In Another’s Shoes…

I spent most of this week training admin secretaries from a sister entity.  A presentation I did to their bosses earlier this year about my role as an Executive Assistant, created this desire in their hearts to have their secretaries support them the same way I support my bosses.  And so 7 months later I found myself zipping across the Pacific waters to the beautiful island of Fiji to spend three days, training 13 women on how to support their bosses better by understanding and learning what it takes to be a good secretary.

Amidst a lot of mixed feelings (inadequacy, reminders of all the times I have fallen short in my role, self-doubt and feeling that I had nothing to offer to make anything or anyone better), being the good Christian that I was, I was careful to keep stock of my feelings so there was no room for pride and self-importance.  I believe I succeeded.  Ironically, I’ve patted myself on the back  a few times for succeeding!

So I walked into this space as a trainer, with some  trepidation (as I had never done anything like this before), a lot of prayer, reliance on my 11 years of experience as an EA and with a massive amount of reaffirmation from Joan Burge’s bible for secretaries and assistants.

I learned an important truth.

Humility is never deep enough.  It always runs deeper.

Empathy (2)While I was careful to stay humble, I realized during the course of my presentations on managing appointments, that one of the ladies found it very challenging to schedule appointments for her boss.  This was because most of their constituents lived in areas where there was no telephonic communication and quite often no transport.  They would walk for miles and turn up expecting to meet her boss and sometimes wait for hours while he fulfilled his other appointments.

The eye opening moment for me was when I realized that even though I was peripherally aware of this dynamic, I hadn’t factored it into my thought process while putting my material together.  My guard to stay humble stopped me.  My sense of humility stopped with me.  It didn’t extend far enough to encompass her reality.

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”10 – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960

Understanding this deepened my humility and gave me a deeper sense of respect for what she had to contend with. It also gave me a fresh perspective on how the awareness of another’s reality enriches the sharing of our truths and learning.