Confessions of a Personal Assistant
In the fall of 2003, I had just graduated from UCLA with a degree in anthropology, an area which was personally very enlightening but, unless you plan on doing research in that field, is basically useless in most work sectors. At 22 years of age, I didn't want to go to law school or work in human resources -- two paths that many of my anthropology classmates took -- but instead aspired to a career in entertainment.
I wanted to do something in the field, I just wasn't sure what exactly that was going to be. I figured it didn't matter. After all, I was living in Los Angeles, the mecca for movies. Something appropriate would surely surface soon enough.
What did appear was a job as a personal assistant to a B-list celebrity, the job I accepted after I had applied for countless jobs within the filmmaking field. Because of my limited work experience (my only employer so far had been Jamba Juice, where I had faithfully made smoothies as a teenager during my high school years), I wasn't really suited for an assistant job at a high-profile production company or agency. But when I widened my job search to include personal assistant, I promptly got an interview.
Yes, it was for a B-list celebrity, whose name I won't mention, and no, said celebrity did not conduct his own interview. I was interviewed by his head personal assistant. This guy apparently had two assistants already, and was looking to find a replacement for the third position, a job which had come open after the previous employee had gotten fired (for reasons unknown to me).
As I interviewed, I wondered what must it be like to have someone else pay your bills or pick up your dry-cleaning? How easy would it be to just sit in your own car and have someone drive for you, and even dial the phone for you, instead of having to press those multiple buttons yourself? Was he spoiled? Perhaps. But I needed a job, so why not give it a whirl?
Don't judge, just get to work
I got the job, and promptly received a crash course in how to keep my new boss happy. My responsibilities included maintaining my boss's phone book and screening all phone calls before patching them through; making flight arrangements (always, of course, on a private jet or at least in first class); and shopping for appropriate gifts for important people, including directors he had worked with in the past, other famous actors, the loving wife -- and the loving girlfriend!
It was when I found out about the girlfriend that the exact nature of our business relationship dawned on me. Not only had I been entrusted with my boss's social security number, bank account information and home address, but also with a dark personal secret. I was to carry out my duties silently, with no questions asked and with no voiced judgment on my part, which I did impeccably.
I began to come up with great white lies as to why my boss could not speak to his wife on the phone, in the same way I began shielding him from requests for press interviews. It became mechanical. It needed to be, in order for me to justify being an accomplice to his crime of infidelity. After a while, it became easy. Some days it was still heartbreaking. But most importantly, I was being loyal to my boss. My hard work and discretion were rewarded by the occasional invitation to a movie opening or concert, where I would get to accompany him. Enjoyable, but hardly a big perk.
After five months of putting in anywhere between 50 and 70 hours per week, for a criminally small paycheck, I began to wonder whether it was all worth it. Sure, I had majored in something I that I had deemed useless, but I did have a valuable college education, after all. Would there ever be a time when being a perfect multi-tasker would make me my own boss, something I secretly desired, instead of a career personal assistant? I knew I had to move on if I was going to make something more of myself.
I mustered up all my courage and caught my boss on a quiet and sunny Tuesday morning. With his favorite drink (a cup of chai tea with soy milk) as an offering, I knocked on his door and calmly told him that I believed my time with him had come to an end. I was prepared for the cold shoulder, maybe even a little outburst. If he hated anything, it was quitters. I knew that much.
"What do you want to do instead?" he asked me.
I shook my head. "I don't know. Perhaps work with writers?"
Two days later, I had an interview at the Talent and Literary Agency, where my boss was a client. He had set it all up for me. The human-resources guy doing the hiring said to me, "We hear you're very loyal and work very efficiently. You'll do just fine here." He also proceeded to tell me that I was one of the few people who had not applied through the UTA job list, an exclusive entertainment job-listing service, which can only be obtained by those who have connections. "Word of mouth is always good," he said with a chuckle.
Working for my movie star had not been easy, but it did prepare me to sit on one of Hollywood's famous agency assistant desks for the following two years, gaining valuable experience and developing contacts throughout the industry.
Being a personal assistant is not for everyone. Though it depends on the industry, the line of work and on the individual employer, I wouldn't count on the short-term perks outweighing the long hours, the blasts to your ego or the phenomenally small pay. But if you have the stamina to do the long-distance sprint, you might find yourself exactly where you needed and wanted to be. I know I did.
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