...my training as a realtor's assistant was going very well and then everything collapsed. Actually it was more of a fizzling out. After three weeks training, I was growing in confidence. I was taking phone calls and faxing and photocopying. I was calling lawyers offices to ensure that everyone was up to speed on a recent sale. I was calling tenants living in homes that were for sale, to set up times for buyers to look at the home. I had developed my "office voice" and (if I do say so myself) I sounded very professional. I took notes from the first day, on everything I learned, and once I was home I transferred the messy notes into a clean little notebook I bought especially for this. I knew how to fill out all the various real estate forms, and I understood why certain things were done a certain way. In short, I knew the job. I was good at it. The woman training me (my bosses assistant who was to be leaving soon because she was moving) told me she was pleased with my progress. She tested me on various things, and I knew all the answers. My sister, who works as assistant to another realtor in an office just around the corner and down the hall, told me that my trainer kept telling her she was pleased with me. My sister doesn't lie, she would never tell me I was doing well at something if I really wasn't suited to it. I'd made three brochures for my boss, and my sister told me he was proudly showing them to other realtors.
One day my boss asked me if I would mind spending my work day at his home, helping his wife get their receipts etc. in order so they could be submitted for taxes. I was to be paid my regular wage. I thought it a little bit strange, but agreed to do it since I was hoping to make a great impression. And so he dropped me off at their house, and I spend an entire afternoon at their home with his wife and their two young kids, sitting at their kitchen table and sipping tea as I stuffed a full year's worth of receipts into their respective envelopes - an envelope for food receipts an envelope for gas receipts an envelope for client expense receipts ... you get the picture. His wife was friendly. She talked with me quite easily, and made me a sandwich. She was still in her pyjamas when I arrived at two in the afternoon, and hadn't combed her hair. The house was a mess, and she kept telling me she was exhausted, though the entire time I was there, she didn't do anything more than take the dog outside to do his business on the lawn, lethargically pick up a couple of receipts in a token attempt to help me, and occasionally pick up one or the other of her sons to hold him in her lap. She disappeared for an hour, and when she showed up again, she told me she’d fallen asleep. I got the impression she was depressed. She seemed to like me though. At one point she even asked me to hold the baby while she took a phone call. When my boss finally arrived back home, I'd finished the job. He beamed at me and told his wife "See? She's really good!"
One day I walked to work in sandals that broke when I was only halfway to my destination. It was a stifling hot day, I was irritable because I worried I'd be late to work. My sandal strap broke. I crouched on the sidewalk to find a safety pin I knew was in my purse, and tried to pin through the thick leather of my sandal, to hold it together. The pin bent, I jabbed my fingers, I swore. Finally I got it done, only to find that it wasn't holding my sandal together - the strap was too loose, my sandal flopped sideways with every step. Finally I took off my sandals and walked barefoot. The sidewalk was boiling. There were tiny pebbles that cut into my feet. Then I realised I'd missed the side street where I was supposed to turn. I'd walked too far. And the street I was on, was under construction. The sidewalk up ahead was blocked. I had to go back the way I'd come. Far, far back the way I'd come. I ran. I must have looked quite funny in my business-like dress pants and blouse, with bare feet, gripping my sandals in one hand, my purse in the other, occasionally reaching up to make sure my hairstyle (I had it up in a bun) wasn't falling apart. I sprinted down the sidewalk until I recognised the turn off. I still had a long way to walk. My cell phone rang, it was my bosses assistant, wondering where I was. I was five minutes late at that point, but luckily my boss wasn't in the office and was none the wiser. She offered to come and pick me up in her car, but I told her I would be there shortly. I didn't think it very wise to have her leave the office unattended while she rescued me. It took me another fifteen minutes to finally reach the office, and by then I was breathing hard, I'd run nearly the entire way, sprinting along the sidewalk, leaping over curbs, cutting through parking lots. My toes were bleeding, I actually left a trail of blood in the ladies room. I mopped everything up, applied bandaids, and began my day's work. I really wanted to make a great impression, and according to all I was being told, I was doing exactly that.
After three weeks, my boss and the woman training me, sat down with me to discuss things. Together they told me that they were happy with my progress, that I was doing well, and would make a fine assistant for my boss. They said the only thing they wanted to see improvement on, was my confidence in myself. I needed to start believing that I could do it, because, they said, I Could Do It. I needed to believe that. This is the one and only negative thing they mentioned. My boss told me I had a job, I was hired. I was to continue as his assistant after the other woman left in June. Besides the assistant job, I was to work from home, designing brochures for him, to sell him as realtor. I couldn't believe my luck.
One other thing my boss mentioned that day, was that I should think about the option of him hiring a second assistant to help carry the work load. He was planning on expanding his business, and there would be a lot of things to do. I felt a bit leery about this. I worried that this might be a bad move - if she showed more promise than I did, would I lose my job to her? I told him I would think about it over the weekend and he agreed.
When I returned to work after the weekend, I spoke with the woman training me, and told her I didn't want to share the job with another assistant. I could do the job myself. She told me she believed I could do it as well, but, she insisted, I really should reconsider the option, because, she said, the work load was going to get very very heavy. I would need the help. She told me she herself would have wanted the help if she was in my place. She told me my boss was planning to bring in his nephew and so I would be working for two realtors very soon. We discussed it some more, I thought about it more, and finally decided I should go for the deal. I worried some more. I felt somehow that I was possibly making a dumb move, but I decided to go for the offer. My boss arrived at the office and we told him he could go ahead and hire a second assistant. But, I insisted to him, I wasn't giving away my job. I mustered all of my confidence and declared that I knew I could do the job, and was only going for this option on the condition that I would be sharing the job equally with this other person. He assured me I had nothing to fear.
