I often fill these pages with beauty and style tips to encourage the progress of my glamour-seeking readers, but this time, I’m opening up the “attitude” file. Today, we focus on one of the secrets to developing a confident, poised serenity–the hallmark of beauty for many of my beloved star style muses.
Okay, picture a classic Hollywood secretary. Got it?
If you can only conjure up the bespectacled Plain Jane with too much starch in her unmentionables…
or the steno pool slacker biding her time until Mr. Wonderful comes along..
She was the right-hand gal of any lucky boss.
These posture-perfect, poised professionals were a combination junkyard dog and encyclopedia, versed in everything from making the driest martini to knowing when the next train to Chicago left Grand Central. And it is these remarkable women I have come to praise.
She knew her boss inside and out, right down to his shirt size and medicine cabinet needs. And she knew her business, too.
She typed like the wind, filed with blinding speed, and answered calls in carefully cultivated dulcet tones.
She and her sister professionals were polished, tidy, and well-educated.
She could put her hand directly on the file no one else could seem to find.
Her pen and steno book were always poised and ready.
This women of this elite force prided themselves on their appearance, knowing they represented their workplace.
She greeted her boss each morning with a smile and a sheaf of papers needing signatures. The boss, knowing everything was in her capable, well-groomed hands, signed accordingly, then passed through her tidy little realm to his inner sanctum.
He knew his morning would not be disturbed; a simple “hold my calls” squawk through the intercom settled the agenda–Miss Efficiency would never allow disruptions.
Any visitors were greeted with a firm but friendly invitation to wait on her boss’s convenience.
She had self-respect–in fact, you could say the executive secretary was the original “lean in” lady.
Where are these wonder women today?
Alas, today’s combination receptionist/data entry clerk is an amoeba in the office tidepool. Demoted from the once-respected title of “secretary,” these poorly paid front desk gals are now known as “administrative assistants” or, most usually “admins.” A stock figure of fun in sitcoms, they’re immediately identifiable by their abundant cleavage, drag queen makeup, and 1980′s wedding reception attire.
But, there was a time when “secretary” was not a dirty word; when a women with a degree from a fine secretarial school, like Katharine Gibbs, was respected and sought-after.
If you hired a “Katie Gibbs” girl, you got a gem who knew and understood world politics, often spoke more than one language, could type, take dictation, spell, knew grammar and business forms.
This marketable maven was often responsible for office management skills like simple payroll, detailed filing systems, research, and proper forms of domestic and foreign correspondence. She was, in a word, a treasure.
A recent birthday had me wishing for a Katie Gibbs girl of my own. Mainly because the older I get, the less patience I have for wasting time. After all, each passing year ticks off fewer and fewer available moments for the things that make life worth living. I needed someone who would, like her cinematic sisters, fend off the pesky pity-party phone calls from acquaintances and filter communications of all kinds, allowing me to decide when and how I’d respond.
Because I was raised by a ladylike mother, in a generation that wholeheartedly believed in politeness and helpfulness as the mark of good upbringing, I have a tendency to drop everything and fly to the rescue of anyone in trouble. This is great when you’re young and have less on your plate, but not so great when you’re older and your time and energy are at a premium. It’s one thing to have your “the doctor is in” shingle out for your immediate family and close circle of friends, quite another to be on call for all manner of stray.
I realized that too much of my mental and emotional energy was being poured out onto people who begged me for my advice and then blithely ignored it. When the problems inevitably re-emerged, my “patient” called up and began their litany of woes. I jumped on the merry-go-round with them, holding their hand while part of my mind was protesting “we already went over this!!” I just couldn’t seem to break out of the cycle of being shrink to the world, even though it was robbing me of sleep and peace-of-mind. What to do?
Enter Miss Bradford
Recently, a dear pal of mine and I discussed the reality of emotional vampires and I responded with, ”Boy, what I need is a sassy, savvy 1930-40′s style secretary, like Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell or Eve Arden. They wouldn’t let anyone pester their bosses. Their front desks were virtual no-fly zones! I wish…”
(In fact, it hit me so hard, I nearly jammed on the brakes.) Why couldn’t I have one? I realized that if I could channel Loretta Young when I needed to be poised and Esther Williams was my internal “coach” for fitness inspiration, I could certainly channel a smart, efficient secretary to organize my life and preserve my peace of mind. My friend and I each laughingly invented our own private secretaries.
Each of our inner secretaries had the catalog of exemplary qualities listed above and, since they existed only in our minds, were nicely affordable. It’s easier for me if I have a classic Hollywood visual of this guardian of my serenity, so I imagined a combination of Perry Mason’s Della Street (as played by the beautiful Barbara Hale)…
…and Greer Garson’s brisk secretary act in Random Harvest. I named her Miss Bradford.
How does it work? Well, most of us have a business-like, firm, smart, efficient side to ourselves that we usually only trot out when we’ve got to figure out taxes, defend our rights, set up appointments or deliver a presentation. It’s just a matter of calling on that ability–my inner Miss Bradford–in other cases. Like when I’m exhausted, it’s 10pm and a call comes in from a needy nuisance.
Please note, I’m not talking about genuine need, I’m referring to those folks who like to solve their problems by dumping them on you. They call far too late in a tizzy, weep their way through a one-sided conversation, then go blithely off to dreamland while you fret and toss half the night, trying to figure out what they should do. I’m letting my inner Miss Bradford screen my calls now. Somehow, imagining this paragon of business filtering my communications gives me the gumption to actually WAIT to see who’s calling. Then I can genuinely ENJOY the calls I do take!
Like all good secretaries, Miss Bradford goes above and beyond the expected. I channel my inner Miss Bradford to set up appointments that work with MY schedule. She’s the part of me that doesn’t take excuses from car repair shops.
As I root through my cluttered files, I can almost hear her say, “goodness but these need some purging!” And then I let my inner Miss Bradford go to work. She tackles my files with sense, not sentiment.
If I were to write up a contract for Miss Bradford, here’s what I’d say her duties were:
1. Eliminate all inefficiencies at home and work–they take up precious time and energy.
2. Streamline paperwork and purge files.
3. Organize the day’s tasks and keep appointment calendar up-to-date.
4. Screen all incoming communications.
5. Prohibit any/all matters that provoke “emergency” reactions.
6. Shield the executive from useless and trivial distractions.
7. Prioritize all encounters and activities based on the following criteria: Does it promote peace-of-mind? Is it absolutely necessary? Does it have to be done NOW; does it have to be done at all? Does it have to be done by YOU?
Applying the “Miss Bradford” rules to any and all encounters provides a simple filter. I just ask myself “what would Miss Bradford do?”
It’s encouraging me to carve out time for what’s really important, like sharing moments with my family and friends, watching my favorite old movies, reading a good book, daydreaming by the fire, making a Christmas gift, planning my next vacation.
I’m busy, Miss Bradford. Hold my calls.