It sounds a bit weird to say that, but without my job, I would probably be dead by now. My work has been my life saviour when my mental illness reached its worst bit, and if I’m here typing this blog with my sanity (almost) fully intact, it is only because I had an office to go to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
I am an Executive Assistant, which is like a Personal Assistant on a higher level, or as I like to say it, I’m either a “glorified secretary” or a “babysitter for adults in the corporate world”. Jokes aside, my job is only one thing about me that I have always loved desperately, fiercely, and immensely.
I have always been a person full of hate for everything regarding myself: I hated my body, I hated my life, I hated my brain and all the mental stuff going on in there, I hated the way I look, the way I talk, the way I dress, I hated everything and anything and some more, but never, ever, EVER my job and the person I am once I close the office’s door behind my back.
Outside work I was a mental mess, weak, ugly, shy, insecure, with barely any self-esteem; at work, I transformed myself in a highly confident, strong, efficient, tireless, unstoppable Silvia, who can do whatever it’s requested and some more on the side.
My work has been instrumental in moulding the person I am today, and the reason is because I met amazing people who have coached me and helped me grow, both inside and outside the office.
I remember my first ever job as a guest assistant in Milan’s main business exhibition centre. For a shy person like me, who could barely look at people in the eye, let alone speak, it turned out to be a baptism of fire. Having said that, the buzz of wearing a uniform and be helpful made me feel on top of the world. When I stepped in my first office as a junior secretary aged 20, I was both terrified and fascinated at the same time. I got hired by this family-run company who traded in the production and supply of concrete materials for the building industry.
I knew absolutely shit nothing about it, and I was only supposed to be the pretty lady who opens the door of the show room to our customers, the one who brings the coffee to the boss and does very basic secretarial stuff (answering calls and emails, buying stationery and keeping everything tidy). My manager didn’t take long to see the potential I had and not only he gave me more and more responsibilities, but he also encouraged me to come up with my own ideas to improve things in the office: from re-arranging the showroom, to re-organising the way he kept track of all sales, together we revolutionised that small office and made it in a highly efficient one. My manager soon became my best friend and we had the greatest time ever. I loved working for that company to bits. Unfortunately, mismanagement and a though economic situation in Italy meant that the company had to cut costs, my office got sacrificed in the name of savings and I got made redundant.
I cried all my tears.
Thankfully I got hired pretty quickly by another company, this time a worldwide Certification Body (ever heard of 9001, 14001 and 18001 certifications? Me neither before that job). The best way to describe those two years is: hell on Earth. My manager was the most hideous, horrid and nasty piece of work I have ever encountered in my life. He hated me from day one, because I got hired by someone he hated (like it was my fault, right?) so in his eyes I was “the enemy”. Like I could have cared less to go at war with someone who pays my salary! He insulted and humiliated me very single day for whatever reason he could have thought of, whether work or non-work related. Anyway, this two years taught me a lot more than I’m happy to admit, and all for the wrong reasons: I became an ace at covering my back, at protecting myself against anything and everything thrown at me. I learned to mask my true feelings, to watch my back like a CIA spy, to solve any issue as soon as I became aware of them and before they landed on my manager’s desk, and to keep a straight, imperturbable face anytime I got yelled at (only to run and cry in the bathroom, or in my car). Gosh, I don’t wish that experience on my worst enemy. Two years of pure bullying. I prayed every day, whilst driving my car, to have an accident and end up in hospital for months. Thankfully it never happened.
My saving grace came when I decided that I had enough, and I wanted to change so badly that I was ready to go and work anywhere, for anyone, as long as I could get out of that shithole.
Every day, driving to my workplace, I could see the headquarters of this very famous American company. One day I told myself “why not checking their website. They must be hiring someone. Maybe I could send my CV there and then who knows, my commute would be parking there instead of here”
Me being me, I got all fired up, I started browsing their website and applying to every job I could without not even remotely caring about the actual location of it. Two days later I get an email back from the HR leader saying she was very interested in my profile and to give her a call to discuss the role and get to know each other. Her phone number started with 02, which is the same as Milan. AWESOME!
I call, and the number is not working.
I check the email back. No, I typed the number correc… hold on a minute. I scroll the email to the bottom. I read her signature. I check her phone number. It is actually +4420something something.
Shit, it’s London.
Oh well, I’m sure that’s because this is a worldwide company, with offices all over the world, I bet they want to test my English level.
No. It didn’t take long before the HR leader asked me where in London am I living because the office was going to move from Mayfair to Hammersmith and she wanted to make sure my commute was not an issue…. And I had to tell her that actually, commute-wise, I had quite a journey since I lived in Italy! We liked each other though, and she told me she was coming to Italy for her holiday in the next couple of weeks and she would have loved to meet me.
