A few years ago, the leaders of the department were insistent that I attend a conference to gain professional development. They felt very strongly that all members of their team to seek out continuing education, and that included the support staff. I spent quite a long time looking into all my options – some local, and some in other states. I quickly found that some of the local, day-long conferences were below my skill level. I had attended one a while back, and it was a disaster with one leader not showing up, the other trying to do both tracks, and me being asked to help out since I knew the answers to all the questions asked. I paid to attend a conference, but became the presenter instead. While that wasn’t the plan, it gave me a great insight as to what I wanted to do next. Whatever I was going to choose was not going to be a waste of my company’s money or my time.
I came upon the Office Dynamics conference. I was impressed with the quality of the topics, speakers and overall content. However, attending this conference would require hotel stay and flights, so I had a strong feeling that my leadership would not let me attend. I printed out the conference material, information on Office Dynamics, and information on comparable conferences. I prepared a cost analysis proposal which outlined the cost of the conference and what I intended to provide as their return on investment.
I put all this material in my executive’s office, knowing that she would read it the next morning. Days went by, and she did not connect with me about the conference. The more time that passed convinced me that she was biding time in order to prepare a professional way to decline my request. One evening, I received a text from my executive asking me to check my email. I certainly was curious at this point and certain I was going to receive a decline to my request. I went to my inbox, and there was a message from her sharing that she was so impressed with my proposal. She also stated that after careful consideration, she agreed this would be a very beneficial conference for me to attend, and thereby granted me full approval to begin the registration process. I was ecstatic!
What I did not realize at that time was how this one conference would change my life. I sat in the general sessions and looked around the room at nearly 300 people from all over the world, all walks of life, and in many diverse company settings. Each one of these attendees came with the intention to grow professionally and personally. Each one had stories, ideas and leadership skills to share. I chose to sit at Table 9 that year. I had no idea how that one choice of where to sit would have such an impact. We worked together on group projects, and before we knew it, we were doing activities together in the evenings, looking for each other during meals, and exchanging email addresses. We became friends on Facebook and are still in touch with each other.
I came back from that conference with a renewed passion for my career. I realized that being an administrative support staff is not just a job, it’s a career. Each one of us have the ability to change lives and to make things happen. Howard Thurman once wrote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
Julie Hill is an executive assistant at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spectrum Health is a non-profit health system based in West Michigan comprised of nine hospitals, 130 ambulatory and service sites, and a health insurance plan. Spectrum Health is the largest employer in West Michigan. She is currently president of the Professional Administrative Support Staff (PASS) group which consists of over 400 members of various support staff positions. Julie will be completing her bachelor’s degree in business administration in the spring of 2014.