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PA Career Break and The Reinvention

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Posted: 24th Nov 2016  |  Share this Article:

I am delighted to interview Sherri Eckworth. Cornerstone42 spoke with Sherri back in March.  This was part of the PA awards blog season; we celebrated Sherri’s accomplishment as a previous winner of The SecsInTheCity PA of the year award.

Sherri is talking to us today about her career break and her plans for the future.

Tell us a little background about you and your PA career?

I’ve been in the profession for upwards of 30 years and a PA at Board level for about 20 of those.  During the early part of my career, I quickly identified a PA position was something I wanted to strive for. I’m a born organiser and this seemed ideal for the role – it has certainly helped across all the jobs I’ve had. I’ve worked across many different types of industries, from insurance to venture capital, mobile phones to a creative agency – my ethos has been the same in all of those companies. I’ve always aimed to do the very best job I can in supporting my execs, and learn as much as possible. I’m fiercely loyal, I love creating a great atmosphere in the workplace; and making senior teams far more accessible – they have so much knowledge to share after all! My career to date has been so rewarding, I have learned a huge amount and I am so pleased to see the PA profession being recognised and valued – things have certainly changed over the years, thankfully for the better although there is still much to be done.

Why did you decide to take a career break?

I decided to take a career break for quite a few reasons. Firstly I’ve supported other people for over 30 years and that’s a long time! I wanted to do so many other things that I’d previously ‘put on the back burner’ – PAs are very giving of their time and energy. Because I had suffered several bereavements in a short space of time I felt I needed to be a bit selfish and spend time away from work. The interview with you and my feature with Shelagh Donnelly, publisher of Executive EA, also acted as a conduit. Writing and talking about what you do, really does make you think!

Secondly, my commute was becoming difficult and I was struggling. In a previous role I’d had an accident and had to have emergency spinal surgery. Although recovered, having to stand for a long commute was no longer viable long term; this spurred me on to make the break.

And finally the timing was right! For so many of us, it never seems the right time to make such drastic changes.  We are restricted in terms of financial support/need and providing for others, paying a mortgage and doing routine ‘stuff’ to pay bills and save for the future. Lots of things came together for me until I could no longer ignore that it was actually time to do this.

Tell us about how you felt in your final week of work AND the first couple of weeks after leaving?

It was incredibly surreal and felt a bit like watching it happen to someone else! Being so organised, I’d put a comprehensive plan in place for my departure and right up until the day I left, was passing on as much information as possible. I don’t find it easy to listen to nice things being said about me, during that final week there were many lovely moments that I struggled with, but I now look back on with a smile. I remember almost every minute of my last day – it was very special indeed. The first couple of weeks were a whirlwind. I moved to a different county four days later so had a lot to do! Looking back, that really helped me focus on the future – I didn’t have time to get emotional about what had already been. There was far too much to organise and look forward to. Although not commuting, I still had to be up early each day as I had a job to do, albeit a different one. One thing I was surprised by is that although I missed my colleagues enormously, I didn’t find myself focussing on what I’d be doing if I was still there. I found a way to compartmentalise the job and that made it easier to put a lid on the box and go and open a new one – life is too short to dwell on what might have been.

So, tell us what you have been up to since leaving your PA role?

It’s been nearly six months and it’s flown by! We’ve mainly been focussing on the property we moved into in semi-rural North Norfolk which I’d describe as a ‘project’. Although habitable, there’s a lot to do and every day seems to bring a new challenge. I’m keen to be involved with the local community and have been to quite a few events – village life is what you make it and I’d like to get a lot out of it. We’ve loved spending time with family and I’m enjoying time to put my creativity into practice. Although I love a deadline, it’s quite refreshing working at my own pace.  We’re only 15 minutes from the coast so we’re fitting in as many beach walks with the dogs as we can regardless of the weather. I’m enjoying my photography, even though I’m very much an amateur, I’m also writing a book of poems for all the Schnauzer lovers out there, with ideas for a further book which will focus on the amazing wildlife we have. Reading that back I’m not sure if there are enough hours in the day – I’ve got so much more to do!

Are you still connected and involved with the industry?

Until I decide what’s next, I want to be as involved as I can be but most importantly, whilst remembering I’ve chosen to take a break. There’s no speedy broadband here (eek!) but I’ve very much retained my presence on Social Media.  I’m in regular touch with other PAs and still learning; enjoying #adminchat on Twitter, keeping up with what’s going on and the latest tools in the industry. I’ve recently given some advice to a couple of individuals who are leaving their current roles to move into the PA profession, answering their queries about the role and putting them in touch with key contacts.  Networking is always valuable and Alan Newton from Eventopedia recently put me in touch with a local PA who runs a business nearby – I’m looking forward to meeting her and exploring what’s going on locally.

We both know skills are transferrable. Which of your PA skills have you used on your new projects?

I think pretty much all of them! I’m organising, planning and project managing on a daily basis. I’m keeping to timetables, negotiating with suppliers, networking and being prepared for anything that’s thrown at me. There are many issues with our new home, things that can wait as well as things that required immediate attention. I’ve already built up a list of local tradespeople that I can trust and rely upon. Juggling priorities is considerably easier having been a PA and absolutely nothing fazes me.  Being tactful is a must; most tradespeople seem to know each other here, whatever part of the county they’re from!

What has been the hardest challenge so far since leaving your PA role?

I think the challenges have been pretty similar to the ones I found within the PA role – sometimes we all have other jobs we’d much rather be doing and it can be easy to get distracted! Staying focussed is key. Being really honest, it’s hard not to feel guilty for not ‘going out’ to work – as someone that’s worked since before leaving school and has a very strong work ethic, it almost feels like I’m getting away with something by being at home. I’ve had a few battles with myself about it, and am learning to remind myself of my own value, remember what I’ve given the profession for over 30 years and demonstrate what I can still give to others.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to change careers?

Do your research.  It has to work for you otherwise you’ll be too focussed on the past rather than the future. Just because you’ve always done something, it doesn’t mean you always have to do it. Find people doing the role you want and network with them – it’s invaluable. The culture and values of a business are so important and they need to match your own. Listen to your inner voice – mine nagged at me for a long time before I took any notice!

What new skills have you developed with your projects?

That’s a tough question as PAs have to have such a broad variety of skills to succeed in the profession. My role was so full on; it’s a challenge not to feel guilty if I don’t have a deadline! It might be rare but there have been times when I’ve had a whole day in front of me with no calls to make, no tradespeople on site and nothing immediate to do – it can be hard to feel motivated without feeling guilty for enjoying that time! I’m learning ‘time out’ can in fact be extremely valuable.

What’s next for Sherri?

I’m waiting until the New Year before making any decisions about returning to work as I’m keen to ensure I make the right choice.  I’m very excited about a book I’m writing and delighted about collaborating with an amazing artist called Nicky Caplan. We met a few years ago on a Schnauzer walk and have been in touch ever since. I’m writing poems and rhymes whilst Nicky is illustrating them – we’re well underway with the project and I’ve shared a few sneaky peeks on Twitter and Instagram (@sherrid555) the reaction so far has been very positive with pre-orders before we’ve even finished! Other than that, there’s a mountain of tasks here to organise, but once a PA, always a PA and I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it very much indeed…



An excerpt from Sherri’s poem book with illustration from Nicky Caplan

Thank you Sherri, it has been a pleasure to catch up again, I wish you all the best with your endeavours.


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Vivien Edwards

Written by

Vivien Edwards

Cornerstone42 founder

Vivien has nearly 20 years administrative experience covering project and event management, recruitment, training and development, mentorship and supervisory for other admins.

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