Professional development schmeschmelopment…

My reward for putting up shelves: a ham-cone.

Officially, my job title is ‘Assistant to the Executive Team’, but in reality a more accurate description might be ‘All-Purpose Person’. And that is why I absolutely love my job to betsy.

In my work, if anything needs doing and I seem remotely up to the task, I get to do it. From the most menial travail, like counting things on a website, to the most devastatingly confusing and complex task, like compiling financial reports on each month of the first two quarters of the year by compiling financial data from reports for each week dating back to the year’s beginning factoring in heretofore uncalculated data such as VAT notwithstanding tax deductible gross staffing costs proportionally gathered across multiple curriencies and report formats. Like a piece of blutack, I can be moulded to almost any task in this my job.

Some of the tasks I have to do are purely pragmatic – in Barcelona, for example, some shelves needed putting up urgently and I became responsible for marking out the drill holes required. This was a lot harder than it sounds and took about two and a half hours because the only ruler I had was a slightly moist paper one from Ikea (moist due to the general fog of evaporated sweat in the air) and the only straight edge I had was one of the shelves itself, i.e. an enormous and heavy plank of wood. I did not have a spirit level, I did not have a tape measure, and the closet I was installing the shelves in was so wonky it looked like an illustration by Dr. Seuss. On reading those last few sentences, all dads worldwide would sigh and cup their heads in their hands in utter DIY despair. However, the task allowed me to develop my skills in problem-solving and lateral thinking.
Some of the things I have to do are really cool and engage my languages to their maximum capacity; I have translated contracts in German, deciphered knotty problems in the company’s taxes in France (in French no less), and written a suitably business-formal letter to a local councillor in Edinburgh telling him to stop playing silly buggers.

And just as I ‘had’ to do the red-light district tour in Amsterdam and the Berlin tour in…Berlin, a lot of my tasks are simply designed as immersion experiences so that I can learn as much about the company as I possibly can, from the gutter all the way up to the penthouse suite. The aforementioned insane and terrifying reports from Hades are a light introduction to the complex world of international tourism finances; the French taxes set me up to be middleman for relations between English-speaking management and European authorities; the shelving was a metaphor for how to correctly assemble a business model…or…something…?
 It is essentially my job to be whatever and wherever the company needs me to be at any given time, and life has never been less boring as a result. I am here, there and everywhere, doing complex finances one minute and 
This week, I spent one day shadowing one of the people who runs the start and end points of all the tours, which involves greeting all the tourists, selling tickets, dealing with hundreds of guides, making sure all the money is present and correct, updating the social media, overseeing partner relations, taking care of freelance invoices, and probably feeding the cat and bringing about world peace at the same time. The poor girl who was tasked with the job and my lumbering presence for the whole day was very welcoming and friendly, despite the fact that she, like most of my colleagues, didn’t really know who or why I am. 

It was one of the most knackering days of work in my entire life. We whisked off immediately to the main meeting place, where tourists swarmed about for hours in a hot and idiotic mass, asking moronic questions like “Are the other people on the tour mostly tourists, or…?” (or what? Firefighters? Manatees?) which the girl answered sweetly and smilingly without fail. Once the tour groups departed the numbers had to be counted, which involved running around Berlin looking at groups of gormless tourists and trying to figure out if that group belonged to us and needed counting. We then whisked off somewhere else to do the same thing as before, and then the minute all the tourists dispersed we skedaddled to yet another place where we did the same thing again and then became completely entangled in thousands of receipts and cash settlements and other confusing money words for a while until it was time to hightail it to the next place and the next and the next. 

When we finally reached the end point the girl set up shop with her laptop and equipment and realised that she urgently needed something back from the first place we had gone to, so in order that she wouldn’t have to leave her post I ran – actual, Usain-Bolt-style running – there and back, with my rucksack flying all over the place and my half-eaten fruit salad gaily dispensing sticky, sweet fluid all over my valuables inside. When I returned, hot, breathless and attracting flies, a mob of brand new tourists had arrived in order to ask a new array of cretinous things like “If I go on the pub crawl do I get unlimited free drinks all night in every bar?” And once those tourists had moseyed off we sorted out all the receipts and bills and I counted a wad of money so vast I could barely stretch my trembling hands around it to stop it all billowing off in the breeze. And once we’d done that it was time to go to the bank and deposit everything and then go back to the first place to bring the day’s business to a close. And not once did the girl I was shadowing display a flicker of tiredness, irritation or exasperation. She was sweet and patient to the bitter end.

But now I understand it all, you see. At the start of this job, I used to lie awake wondering why everyone in the company doesn’t quit first thing tomorrow and spit on their contracts as a farewell; the hours are always long, the work enormous and wild and the pressure exhausting. Listening to the horror stories in Edinburgh I thought I had signed up for the only thing worse than earning your living working for Simon Cowell. But now I see exactly why everyone stays; they all love their jobs. And they love their jobs precisely because the work is so insane. There is always something new to do and a new way you can be useful; in other jobs, you do your thing and you do it well and you do it forever, but in this work no-one’s skills are seen as an upper limit but simply a serving suggestion. If you’re good at accounts you will become the accountant, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself catering for a company soirĂ©e one night or dressed like a turtle in the middle of Hackescher Markt as an experimental marketing campaign. Everybody is learning and getting confused and figuring it out all the time, and it’s exciting, like being in a lab. I’m no Assistant, that’s for sure; I’m a job tourist.

Rose T