Want my respect? Be willing to sort the mail

I started my career as an assistant to the Government Relations Director of a small association.  My job was doing his grunt work: filing, faxing, sorting mail, and answering phones.  I even made coffee.  What I didn’t do was anything related to advocacy.  No lobbying visits, no advocacy training, no coalition meetings.  That job taught me to appreciate administrative tasks no matter how big or small.   I knew that it was the starting point to my career so I was glad to help out and learn.  So it frustrated me when a young administrative assistant in my current association was recently let go for refusing to perform the tasks they were hired to do.  After the first week, they felt sorting and distributing mail was someone else’s job.  Which begs the question: Is the idea of paying your dues to get ahead no longer relevant?

Just so we’re clear, this is not a bash Gen-Y post.  This is not a problem exclusive to them.  I knew a lot of people who after a month on their first job out of college, demanded a raise and an office with a window.  Rather, I’m trying to figure out why some believe that administrative tasks are beneath them.  How does one develop this mentality?  To me, there’s something satisfying about working hard, proving yourself and earning respect.  

I credit my upbringing for developing a strong work ethic. Before my siblings and I were born, my parents worked two jobs each and were able to pay off their house within five years of purchasing it.  My dad continued working two jobs, not because he had to, but because he wanted to.  If you wanted money from my parents, you had to work for it.  If you wanted to learn the meaning of a word, you had to look it up.  I can’t think of many instances in my association career where an opportunity was handed to me on a silver platter. 

Which leads us back to the issue of paying dues?  I get that we all want to take credit for a new idea or taking the lead on a project.  It makes us feel wanted and special.  However, just as babies crawl before they walk, staff must do the same.  Look, we all have that one thing we hate about our jobs.  With a previous employer, it was assembling packets for meetings.  I hated it with a passion.   However, it had to be done and done well.  When it was done well, I was then allowed to sit in on those meetings.  Soon, I was able to contribute in those meetings.  Why?  Because I was willing to be a small spoke in a very big wheel.  Are you?


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