Are Executive Assistants Feeling Nostalgic?

In this article, author Jan Jones discusses the current trend of nostalgia and if there is significance for executive assistants.

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FlyPrivate: How does the current trend for nostalgia by Millennials and Gen Z impact executive assistants? Does it have any particular significance for EAs?

Photo credits: Apple

Jan Jones: The question is interesting because I’ve been reading for some time about how Millennials and Gen Z are nostalgic for the past – not only for a past they’ve lived, but going back even further to a time when technology was not so invasive in our lives. I’m assuming Millennials and Gen Z comprise a large number of our EA readership, so I’m curious about how they are dealing with it. Is the nostalgia trend affecting them as well?

I like the description I read somewhere that nostalgia is like comfort food because it takes us back to a simpler, happier place. It offers us the comfort and stability we long for in times of uncertainty, like we’ve endured these past two years.

Since I’ve written extensively about earlier generations of executive assistants who were masters of the role without the benefit of today’s technology, it’s interesting for me to know that Millennials in particular (born 1981-1996), are complaining of exhaustion from non-stop technology, and looking for comfort from a time before technology invaded every area of our lives. Millennials say repeatedly they are yearning for a return to simplicity. Gen Z (born 1997-2012), regarded as Digital Natives, is also feeling nostalgic and looking for respite from tech fatigue. In fact Gen Z is into old-school tech. (No more AirPods, they want wired headphones).

I wonder if our readers can relate to what some Digital Natives told The Guardian newspaper about technology exhaustion. “Although we are used to social media, the internet, mobile phones and computers, now we cannot stand them any more,” said a school leaver in Athens. “An 18th birthday on a Zoom call is hardly an experience that you will still be laughing about with your friends in five or 10 years.” “We should return to doing things like spontaneous socializing and physical contact,” said another student. “I don’t know a single friend that isn’t either depressed or anxious,” said a student who is on antidepressants at 19 years old. Tragic! They are taking refuge in nostalgia, because nostalgia makes us feel connected to other humans.

People generally find comfort in nostalgia during times of loss, anxiety, isolation, or uncertainty says psychologist Krystine Batcho. “Nostalgia, that longing feeling for the past when things seemed better, easier, and more fun. Nostalgia helps us to remember who we’ve been and compare that to how we are feeling today. The benefit of nostalgia is that it gives us a sense of who we want to be in future.”

Millennials and Gen Z have an interest in nostalgia because they believe they can find information that will offer inspiration for their lives today. It would be interesting to know how many assistants have found nostalgia useful in making them feel better about their current situation and how they put that to good use.

Nostalgia was a leading marketing trend for 2021, with brands like Coke, Burger King and Pizza Hut giving consumers a reminder of happier times when they were connected to friends and loved ones, to help them through the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. Proud Digital Natives are now asking for products with built-in features that limit stimuli. They want a break from the always-on environment into which they were born.

Some good news from Trendhunter, the world’s largest trends platform, which says we are going into the New Roaring 20s. They make the case that many unique opportunities arose after the world recovered from crises such as the Bubonic Plague and the Spanish Flu. Once again, the world will emerge and rush to make up for lost time, so paying attention to trends can be a secret weapon.

My book is called “The CEO’s Secret Weapon,” so you know I’m partial to EAs and CEOs working together to launch their secret weapons by bringing new and unusual solutions into the workplace, whether it’s products, or innovative ways to get the job done. This is where alert, innovative EAs can be at the forefront of opportunities within their sphere of influence. Be attentive to the creative workarounds you’ve been using these past couple of years to get things done. Remember those moments of brilliance when you found new ways to do something, instead of working as if you are on remote control. Practice living and working from that state of Flow. It will increase your productivity and joy.

One beneficial way you can use those moments of nostalgia is to take a step back from the usual technology you use to get a job done. Look at it from the perspective of how would I do this if I didn’t have a program already prescribed, readymade templates where I just plug-and-play, fill in cells, columns and rows, or click on icons? How would I do that?

How did assistants of previous generations do it, without the benefit of today’s technology? I’ll tell you how. They created their own templates, which they shared with each other. The templates were custom-made, devised specifically for a particular job, and many had wider application. Someone could borrow my template and then say “Hey Jan, I’m using your template for another project I’m working on. I’ll show you when I’m done.” That was exciting and it was common. Our version of Apps, created by assistants for the job that assistants do. You know, we had a lot of fun coming up with ideas and sharing it with our fellow assistants. It created a real camaraderie based on mutual professional respect, a sense of accomplishment, a desire to experiment and learn. It made us creative. Looking back on it now makes me nostalgic!

