I was watching this cool, news-like, entertainment network called CNN this morning and one of the guests on the segment about Coronapocalypse was Dr. Larry Brilliant, the famed epidemiologist responsible for helping to defeat the smallpox epidemic and the gent who literally "discovered" Steve Jobs.
A few years ago, I had interviewed with Dr. Brilliant to become his Executive Assistant, which would have been an absolute honor, given the fact that this man literally eradicated a global pandemic.
I remember the interview in explicit detail. He's the first Executive I've ever met who walked into the room glowing. He had this big, bright smile, kind eyes, a bit of a cherubic face and energy, "love and light" for days.
"It is an absolute honor and pleasure to meet you, Phoenix. Everyone who's met with you loves you, so I'm excited to speak with you. Thanks so much for making the trip."
The offices were way out in the depths of the Sunset portion of San Francisco and the offices were a converted nurse dormitory on once what was Federal land and a medical campus back in the day. Dr. Brilliant was, indeed, brilliant and our conversation was easy, filled with laughter, and some incredible stories. I remember him asking whom I admired, which was always an easy answer: Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, Jack Dorsey, and Elon Musk. The second I mentioned Steve Jobs his eyes lit up...and welled with tears.
"Steve was my friend."
He went on to tell me about how he'd met this ratty, disheveled, shoeless kid in the Himalayan mountains asking for a job. He, too, had traveled to India to "find himself," did so, and ended up working for the World Health Organization studying a potential pandemic called smallpox. Steve had scored and interview with him but showed up looking a hot mess asking for a job...which was a resounding, "Nope." However, Dr. Brilliant told him to clean himself up, put some damn shoes on, and come back. Which he did. And ended up scoring a gig which eventually led to a lifelong friendship and mentorship between the two that lasted until Steve's untimely death.
I tell you. If there was a Jiffy Pop machine somewhere in that office I would have been making popcorn by the truckload! Hearing in detail about someone I've idolized for decades and wanted more than anything to work with was one of the most validating things I've ever experienced.
I've always had an unhealthy fascination with Steve Jobs. While many feared him, I always felt that I understood him. I've always been that EA who could neutralize "the screamers" because I understand why their screaming and don't take anything personally. The recruiting agencies I worked with had this running joke, "Find Phoenix and Ari," the screaming, foul-mouthed, exec from Entourage who used to strike fear in the hearts of many, probably loosely based on all that Steve Jobs folklore.
A Quick Story: For context
I've never fallen victim to the whole "bow down," hierarchical BS that most people do. The way I see it, your C-suite title magically disappears and means nothing to me if you're illegally J-walking in front of my moving vehicle or if you say something crazy to me out on the street or in a bar. You'll still get the same cuss-out or ass-kicking I would give anyone who pissed me off to such a degree that I completely lost my shit.
I remember an instance when I was much younger and dressed in full drag as a cigarette girl for Halloween spirit day at a financial company I worked at in Berkeley, CA. (<--- Financial company + Berkeley, then. = oxymoron) The CFO, a seriously old-school, Harvard royalty, man of around 70 was walking a little too slowly into the company kitchen where I was also headed. I, in full drag and definitely in character, rolled up the stack of papers I had in my hand, and (lovingly) smacked him on the back.
"Move it or lose it, Toots!"
He turned around to see me in full drag, experienced a moment of confusion, realized it was me, smiled and chivalrously moved aside.
I pushed past and saw everyone in the kitchen staring in shocked silence, mouths agape after witnessing what was sure to be my firing. Me, not giving 2 fucks (I still don't, btw.) grabbed my soda, looked at them all like #what, bid goodbye to my abused who was still smiling and shaking his head, and walked my fine ass right back to my desk. And proceeded to watch my email start to fill with "OMG..no you didn't just...!" messages. Yep. I just did.
One thing about me is I don't show up as someone I'm not. I don't have to. I confidently walk my walk because IT'S MINE. I've always done my best to represent myself and my brand as best I could in any and every situation I'm been in. I learned early that if you are inauthentic in your demeanor and intentions you're hurting yourself the most and doing irreparable harm to your self-confidence. No, you'll never EVER catch me in drag again. It was a phase, children. But when I did, it was full commitment. My hair, makeup, outfit, and demeanor all created an "experience" anytime I came into contact with someone. And I've taken that lesson and that power to heart so that when I walk into a room, people take note, without me having to utter a single word. Because I walk in with intention and a purpose. "You seem like someone important." It's the #1 comment I get from strangers I meet at parties. And it's validation that the hard work I've done on myself and within my career has paid off.
Back to Brilliant
As Dr. Brilliant and I were talking about his needs, my working style, and "how I roll," I noticed he was looking at me in the same, squinting, pensive way similar to how Miranda looked at Andie Sachs during her "work ethic plea" in the interview scene of The Devil Wears Prada. And then he hit me with it.
"Oh, Steve would have LOVED you."
Delivered while staring directly into my eyes, kinda nodding his head, and with a type of conviction I'd never really experienced, especially in an interview. And for the first time in my professional career, I broke form, my eyes welled, and I started wiping tears.
