I employ a team of personal assistants who support me 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Each team member works with me on a 1-1 basis, and at times I need 2 assistants particularly for travel and sport.
The relationship between me and each assistant is a delicate mix of me being in control of my life and them being a companion, a facilitator acting on my instruction, a team member and an empowered individual. No 2 days are the same, there are regular activities that need to happen every day such as dressing and eating and then whatever is on my agenda. Whilst on shift the role can be intense and fast paced, even when I am at home there is never a lack of tasks to be done.
The personal assistant role is challenging to describe, and however hard we try the feedback from everyone who joins the team is that despite explanation, interviews and shadow shifts the job is virtually impossible to fully understand until they get into it. This means the most important part of the recruitment process is that both they and I feel sure that we will all be able to spend long periods of time together either on a 1-1 basis, or when away from home 2-1.
One way we describe our unique relationships is that it a little like a marriage with boundaries. We have to be able to laugh, have fun, be serious when needed, we need to be able to get over misunderstandings and work our way through the adventures and challenges of life together. And, we need to look forward to each shift, spending time together.
We need to all recognise the balance when being together between it being the personal assistant’s job, and this being my life. On shift the girls are living my life alongside me, I am in control but I could not live the life I want without their help and support. This doesn’t mean I have to have full on interaction every waking minute, I definitely don’t need entertaining and they are not there to either ‘care for me’ or tell me what to do.
For them I recognise they come into work, they know 99.9% of what is going on in my life, but then they go home to their own lives. Whilst I know the basics of their lives, and share their news, as their employer I am not as close to them as a friend might be, they are not expected to share their daily goings on with me. However, if there is something happening that makes any of us particularly emotional, in a good or bad way, it is hard to hide this in the close nature of our working relationship. This does mean we need to create a living/working environment in which we feel comfortable to share as the need arises.
One of my favourite TV programmes is Strictly Come Dancing. I liken our teamwork to a beautiful dance. When we start out on our journey together we are conscious of everything we do together, one step at a time, whether it is brushing my hair or helping me transfer. As we get to know daily routines, and each other, we start to take some of the steps in the dance unconsciously, but we are still aware of each other’s needs. As we progress being together becomes that of skilled dance partners, where until we have a new situation or scenario, we can take the steps of the dance together smoothly and glide through the day.