A secretary, Bette Nesmith Graham, created the product Liquid Paper (White Out) in her kitchen, using her blender. Typewriter erasers made her work look messy so she began thinking of alternatives and Liquid Paper was born. In 1979, Gillette Corporation bought Liquid Paper for $47.5 million, plus royalties. Not too many opportunities for ingenious solutions like this for EAs today. Someone else has cornered your market. I think this is why Gen Z defines themselves as “entrepreneurial.” A Gen Zer said to me “We grew up on Shark Tank.” They want to be seen as entrepreneurs even though they are working for someone else and they want to have the kind of freedom in the workplace that they imagine entrepreneurs have. (The reality of entrepreneurship is a discussion for another time).

You’ve heard me say this to executive assistants before: How you are doing your job today has been dictated by people who’ve never done your job. They don’t know the most creative ways to get it done. They know the most efficient ways, but not the most dynamic, fulfilling ways. You are an efficiency machine, but you’ve been robbed of day-to-day creative expression. It may explain why so many of you are bored at work and one reason why there’s a lack of critical thinking in the workplace. I’m not making this up. A PwC survey showed that 77% of CEOs are struggling to find the innovation and creativity skills they need from their workforce – and that includes many of you who support a CEO.

It’s not about replacing technology; that would be silly. It’s about giving your creativity some expression. It will improve your strategic thinking, which requires looking at things differently. Use your imagination to tap into new solutions. How can you apply those new solutions to developing your projects, planning your events, managing items on your to-do lists?

A psychology professor from North Dakota, Clay Routledge says “Nostalgia mobilizes us for the future. It increases our desire to pursue important life goals and our confidence that we can accomplish them.” It would be interesting to know whether the beneficial effects of nostalgia these past two years have inspired EAs for their future. For example:

  • As you came to terms with the lockdowns and working from home, what emergency plans did you make for your family that can be applied to how you plan your work going forward?
  • How did you make use of resources? Did you have to scrounge for them or were they easily accessible? Has this helped you to develop future contingency plans?
  • What are some anticipation strategies you’ve used in planning your home life, taking into consideration the needs of children being out of school, spouses working from home, sharing resources like laptops and working spaces? How can you apply that strategic thinking to your EA role?
  • What did you learn about patience? What did you learn about helping others? Did others help you? What surprised you about who stepped up, or didn’t?
  • Did you repeatedly spread yourself too thin these past couple of years? What did that teach you? Hopefully that you can’t pour from an empty cup.
  • What did 2020 and 2021 teach you about letting go of perfection?
  • What practices did you put in place with your teams that taught you how to be more collaborative?
  • What contingency plans did you create that will help you be better organized and ready?
  • What communication tools, systems and procedures did you develop or refine?
  • What have you decided you don’t need in your life any more? What practices and activities are you going to keep, what are you going to ditch?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What self-care routines did you adopt?

“What leads ultimately to a healthy kind of nostalgia is the one where the positive aspects of nostalgia can reconnect us now, not just to people in our past but to the people we’re dealing with today,” says Krystine Batcho. “One of the healthiest forms of nostalgia throughout human history has always been to connect each generation to the next. In that sort of bond, you pass down to the next generation, the best of the past.”

That’s precisely why I spend so much time interacting with executive assistants. Responding to your questions, teaching, speaking, writing articles, posting messages on social media, in order to share with you the very best from the executive assistant profession’s past. Our generations are connected and we build upon each other’s experiences and accomplishments. We leave a legacy for future generations to follow. We do our very best so that future generations have something worthwhile to build on, treasure and learn from. They, in turn, leave something for the next generations. Nostalgia – looking to the past to build a better future. May the executive assistant profession be the beneficiary of this nostalgic impulse. Start creating beneficial new memories that the next generations of executive assistants can feel nostalgic about and profit from in years to come.

©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. The ideas expressed in this article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the intellectual property and copyrighted to Jan Jones. All rights reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of the author.

Author: Jan Jones

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Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness.” The book has received widespread acclaim from executives and executive assistants worldwide. Jan spent 20+ years as an esteemed international executive assistant to well-known business people, including Tony Robbins, the world’s #1 business and life strategist. Jan continues to champion the executive assistant profession with her writing, consulting and speaking. She offers timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant. 

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