Drawing the Line: An Introduction

This month, Mountain Owl Ink celebrates it’s fourth year.

WOW. It’s hard to imagine I’ve been freelancing that long. Seriously: I’ve held this job longer than any other position on my resume. Ever. That’s impressive!

In light of this milestone, I’m going to blog-share my thoughts with you on one topic that I feel is absolutely CRITICAL to longevity as a freelancer: Limits.

That includes both the limits we put on ourselves and the limits we put upon others (ie our clients). It means setting boundaries for all kinds of things.

And this three-part blog (not including this introduction) titled “Drawing the Line” will be published as follows over this month of April:

  1. April 11th: Drawing the Line: Time
  2. April 18th: Drawing the Line: Money
  3. April 25th: Drawing the Line: Respect

But, first, I want to explain why drawing solid, clear lines — not implied, hinted-at, fuzzy, or hazy ones — is so critical…


Wednesday, April 26, 2017, is Administrative Professional’s Day.

Anyone who has ever been employed as an administrative professional knows it’s no easy job. As an AP, you often get blamed by both sides of the desk — your boss and the customer — for things you have no control over.

AP’s are undoubtedly the delectable cream holding the cookie together (and bosses realize this only when their secretaries take a well-earned vacation or sick day), yet AP’s are all too often treated as some kind of human shielding that protects the executives and their offices from the dangerous wiles of the < gulp > PUBLIC.

According to the Western Journal of Education, Vol. 28, page 14 (published Jan 1922):

“The secretary, acting as the buffer between the businessman and the public, represents a very necessary, desirable, and efficient type of citizenship.

That was in 1922. Here we are in 2017, almost 100 years later, and the Western attitude about secretarial jobs has changed from one of high respect to one of pity.

Nowadays, secretarial work is largely considered low-level, menial, and base-pay employment, something that only new high school grads or empty-nesters do because they (supposedly) lack job skills or are bored. Secretaries are often considered easily replaceable and their positions undervalued where wages are considered. People who spend their working years in secretarial positions are dubbed “underperformers” and the skills required to be a good administrative professional go largely underestimated because, you know, it’s a “basic” job.

It’s like people thinking being a housewife is “easy.” The insult is hardly worth arguing.

But, I digress…

I used to be an admin professional. In some ways, I still am.

My first experience as such was as a secretary at a law office during college. One dreary week, I ended up having to tell a number of the office’s clients that the firm’s senior attorney had died unexpectedly. To some of the less empathetic clients, the attorney’s passing was somehow my fault and now their case would go down the shoot all because of me. How dare I.

Then I was a retail clerk for various companies during college. Being a retail clerk is a different breed (maybe even a hybrid) of administrative professional but the position still maintained the essence of secretarial work: severe multi-tasking, lots of computer knowledge, and, most of all, serving as the almighty buffer between executive and customer.

Then I was an HR Assistant, just a bit different from the Front Desk folk but I still proudly held tight claims to my admin professional roots. After all, I still had to deal with irate customers (i.e. job applicants) over the phone (or in person… *shiver*) and handle all manner of administrative tasks (“How many copies do you need again?”, “How many orientation packets am I making today?”, “What meetings am I scheduling for you?”).

After HR-ing for a bit, I dove into freelance writing. And, in some ways, I consider freelancing to be an administrative professional position. But more on that later…

Why do I single out Administrative Professionals? Because the people in that field are one of two sorts: They’re either experts at drawing lines and love their jobs or they have no idea how to draw lines and feel hopelessly at the mercy of bosses and customers alike.

For AP’s, there is no in-between. You either have lines, or you don’t.

The latter don’t last long as AP’s and end up either…

  1. …seeking new employment (sadly, many times as an AP at another company because they fail to realize why it wasn’t working out with their former employer), or…
  2. …getting fired because the work has driven them mad, disorganized, unsociable, and therefore unable to perform their job requirements.

AP’s who fail to draw lines quickly burn out, feeling unappreciated, disrespected, and downright trodden.

The former type, however, thrive. They understand and accept — nay, revel! — in their roles as Administrative Professionals. They know when and how to say “No” to both boss and customer, and when they say no they know to stick to it.

They refuse to do anything that is against their work or life ethic. For some, that means saying no to running errands for the boss after hours to gain their favor. (Psst… You’re already getting paid. Consider that an expression of their favor! You don’t need to do extra credit to earn your way!)

For others, that means not taking work calls on a personal phone (or responding to messages sent to a personal email), or ignoring text messages from the boss who decides that texting you at 10pm is an appropriate way to communicate. (Hint: It’s NOT.)

But this concept of lines stems from a single, critical point of understanding and self-awareness. That point is this:

The Administrative Professional must know where their lines are in order to enforce them.

Which begs the question: Do YOU know where YOUR lines are?


This entry is an introduction to an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the next post, click HERE.

External related articles: (1) https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2014/05/12/i-will-do-not-how-set-boundaries-your-clients; (2) http://freelancetofreedomproject.com/10-client-boundaries-to-have-in-place-as-a-freelancer

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