Happy Birthday to AKA Virtual Assistant!
I made it!
One year in business. Me! Making every decision (not forgetting some great advice and support that I have received from my nearest and dearest), setting up the systems, paying all the bills and working out all the solutions to problems that have arisen.
Am I surprised it is working? Without wishing to come across as arrogant, ‘No’, and that’s because I have the determination to do anything I set out to achieve.
I have met some incredible people so far on my journey and one of them told me to write my story in my Blog.
So here it is, this is me, always showing up to be authentically visible. I promised myself to never post or publish anything as part of a tick box exercise, nor do I intend to write anything I don’t believe in for the sake of it.
I had an expat childhood because my Dad was posted, during his international banking career, to a different country every 3-4 years.
I am fortunate that I recall bite sized memories of my childhood and can share them with anyone who will listen!
I was born in Bahrain, spent my toddler years living in Singapore (where the environment was manicured and clean) and the Middle East (where I remember huge shadows of geckos projecting themselves from the garage wall), living by and quite rightly following each country’s cultures and traditions.
One of my earliest memories I recall is my Mum not allowing my sister and me to eat a snack on a really hot day during Ramadan because she said it was insensitive. Whilst she fully understood that my sister and I were not required to fast, she felt that it would be more respectful if we did not ‘flaunt’ food.
From the arid, intensely hot desert, we moved to America.
I was 5 when we moved to New Jersey, a relatively quick daily commute for my Dad to New York City.
There, I learnt how to camp properly, what lasting friendships look like (I am still in contact with my first best friend and neighbour to this day, some 40 years later) and what proper winters look like.
California was next on the list, and I feel fortunate having had the opportunity to experience both coasts of America, being so culturally different.
There, I met more people that round influence me, again, one of which I remain in contact with (through the power of reuniting via FaceBook after decades have passed by).
Apart from doing well at school in America, writing short synopses of book excerpts at the age of 8 and learning most of what I know where English language and spelling is concerned, I discovered that I had a natural flair for horse riding.
My Mum invested a huge amount of her time in collecting me from school every day and driving for over an hour (each way) every day to the riding stables (the car journey gave me enough time to do my homework in the back of the car) to have a riding lesson, and care for my pony (the American dream for any young girl!)
Daily training prepared me for show jumping competitions around the state at weekends, which allowed me to learn the art of competition. I believe my discipline and commitment stemmed from the opportunities I was given at that time.
Looking back now, I understand that is the time I can recognise elements of my undiagnosed OCD. Completing things in a particular order on competition days, wearing a particular piece of clothing, what type of cereal I would eat and exactly how to saddle up, tightening the girth an extra hole and then releasing it by one, all the while talking to my companion who would provide me with hours of joy.
Ordering things in a particular way and eating or drinking certain things and wearing specific items continued throughout my competitive life, particularly on ‘competition days’.
My ex-Olympic trainer asked me to stay on in the US, even change nationality, to train for the Olympics as he could see me go far. He was a great man who did little wrong through an 8 year old’s eyes, however, my parents were continually told things by him that did not result in reality.
Boarding School Life
So it was time for me to join my older sister at boarding school in North Yorkshire, England.
I recall the arguments at times of packing: “You can’t take that. That’s ridiculous. You are only going for 2 weeks. Stop messing around and just get on with it.” She was right, of course.
I always managed to be the one to ‘lose’ my suitcase during our journeys and we would spend ages waiting at the carousel for my suitcase to appear. There was even one time that mine had been going round in circles for at least 10 minutes, after I finally realised it was mine by opening up a small part of it and pulling a pair of my knickers out. Unfortunately, most of the other contents were a little squashed, having been put in a space about a third of the size of the actual case as it ended up as a crumpled, broken mess.
We travelled across the world, back and forth, to see our parents three times a year.
Returning to school remains a vivid memory, having to pick our luggage up at one terminal at London Heathrow, find our way to a different terminal via shuttle bus (it was always the early hours of the morning as dawn was breaking, and English rain welcomed us) and checking in for our onward domestic flight to Leeds / Bradford to complete our trip by taxi.
We experienced some hairy journeys including: facing so much ice and snow that our plane literally touched down but had to lift up again because the runway was too dangerous to land (circling and circling to attempt to land again), turning back less than 30 minutes into a flight because an engine caught fire, not to mention the hours of delays or cancelled flights that seemed to occur more frequently when we flew regularly.
