Collaboration

When I was a little girl I did not dream of going into staffing. When I was 9, I wanted to work in business and live in Boston because my mom sold her wedding ring to get her MBA. When I was 12, I wanted to be a reporter because I loved Demi Moore’s character on General Hospital. When I was 20, I wanted to be a psychotherapist because what they did was crucial. When I was 37, I started this business.

I am drawn to people, not as a group, but one by one. When I interview someone, I am interested in how their current position relates to the narrative arc of their experience so far. Supporting semi-wealthy individuals has made me less interested (at work) in sex, gossip and famous names. I have been struck by how everyone’s life is very similar save the variable we call character. Who someone is means how do they operate?

 Helping another person is tricky. There is the task at hand, and then there is how the two people interact and how it unfolds. Like romance, the client-assistant relationship is fluid: some go well, some do not, and some succeed until they don’t. When I think of help in the abstract, it is either a short word that sounds smug when you say it or refers to a scenario where someone yells “Help!” Usually it’s clear what the cry means and what should be done. It’s a good short story.

 In real life, help is more complex. For example, I started this business because I want to help others. There were additional reasons. But how people approach getting helped and helping varies. Help becomes a word like money, which means many things except what it is.

 So endeavoring to provide help, to make other people’s lives as easy as possible, is associated with roadblocks I didn’t anticipate. Christine in the LA office noticed that clients who called needing help immediately, who fervently outlined their pressing circumstances, in every case would not follow through to get the assistant they insisted they sought. Christine would throw herself into the task at hand to rescue clients who in turn simply evaporated. This led to our theory that clients get assistants when they’re not desperate, but not totally calm. If you’re in a crisis, you don’t have the resources to secure help. If you’re fine, who cares?

 Another complication is when there’s a discrepancy between what the client says they want and what they really want. For example, we recently stopped trying to find a client an assistant because she defined her target as independent, well educated, and assertive. After a series of candidate interviews, we realized that she would only accept a person just like the one she was replacing: meek, subservient and uneducated. Some clients don’t know what they want until they begin to consider real possibilities. That’s just part of the learning curve. But others have an extensive appetite for the process of securing an assistant because they enjoy the power associated with hiring. Or they fail to accept what they really need, and seek qualities they think they should value.

The simplest lesson I’ve learned is that people treat others like they treat themselves, more and less directly. It is important to understand that help always goes both ways. You cannot be helped without expending effort, and you cannot provide help without an inherent ability to identify with your subject.