We did, and it was love at first sight. However, I didn’t hear a single thing till a month after that meeting (and my hopes were already dead by then). She apologies profusely, asked me if I was still available and if so, if I was interested in relocating to London and join the company.
I think my heart stopped for what it felt like a lifetime.
I ran in my living room screaming like I was on fire. When I broke the news to my parents, my mum started crying and screaming “my baaaaaaabyyyyyyy going so far awaaaaay” (…..), whereas my dad tried to keep his cool and calm me down. I cried, I didn’t know what to do, but my dad talked me into accepting the offer and give it a go: a month, maybe six, at least a year…
8 years (and counting) later, I’m so grateful for having grabbed that awesome chance.
I moved to London as a young, fragile, ultra-shy girl, still traumatised from two years of bullying. I have been welcomed by a team of wonderful people, who took me under their wings and worked non-stop to re-build my self-esteem, to inspire me into trying new things to improve myself and, most importantly, they became my new family and they moulded me into this crazy, confident, no-shit taker and no fool suffering fierce woman. I remember the very first time my manager called me on stage after a two-days long convention I organised for him to praise me in front of a 100+ colleagues. As soon as everyone gave me a standing ovation, I burst into tears (and I’ve been inconsolable for a good half an hour afterwards!). I still cry whenever I get any gesture of appreciation. I’m a softie, what can I say!
When my mental health took a turn for the worse, it was my workplace who stepped in and saved me. I never told anyone what I was going through at the time, but the fact that I had things to do and people who trusted me to do them well turned out to be a massive help. Even though I felt more like wanting to (seriously) die than face my day, knowing that I was going somewhere safe and caring gave me that strength to get out of bed and keep going on.
I still work for that awesome American company, even though I had a three years stint at
the BBC at some point. My office is made of crazy, funny, awesome people. We work really hard and we party even harder. I became famous for my acts of craziness. Everyone knows that when I go “I have an idea: how about….”, something totally bonkers is about to happen, like when I decided to not sleep one night to chat with my Chinese colleagues in order to get some documents one of colleagues desperately needed, or when at Christmas I started a “decorate your desk” challenge, and since very few decided to participate, I took the matter in my own hands and I wrapped every single desk like a Christmas present……
My boss is awesome. He is at the receiving end of my rants every Monday mornings. Seriously, he is a legend, and the team I work with is just fantastic, we love each other to bits and there is no better cure for my sadness than hanging out with them. The day I got dumped and I was unusually quiet, everyone rallied around me to cheer me up. Well, every time I’m too quiet they check on me, because it means that I’m either very sad or scheming something….
And when I’m plotting something, it is generally one thing: a proper prank.
It started one day that a colleague pissed me off by not complying to my instructions, meaning that I ended up sorting a massive mess. I wanted to make him pay for what he did.
I made a mistake ordering stationery few days earlier and I found a way to sort that problem and avenge myself: I covered his desk in post-it.
I patiently peeled them one by one and covered the whole thing. Not a soul that day dared to stop me. I was mad! His face when he saw it the next day… PRICELESS!
Oh, the day the same colleague stole my spot at Wimbledon by convincing one of the managers to take him and not me!!! I was FURIOUS. I was hysterical. I slammed my fists at my desk and yelled “SHIT IS GOING DOWN TODAY!”.
I stormed to my colleague Marge’s desk, told her to get ready cause Wimbledon was coming to the office. She looked puzzled but let me get on with my madness.
It took me a good hour to get everything I needed whilst cursing and hissing, but in the need I turned his desk into a Wimbledon court. A work of art.
I’m still proud as fuck about it. It was so good that Marge and I went to Tesco, bought champagne, strawberries and cream (traditional of Wimbledon’s tournament) and had an office party there and then. We even sent the pictures to our colleague saying, “when we can’t come to Wimbledon, we make Wimbledon come to us”.
For another colleague/friend who always had a massive breakfast at his desk every morning, I turned his desk into a breakfast heaven for his birthday. The look on his face when he saw it: his jaw dropped to the floor.
The very best? One of my managers resigned and I cried all my tears when he did. He is a Liverpool FC fan to the core, which I hated since my ex is a scouser and anything Liverpudlian makes me sick because of him. However, I loved my manager too much to let him go without a special present.
On the Monday of his last week, I printed everything I needed. Then, on the Tuesday, I woke up at 4am, got to the office at 5am, locked myself inside his office room and turned it into Anfield stadium, completed with football pitch with Chelsea FC (my team!) against Liverpool FC.
It was just magnificent.
He worked his remaining days without even moving a single picture because he loved it to bits.
To this day, I haven’t managed to make anything that special (yet), but something tells me I should start coming up with something soon….