I conducted a life experiment by hiring a personal assistant (PA) while living in Russia. She handled many of my day to day needs, served as my personal translator, and took on some of my repetitive business tasks.
She even enhanced my social life by doing things like telling me where local bands I like were playing or recommending venues for dates!
The experience was illuminating – a glimpse into how the rich and powerful live with staffs supporting them.
And she looked like a sexy librarian! [Good aesthetics always make life better.]
This article will cover why I hired her, how I found her, what she did for me, and how I managed her.
Hardship made me get creative
Whenever I get the chance, I like to emphasize that struggle is good. It sharpens you and forces you to make changes and try things.
I bit off more than I could chew when I moved to a second-tier city in Russia and attended an intensive, semester long Russian language course.
I foolishly thought I would be able to maintain my two businesses, study Russian, and adjust to living in a city with ZERO expat/tourist/English language presence.
Several months into this endeavor I was drowning. It turns out that Russian professors are spiteful little authoritarians. They take absences as a personal insult and assign lengthy homework assignments that seem intentionally useless and time consuming.
Refusing to give up. I looked for a way to do more in less time.
Giving credit where it is due, the concept of “outsourcing my life” was planted in my head ever since 2009 when I read The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.
- Tim Ferriss
- Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
- Updated with over 100 new pages of cutting-edge content
Tim’s book mostly focuses on virtual assistants (VA’s) – people in low cost of living countries that can perform digital work for you over the internet at prices well below the minimum wage in Western countries.
It was a visionary idea, but VA’s have never really caught on. However, with digital nomad lifestyles becoming more prevalent, I think real life PA’s, like I had, will become more common.
How I found my PA
I decided that my personal assistant needed to meet the following criteria:
- Functional to fluent in English
- Smart with a good attitude
- Not be a girl that I want to sleep with (I actually needed to get work done)
Luckily, I was already in the best environment to find this – a university.
The students are young so their pay expectations are low, few have jobs, and there were more likely to know English than the general population.
Getting to know them was easy – they came to me. These students are starving for interaction with native English speakers. Once word got around that I was there, I was meeting “English groupies” left and right.
Of course, I wanted to sleep with most of them. Just about every university age Russian girl is a 7 or higher. I thought I might have to be flexible on the third point.
Nastya – My right hand girl
Nastya was a 21 year old student that was employed as a translator by the university. I met her on a class excursion for the international students.
We easily hit it off as she was very curious about America and had many questions. She told me how much she appreciated having a chance to practice her English with me and profusely apologized if she was talking too much or asking too many questions. A real sweet and sincere girl.
At the end of the field trip, we exchanged contact info. As a typical generous Russian, she offered to help me if I needed any help in the future.
Later, I sent her a message and briefly explained that I was looking to hire someone as a personal assistant. She was interested so I texted her a list of typical tasks. We met for coffee and talked over the details. She was thrilled to have a flexible part time job. This was the beginning of great working relationship and friendship.
Examples of Tasks
- Determine if it is possible for me to rent a car and drive it to Crimea. If yes, what is the cost per day?
- Go to the bank with me and help me open a bank account (act as my translator)
- I’d give her a list of phrases (in English) every week and she would translate them into Russian so I could practice and learn them.
- Purchase a bus ticket to [place] leaving Friday and returning Monday
- Arrange a test ride for me at an URAL motorcycle dealership
- Provide me a list of interesting events happening this weekend
- Buy me a new microwave for my apartment.
- Mail this gift to my friend in Moscow
- Check the pharmacy for this medicine I need
You really paid $3/hour?
Yep – and she thought I was overpaying her!
Russians are much more open about sharing their salary than Americans are. After a few months in Russia, several of my friends had volunteered exactly how much they make per hour.
[As with all useful information, I recorded these salary data points in one of my Microsoft OneNote notebooks.]
When deciding what to offer Nastya, I consulted my notebook. The salaries of my friends ranged from about $2-$7 per hour. I based Nastya’s pay off of the salary of a girl I dated that was an entry level English teacher. Any other part time work that Nastya would have been able to get would have likely been $2/hour, so $3 seemed fair.
How I managed her
From the very beginning, I let her know not to be afraid to make mistakes – I considered that part of the job. I wanted her to feel comfortable taking initiative and making judgement calls rather than pestering me with millions of questions. With the assurances I gave her, she did a great job working autonomously.
As General George S. Patton said,
Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.
The primary tool I used was a shared Microsoft OneNote notebook to assign clearly described tasks. Since the notebook was shared (and she had editing privileges) she could add relevant task information or add a question or note for me to follow up on. All of this information stayed organized in a central location for convenient future reference. OneNote notebooks sync across all your devices so I could add and view tasks at any time from my phone or laptop.
Keeping track of her hours was her job and based on the honor system. I simply asked her to keep a log of hours/task in a table in the Onenote notebook. It worked well and I never had the slightest sense that she was abusing my trust.
We usually met once a week for an hour to discuss things that are better done in person or for her to give me items she has purchased (one of her roles was as a personal shopper for me).
Did I sleep with my secretary?
Nope. I derived so much value from our working relationship that it kept my lizard brain at bay. She also had a boyfriend that she loved. I was glad because that kept things uncomplicated.
You see, in Russia, beautiful women are in abundance. This creates a much better environment for male sanity. Your emotions switch from a state of scarcity (such as in the US) to that of care free enjoyment of beauty. I enjoyed that my PA was beautiful, but I could have other pretty girls for romance, so why mess up a good thing?
And pretty girls have pretty friends. Any time Nastya mentioned me to her friends it came with the built in status that I was an employer. I wanted to keep that pipeline open.
BUT…do I think I could have fooled around with my secretary?
….We’ll never know 😉