Angola Story: A Journey of Purpose
It gives us great pleasure this month to introduce an incredibily inspirational guest blog from Executive Assistant and Mentor Paula Moio, FEPAA.
There is a great quote by Thomas Jefferson that goes: ‘I am a great believer of luck. I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.’
For me, 2015 and 2016 were two years that truly reflected this wise affirmation. Not only had my dream job landed in my LinkedIn inbox, but five months after that my purpose was revealed to me through a lifetime opportunity.
Both offers were huge in terms of challenges and risk. And despite being terrified, I took a leap of faith on the first offer; did it anyway on the second offer, and have not looked back since.
It has been a fulfilling experience of personal growth through which I expanded the possibilities not only for myself, but for those I share my expertise with, and learn from in return. And for that I am forever grateful.
I had been working as a PA at the BBC for fifteen years, where I had a wonderful journey of professional and personal growth, but it was time for me to leave in pursuit of other opportunities and change gear. The very same day (in November 2015) I spoke to my executive about my decision to leave, I received a phone call from the agency asking if I was still available to continue the recruitment process. That’s when I was certain that the universe always conspires in our favour.
As a candidate I had the experience, I had the skills and, most importantly, I had the training (BTUA) that allowed me to firmly close the deal on a win-win scenario.
The new company was opening an office in London in the finance industry and needed a Bilingual EA with a professional and logistic knowledge of the market to help them set up.
It is the dream job for anyone like myself with a, then, thirty-year career experience. It’s the ultimate opportunity to sharpen the saw: to lead; to manage; strategize and use your emotional intelligence on a massive scale. And, of course, to be in the spotlight, as I had to either get it right - or get it right. No pressure!
And if I thought that in my previous company I was busy, I hadn’t had a clue what busy was... I was just about to experience it though! To this day, it is one of the most demanding roles I have ever had - rewarding, stimulating and gratifying in equal measure. (The most demanding job I've had is being a proud single parent of two beautiful young women).
So, five months into this roller coaster of challenges, where I could barely come up for air, an offer to run a workshop for Assistants in Angola (my home country) knocked at the door! It was an enormous challenge to be invited to work in partnership with the prestigious Academy BAI, aka ABAI, and the moment it was presented to me, I just knew there was no other way but to take it. But how on earth was I going to do it? I had never run a workshop in my life before! Why did I say yes? What if I failed?
Those were my own limiting thoughts, which I eliminated by first taking a deep breath, allowing myself to embrace the challenge and execute the dream. I then enrolled in an online leadership course for women, designed to help them make things happen their own unique way: The Happenista Course, led by an extraordinary woman, and my mentor Jenny Garrett. Next, I emailed Anel Martin for reassurance – she was empowering, and helped me to weigh up the pros and cons. Lastly, I had just attended a conference where Laura Belgrado was the trainer and her charisma and fantastic presentation stayed with me – so I emailed asking for permission to use some of her slides.
I must say; our community is full of kind angels and I feel very blessed for the privilege of being part of this global pool of collaborative talent and fellow colleagues!
The three subsequent months were a practice stage, day-in, day-out, and I surprised myself by sitting down one weekend and writing the whole two-day programme in one go. Then I prepared, prepared, prepared until my departure.
It goes without saying that running a workshop in Luanda, Angola, had a deep and complex meaning for me: Because of my emotional ties to my country, I had a genuine sense of duty to "pay It forward". At the same time, it meant I would be able to pass my passion for my profession on to my peers and to the next generation. And as a result of this mission, I found my purpose - it's a wonderful journey of discovery and transformation of individuals, whilst at the same time a process of transition and growth for myself through the power of giving and taking.
By the time I departed for Angola in September 2016, until I delivered the workshop, I did not, for one second, allow doubt to permeate my brain. I had to trust my ability to do what I believed I was capable of. That reinforced the affirmation that “it’s the story that we tell ourselves that matters”.
On my arrival we had forty delegates confirmed, and counting. Four days later, the day before the workshop, it had risen to sixty – at which point I politely asked to stop the enrolment.
The responsibility was overwhelming, and I couldn’t comprehend how I had even got to that moment. I was not - I still I am not - an accredited trainer, so, who was I to motivate these professionals to be the best of themselves?
It was then that the revolutionary in me clicked.
Yes! I was going to tell them that ours is not only one of the oldest professions, but that it is also the best profession in the world, and that we should own it with pride. The one profession in which we can re-invent ourselves every single day and break our own records every hour! The one profession in which you can become the Lucys the Bonnies, the Marcelas, the Eths, the Julias, the Vics, the Nayaras, the Dianas, the jaw-dropping Vickies and the kick-ass Ayannas of the administrative world. In other words, the disruptors of this world!
In a country where our profession is not recognised by the Ministry of Labour - that was the revelation. I could empower them, for that very reason, to believe that ‘only the sky is the limit’, and this, as it was then, is our moment to claim.
We had a very successful workshop – interactive, inquisitive, full of talent, full of promise – for what was a humbling experience, and it has been a non-stop uplifting journey ever since.
The Plan was to run the workshop to test waters and if successful, we would in the near future launch a course for Executive Assistants.
That moment of success was our cue. The ABAI asked me to come up with recommendations to enhance a basic draft course they had. I submitted my recommendations in January 2017 and in July we launched a ten-module course - the first of its kind, with twenty-three professionals enrolled. It’s been almost non-stop and the third edition of the course just kicked-off last week.
The academy has its own qualified trainers, who are dedicated and passionate, with whom I share content and new trends as and when. But in parallel with the course I volunteered to do two individual e-mentoring sessions. It’s a way of getting up-close with each trainee, to listen, to be present, to share, and as Assistants, to explore the best way possible of expanding their growth and amplifying their potential.
Undeniably, it is with the mentoring sessions that I thrive the most, where I grow personally and professionally, where my wants do not matter and my responsibility and commitment to be at my very authentic best are paramount. It’s a fulfilling journey of mutual self-discovery where we allow thoughts and ideas to flow in their most organic form to create a stimulating atmosphere. Where the stories that I hear, the talent we uncover and the dreams that I have the privilege to encourage are reached and become possible…. It simply transcends me.
It is hard work, no doubt about that – sleepless nights, hours and hours of research, gallons of coffee. But I can also guarantee that I am a better version of myself because of the whole project.
All it took was the courage to step forward entirely out of my comfort zone, and embrace change as part of the evolution and innovation of the profession.
Ain’t we lucky hard workers…?!