Boarding school for me brings mixed emotions. I feel fortunate to have met some of the people I did, and naturally have true friendships that have lasted for decades. Friendships that can lay dormant for decades but are reignited when the need is there. The loyalty that has been shown to me, by even those that I wasn’t necessarily friends with at school, has taught me that the 8 and a half years spent in an institution was underestimated for many years.
Discipline at school was drilled into me and I even remember (almost 30 years later) the exact times the bells rang: to wake us up, to go over to school, to line up for morning Chapel, to stop talking and walk in silence into the dining room to stand behind our allocated chair, to be able to talk again, we were governed by bells and times.
Maybe that’s why I follow a strict routine myself to this day, which I am desperately trying to relax so that my daughter isn’t pressured by time and constantly feeling anxious that “we are going to be late”.
My Love for Sport
Sport was my thing. Whilst I probably had the ability to do better academically, I threw myself into my escape that was sport.
I trained hard every day to improve and be the best I could.
I captained (and co-captained) a number of the school’s sports teams, ran for the North of England and represented the northern counties in hurdles, and long jump and was chosen to be Vice-Captain for the Yorkshire lacrosse team.
Despite a serious knee injury, I ignored the specialists that said I would never be able to compete again; it was never an option for me to give up on a dream I had held for over 7 years.
I made the England lacrosse team, which was what I set out to do when I first learnt how to play.
Unfortunately, the injury proved too much. It did prevent me from continuing my sporting career and stopped me from doing sport at university as I could not have completed the practical element of a sporting degree.
I knew I wanted to go to university but had messed up my ‘A Levels’ which was not a huge surprise in itself as I ‘hadn’t put as much effort into my academic studies as I had my sport’ (a recurring theme throughout my school reports). It didn’t help that a teacher hadn’t completed the syllabus with us in one subject by the time we sat our exams. Even native speaking Spanish girls didn’t get ‘A’ in their ‘A Level’ Spanish.
In truth, my decision making skills at that time were focused on securing a place on any course, as long as it was in Edinburgh.
My sister was living and working in Edinburgh and I had missed not being near her for the last few years of school.
Through the well-known UCAS clearing system, I was offered a place to study Hotel and Catering Management at Napier University in Edinburgh and spent the next 4 years learning how to burn the candles at both ends, with the final year in the Scottish university system being designed to convert my ‘ordinary’ degree into an Honours Hospitality degree that I now hold.
My Hospitality degree taught me more than I would have realised. I use knowledge that I gained throughout the theory I studied and the work placements that I completed to this day and although I couldn’t fulfil my next ambition of working in senior management within high end hospitality, I am grateful for the time spent studying.
Being on my feet in a fast paced environment for so long ended up being unkind to my knee and I had to have a second major operation to fix a rupture that had occurred. At that point (my final year), I was told to consider an alternative career because the physical nature of hospitality was unforgiving.
I listened to medical advice this time (having had to give up many forms of exercise even for leisure by then), and enrolled onto Pitman’s Executive PA Diploma course, where I self-studied, worked and taught other students to earn enough money to pay rent and feed myself whilst developing my new career.
Change of Direction
My new ambition was set. I would work my way up to become the PA of a CEO of a company. If I couldn’t pursue my dream to do sport professionally, have a career in sports physiotherapy (this was quashed when my Biology teacher said I would never pass my exam if I took it) or even coach or train others.
I followed my intuition and through a small loan from a friend, I bought a one-way bus ticket to London where, once again, my sister welcomed me unconditionally as she put me up until I found a place of my own.
I transferred to a Pitman centre in London, completed my course and was headhunted by my very first ‘office’ boss.
I earned a good salary for my lack of practical experience and it was then that I felt true responsibility for my own self and career development. It was only me that could row my boat in the direction I wanted.
And that, as they say, is how it all started for me.
A skimmed version. Enough, I believe, to give you a flavour of how I became an independent, determined and loyal person who places high value on being themselves and no one else.
The journey of my career can be found here, via Linkedin, which provides further details of how I have been able to develop my skills: http://linkedin.com/in/anna-allan- and whilst they remain unwritten, there are many stories of the experiences I have gained.
I did my pass my Biology exam - but by then, it was too late to take it at ‘A Level’ because of the set timetable. It makes me sad this same Biology teacher discouraged others like me:
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