I feel the need to mention that working for an agency is not for everybody. My situation (a low-volume desk with a small roster of successful-yet-low-maintenance clients and an easygoing boss with 37 years of experience) is actually a unique one, and for many other assistants, jobs at the agency can be more stressful. Two of my friends recently were kicked off their desks due to no mistakes of their own, but political restructuring. Other perfectly smart people do not last because their personalities don't mesh with their bosses. Some agents are young and inexperienced and trying to figure everything out while impressing their superiors - and put this same pressure on their assistants. Some agents are really disorganized and expect their assistants to fix problems the assistants didn't even know existed. Some agents have really high-maintenance clients who don't return emails or know how to show up at meetings. Some agents get upset over tiny things, like when other agents' assistants don't recognize their voices when they call from an unknown number and just say, "It's me." Some agents are terrible communicators who are never clear about what they want. One of my friends works for a woman who noticed he wasn't wearing collar stays after 30 seconds with him. She once called him into her office and, after a brief conversation, started making a call. He left - and she snapped, "I didn't tell you to leave!" So he sat back down, and stayed when she started a second call. Then she snapped, "What are you doing here? Did I say that you could listen to this call?"
Being an assistant often involves navigating the fine line between making decisions on a whim and knowing when to ask questions before making said decisions. You have to be patient and organized and informed. You have to accept that you will constantly be challenged, but never in a fulfilling way. You have to anticipate. And you have to not let it drive you crazy that your life consists of running someone else's life. Let's be honest, it's not exactly the description of a writer.
You also have to deal with a lot of bullshit. (I'm sure this an important lesson for any career in Hollywood.) Here's one of my favorite stories, from the guy who recently moved to the desk next to mine. People often come to our room to visit, because A) we're awesome and B) our room is spacious and has become a hangout for transient chairs. I started to notice that all the guys call my friend "Doctor," and last week I finally asked him why. He used to work for one of our big talent agents, who is famous for signing clients and abusing assistants. He'd yell at my friend all day, firing him, saying he was useless, etc. Then he'd call him at two in the morning on his cell phone to say that my friend was doing a great job and that he was just toughening up to prepare him for the industry. It was a tough work environment. So, why Doctor? The agent's favorite thing to yell was, "IT'S NOT FUCKING BRAIN SURGERY!"