanksgiving. The rules of interaction, even basic kindness, are off. You're allowed to require that the people in your life don't expect social norms or balanced give and take. The people around you are playing chess blind. They're trying to stay competitive, but also letting you win.
"No" becomes incredibly confusing when your support system operates with a bias toward giving you what you need, regardless of the level of absurdity or time of day. There's something childlike that begins to mount for high-profile folks in this situation - rendered incapable of operating in the world the rest of us know, or making balanced decisions. And it's a very lonely place to be. Lunatic, productive, and entertaining, sure. But painful and confusing.
Working with and for clients like this forces one to develop a very unique set of operating tools. You're part cheerleader, part parent, part concierge, part therapist. Which doesn't make the interaction any less honest for you, but requires a pony show running on the side at all times, and you're fairly certain you're replaceable at any given moment.
Hearing Kevin speak to that is like seven years of free therapy for people like me.
Highly recommend you grab a glass of wine, put your feet up and watch this.