My last 10 years of working in Silicon Valley have been the most rewarding both professionally and personally in my life. And now that I’m out of the Bay Area and out of a job, I’m looking back and remembering with gratitude and a bit of melancholia. Honestly, I don’t miss the work, the steady income, and the numerous perks nearly as much as I miss the people.
When I reminisce, I’m not thinking about my noteworthy accomplishments — I had a few and that’s not a humblebrag, I only had a few— rather, I’m recalling the high-quality people I met and worked with over the years. Almost none of these memories of colleagues are about a particular project, a meeting, a brainstorming session, or a work achievement.
Maybe it’s too soon, but I categorize these personal/professional memories as my glory days. I feel blessed to have had so many memorable and excellent co-workers in the past decade. They have made up for the numerous jerks and crazies I had to work with during my first decade in Silicon Valley.
Though mental health experts promote living in the present, I really love to recall experiences with the high-quality people no longer in my daily life. It makes me incredibly happy to relive these good times and write about good people.
I’ve written quite a few blogs about work experiences and friends (“What To Do When Your Co-worker is a Loveable Narcissistic Attention-Whore Like ‘The Ron’” and “Workplace Pranks: The Good, The Bad, The Hilarious”), so I want to keep this tradition going of shining a light on the best of the best of my former colleagues.
Phil is a good Friday Guy
I’m not exaggerating when I say Phil Brooks is a superior person. He is a genuinely nice guy and a good-good person. He is sincere and thoughtful. He consistently demonstrates his wholesomeness and decency every day. He is as reliable as a rock and funny as hell (though he would never use that word or any other derogatory four-letter words).
Phil is a dedicated, family man, who could easily play the role of Bob Cratchit if you were looking to cast a community theatre production of “A Christmas Carol.” And Phil is a Friday Guy. Need I say more? Perhaps, I need if you haven’t read my blog “The Art of Making Work Fun.” Let’s just say he is an uncool cool guy, who in the olden days when we all worked in office buildings would always come into work on Fridays instead of WFH.
A graphic designer by trade, Phil often puts his talents to work on quick, fun, and unofficial projects to delight his co-workers. Once, he somehow magically photoshopped a picture of our colleague Ron Fugelseth — a silly white guy who loves Mr. T— so that he looked like Mr. T (we dubbed the doctored photo: “Vanilla T.”)
Recently, to cheer me up with my job search during the pandemic, Phil had some fun with a Forbes magazine cover, replacing our former CEO with my mug. Phil thought this might add some much-needed pizzazz to my resume.
Keeping his friendships alive
For a few years, Phil and I worked in close proximity to each other— and then we didn’t. When Phil was relocated to the floor above, he made a concerted effort to keep friendships on the floor below alive. For one female co-worker, he would draw a daily “Good Morning” cartoon on a medium-sized Post-It and stick it on her cube window. After months of dedicated cartooning, this woman’s workplace could have been named a World Heritage site by UNESCO as she kept every Post-It up. They were all too cute to discard.
After being separated by floors, Phil would visit my desk every day without fail to catch me up on the latest news, usually about Bay Area or San Diego sports teams. We both grew up in San Diego around the same time and were fans of the Chargers and the Padres (neither team has ever won a Super Bowl or World Series in 100+ combined seasons). We would also chat about our families, especially our children. He has four kids and a wife whose photographs are prominently and proudly on display in his cubicle.
Our inside jokes
As you might imagine, Phil and I have a ton of inside jokes and you-had-to-be-there
experiences. A few that I can recall, include:
- Our desire to hunker up when everyone else wants to hunker down during hurricanes and pandemics
- Le Bonnet du Douche — a shower cap from a Canadian hotel that I stayed at once and brought back as a “gift” for Phil and that he decorated and dons in the fall whenever all three of his favorite football teams win (San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, and “Golden State” Chargers)
- The legend of Street Balloon — a wayward mylar balloon found on a San Jose roadside that was on display at every cool co-worker’s birthday party
- The invention of Rich Stix and International Rich Stix — delicious, cheap, and easy-to-make desserts
A fan of donuts
You can’t tell by looking at him, but Phil is also a big donut fan. On more than one occasion, Phil would surprise and delight co-workers with a dozen donuts from Stan’s Donuts, a Silicon Valley institution.
Since leaving the company, Phil has stayed in touch with me, sending email greetings multiple times a week and, on Fridays, he religiously sends me photos of donuts from mom-and-pop donut shop located all over the country. I don’t know a better way to keep a friendship going than sharing the vicarious enjoyment of virtual donuts.
Phil’s a person of character
After my first decade in Silicon Valley, I realized I had too many colleagues in my life that weren’t people of good character. If I’m being honest with myself, I was being influenced by this environment and acting like a jerk or hot-head often and doing things that weren’t aligned with my own professed values. So when I finally landed with a company that had a strong, healthy culture, I became committed to being a better person and co-worker.
I tried hard to avoid ego-trips and traps, nasty turf battles, and toxic co-workers who make the workplace a soul-crushing, endurance test. I wasn’t always successful but it was a process that was aided by exceptional people like Phil Brooks.
For example, in my first months of working with Phil on a project, I had a problem when a presentation didn’t go well and I assumed changes were being made or weren’t being made without my input (I honestly don’t remember). I was more than annoyed. I was trying hard to impress my new supervisors and felt like I was being set up to fail. After the meeting, I was short with Phil and my irritation was clear.
Later that afternoon or perhaps it was the next morning, Phil approached me and apologized for anything he may have done to upset me. He said he wanted us to be good colleagues and have a good working relationship. I was completely disarmed by Phil’s efforts to not let something fester between us and to get us back on track. He provided me with an excellent example of how to behave when you have “issues” at work.
A lesson learned
I believe I apologized too, but I may have still been in jerk-mode and my memory won’t let me recall. But I do know from then on, Phil and I have been more-than-good. I am so appreciative that he provided me with an example of how to resolve conflicts and behave like an adult. It’s a lesson I took to heart, though, of course, I’m not perfect and still have my rare — but still too often — episodes of behaving less “professional” than I want to be.
In conclusion, I feel very fortunate to have worked with Phil Brooks. If you have a low-profile, high-quality person like Phil in your career, be sure to acknowledge that you have a teacher or mentor that you should consider emulating in the workplace as well as your everyday life.
This post was previously published on Change Becomes You.
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Photo credit: Richard Medugno