As a child, dressing-up was so much fun. Pretending
to be someone else, a teacher, a dentist, an astronaut or
a ballerina, were all possible in a single afternoon. These
occupations were all within the realm of possibility and
all it took was a floppy hat or oversized coat to complete
As soon as children enter secondary school, however, report
cards highlight their strengths and apparent weaknesses.
Parents, teachers and friends influence their view of themselves
and suddenly a variety of careers seem out of reach. While
young people are not explicitly discouraged from going into
particular fields of study, they are encouraged to enter
fields in which they excel. The kids who won science fair
medals begin to think of jobs as chemists and physicists.
Strong writers consider law, sociology and the arts, and
the economically savvy look to business. While this isn’t
always the case, secondary school success often influences
postsecondary course selection.
This summer as I bid Memorial a brief farewell, I felt as
if I had stepped back in time and had begun my dress-up
days once again. Not only was I entering the adult world,
but I was also stepping out of my initial comfort zone.
For four months I entered the real world of clerical work
– a world linked to business and one in which I had
never even taken a course. (Well perhaps courses in co-operative
education and enterprise at the high school level count.)
There were new sets of rules to learn and follow –
rules that were very different from those found within the
confines of a university campus.
Words like receiving report, purchase order and invoice
replaced thesis, nation state and trans-sovereign problem.
Not only did my vocabulary change but also my daily uniform
became one of dress pants, high heels and the regulatory
blouse. A trip to the mall was now no longer about finding
faded jeans or hoodies, but new skirts and blazers.
Another initial shock came when I examined my daily schedule.
Instead of sleeping in until 8 a.m. and then rushing to
make it to a 9 o’clock lecture, my alarm clock now
went off at 6:30 and by 8 a.m. I was already answering phones.
Yet, despite early mornings, at the end of the summer I
arrived upon the final verdict that I received a much-needed
breath of reality.
An advertisement for this summer job would read something
to this effect: “Wanted a mature individual, who is
able to work both independently and with others, to carry
out basic office tasks. Experience with Microsoft programs
necessary, previous office experiences an asset.”
Every week the Saturday newspaper ads post similar positions
and my advice to students out there reading such ads is
Many people view the administrative assistant as a position
of lowly stature. It requires little education, critics
may say. All you have to do is answer phones, pipe in others.
Yet this is the very basis of the office environment and
is just as integral a part of success as many other positions.
In fact such “lowly” jobs offer perspective
and that is invaluable. Knowing how to use a fax machine,
type an appropriate business letter, order office supplies
and break out an invoice are tasks that I now know how to
do. Sounds really easy, huh? Well my 3.9 GPA was of little
help when I was trying to figure out whether new ward die-cutter
parts got charged to “Repair and Maintenance Ward”
or “Capital Ward” on the general ledger. As
the proverb goes there are some things that only experience
can teach. While I may never need to know how to charge
out such specific parts again, I learned to ask questions
when I was unaware of how to do something. This is one of
the few things that transcend from the academic to the real
world. In fact many people in the real world are often afraid
to ask questions.
This summer also made me aware that the opinions of others
motivate you to put in extra effort in order to win over
onlookers. Working hard and being dedicated are important
no matter what your position. If you can work hard at the
bottom you can also work hard at the top.
This summer I learned that you don’t need a master’s
degree to be smart. It’s not always about GPAs and
term papers. In life all people want to be educated, but
education does not necessarily mean having a framed degree
on your office wall. While I am an advocate of postsecondary
education and believe that it is a right, having that right
does not make you superior to others who chose a different
path in life. As clichéd as it sounds,if there was
only one type of person the world would be an awfully boring
place. Stepping out of the role of student was a refreshing
one. I walked on the other side for a while and it isn’t
such a scary place.