I was never called into work again. Several days passed, and I decided to email him to ask when I should come back in. He told me he would get back to me. He assured me I had nothing to worry about, the job was mine, but I should be patient. Another few days passed. I phoned him, and got the same response. A week, two weeks, three weeks passed. Once a week I emailed him to ask what was going on, with the same response. One day he emailed to ask me to come into the office to print up the brochures I'd created, so he could pen in some changes he wanted me to make. I did. I was alone in the office, so I left the printed brochures on his laptop. I never received any indication from him that he'd seen them. The brochures were nearly finished, waiting only for his changes, but he never bothered to tell me what he wished me to change. There was no word about any of it, and I hadn't even been paid for the work I'd done.
Meanwhile my sister was keeping tabs on things from her own office. She emailed me with any news that she heard, and all of it was bad. Baffling. My bosses assistant was telling her things about her own frustrations with him (he'd been driving her insane for a year, with his failure to tell her things she needed to know for the job, his tendancy to drop unexpected extra work in her lap without any notice, his infuriating style of leaving things to the last minute and then expecting her to fix everything....) She told my sister she had no idea what was happening with my job. So far there was no second assistant, and as far as she knew, I was still employed there, but that was all she knew. She left messages for him to speak with her about me, but he ignored them all.
Then one day, my sister told me, there was a new assistant waiting in the office to begin her training. No word to anyone from our boss, she was just suddenly there. She stuck it out for one day, and never returned. The woman who had been training me, worked her final day, and was gone. My boss was without an assistant, yet he still didn't call me in to work.
I had enough. I emailed him to ask pointedly what was going on. I reminded him that I hadn't been paid for the brochures, therefore he was not authorised to use them in any way. I told him I needed to know, definately, if and when he was planning to have me come in to work. Throughout this month long fiasco, my emails to him had been professional and well written. As my irritation grew, I'm sure it came across, but I did not give in the temptation to chew him out. I wanted to scream at him in writing, but I didn't. I kept my dignity. His emails were a mess. He often sent them unfinished, with just a half sentence cut off in mid stream. As though he had clicked "send" before he'd finished. Then a few minutes after that one arrived he would send a second, apologising for sending an unfinished email, and beginning where he'd left off. He emails were strange and rambling. "I'm trying to make everyone happy" he would write "I will call you in when there is work, I haven't forgotten you"
After I sent the email telling him he wasn't authorised to use my brochures, he became even more strange. He asked how much he owed me. I told him that although my prices had now changed since I'd done more research, I would stick to our original agreement for these three brochures only, even though I was, in effect, letting him have three for the price of one. He didn't appreciate my honesty. He argued over the price, he didn't, apparently, believe that 25 X 3 = 75. He told me he would not use the brochures. He wasn't going to pay.
My sister emailed me a week or so later, to say that he'd hired another assistant. Since the original assistant was gone, there was no one to train her, and she was lost. She had no idea what to do. My sister saw her standing by the front desk, waiting for someone to help. No one did. Everyone had their own jobs to do and she was on her own. I got an email from my "boss". Suddenly he had a cheque for me, to pay for the brochures. I went to the office and picked it up. Then I went home and composed a short email, telling him what I really thought of the way he'd handled things with me. I kept it civil, but I let him know he'd made a terrible impression. His response was a screaming tirade. First the familiar email with the cut off sentence, then the remains. He swore at me. He told me I had no talent. He told me he was throwing the brochures in the trash. He declared that he'd done nothing but his best for all concerned and deserved to be praised. He ended the email with a very childish "anyways, this conversation is over!" I had to laugh.
A day later, my sister emailed me again. His office has been cleaned out. He's gone. His new assistant probably wasn't even told.
And so, I'm no longer a secretary. But I learned a lot of things. I learned that I can do the job, and do it well. When another position opens up, I will apply. The best thing I learned is that I am good at designing brochures. If not for my boss asking me to make brochures for him, I would never have started my own business. So it isn't a step backward after all, it's actually a long stride forward.
I have another job now, though it isn't even close to what I want, and I have no intention of staying, once I find something better. I’m working in a bakery. It’s okay. I make sandwiches and serve customers and manage the till. I hull strawberries and cut pastry dough and scrub pans. I make egg salad and chicken salad for the sandwiches and I take cake orders. I slice meat and cheese, I ladle out soup. I cut down boxes. When I’m working a closing shift, I mop the floors and scrub the public toilet. It’s not the most difficult job I’ve ever worked, that prize goes to my dishwashing job at Boston Pizza. Still, I’m exhausted at the end of the day. My feet ache and my back aches. I feel greasy because I’ve been around food all day. The pay is minimum wage, and we’re docked in pay if we take a break, even for an eight hour shift. Saddest of all, to me, is that I have to wear a hairnet again. I had thought my hairnet job days were over. I’ve discovered though, that if I have my hair in a bun, and arrange the hairnet further back from my hairline, it’s almost disguised. But not really.
But none of this matters, because I know I won’t be there forever. I know now that I’m able to work as a secretary. I did it, and was told by everyone including my boss, that I was doing very well. I don’t know what happened to sour things, but it had nothing to do with me. One day I will be back in an office. Maybe soon, who knows? And I have my brochure business, which is already paying off. So I’m happy.