"I'm pretty sure that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me in my entire life."
He was clearly moved and his eyes, once again welled, and we both broke into laughter at the fact that two grown-ass men were crying about another grown-ass man...in an interview.
"I'll bet this is probably the strangest interview you've ever been on, huh?"
We giggled, wiped our eyes dry, and proceeded to have an incredible conversation lasting another hour ending with Dr. Brilliant personally autographing a copy of his book for me and politely asking for a hug, which I happily obliged. We had a final interview the next day over lunch to which I rode my motorcycle. It was a little test of my own to see just how "all-in" my Exec would be for me seeing me ride up on my Yammie. It's funny how some people view motorcycling as a death wish or reckless entertainment. Dr. Brilliant didn't. In fact, he loved it and toured my bike with me, regaled tales of his own about his motorcycling days, and mentioned he was a bit envious. We had an amazing lunch at "his spot" and he actually introduced me as his new Assistant to several friends, all highly accomplished and retired, who were having lunch at tables nearby. Hilarious, but they all said something similar to "that phrase" in The Devil Wears Prada to me where everyone exclaims how lucky Andie is to have that job and that a million girls would kill for it.
Sadly, my recruiter at the time fucked up the compensation component quoted to me in her effort to "fill a seat" and it ended up being both half time and compensated at half my salary at the time. While I did contemplate taking the job and supplementing the income lost, I decided I really didn't want to have to struggle to make the money I deserved even though the opportunity felt like a once-in-a-lifetime gig. If I were 20-something, hell yes. I was 40+. Therefore, NOPE.
Appreciate Those Universal Signs
The Universe sends people into your life for a reason you may not immediately understand. Dr. Brilliant was that person for me. I was working at the time for an executive who I simply didn't gel with. He had glimmers of brilliance, but he was "underbaked" as a leader, and had actually tried to force me into committing insurance fraud for him. Real talk, I've had to do some shady shit from time-to-time on behalf of my bosses. Any EA at the top of the game knows this is an unwritten requirement of the role. (#fightme) However, doing illegal and/or super immoral shit on an Exec's behalf is a big, fat, NOPE in my book. Not only will (and have) I quit, but I'm probably cursing you for filth all the way out the door AND blacklisting you as a "no-go" to my insane, MASSIVE network of EAs I've created over the past 30 years. (Yeah...we roll DEEP like that. Good luck finding an EA of any substance once on that list.)
I was feeling lost, invalidated, under-appreciated, under-utilized, and seriously thinking of leaving the profession. That interview with Dr. Brilliant and his "Steve would have loved you," comment breathed new life and validation into me at a time when I needed it most. It reminded me that, as an Executive Assistant, I was highly desirable...so much so that the man who ended a pandemic and one who literally changed how the world communicates with one another would want ME at their side.
Seeing Dr. Brilliant on tv this morning brought both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. All stemming from the immense feeling of gratitude and "rebirth" he'd provided me all those years ago. I took that energy, quit my job with "Ferrari-gate dude," ended up leaving San Francisco altogether and moving to Denver to support someone I still consider to be the next Elon. That experience with Dr. Brilliant reminded me of the path I was on as a professional and to keep pushing myself, walking my walk, and depleting my supply of fucks given along the way, like I did as a 20-something, Halloween-day drag queen, beating up on my unsuspecting, septuagenarian CFO.
And during my time in Denver I was able to realize that my time as an Executive Assistant had come to an end, in favor of writing a book and paying forward all of my knowledge, "C-suite street smarts," and almost 3 decades of delicious experience to Executive Assistants around the world struggling to find a way around with roles and Execs who actually exploit the treasure of talents, experience, and passion they have that often went unrecognized and underutilized.
Be YOU: Give us All of It
I'm unique. We all are. I've managed to leverage my uniqueness into two businesses and a personal brand destined to become a household name. I know this, unequivocally. Being yourself and standing out has become increasingly more difficult thanks to social media. And having the type of confidence to put yourself out there and "walk your walk" takes a lot of work to build and access. We all have the ability, but not everyone has the desire. However, I'll say this and then leave it alone.
Be the most sincere representation of YOU you can be. At all times. Not everyone is going to appreciate it. Some will dislike it. Some will absolutely love it. But the most important person in that equation is YOU and how you see, appreciate, and represent yourself. If you aren't 100% authentic with yourself, you'll never fool anyone into believing you are whom you say you are. So why put any energy into being something or someone you're not? Especially if it doesn't work anyway.
My haters and detractors have yet to pay a single bill of mine. Therefore, they take up zero space in my life. And I have zero empathy for their conditions because I'd much rather put my energy into people who believe in me and whom I believe in. People of weak character tend to hate the most. Ever notice that? And I find it equal parts pathetic and kinda funny. So make popcorn and enjoy the show. But then move on and surround yourself with people who share your passions, intention, and a future-forward perspective that actually serves humanity not detracts from it or discolors it with their un-addressed issues.
BE YOU. And DO YOU. Putting your unique energy and spin into the world allows us all this beautiful, insanely diverse, experience from which to cherry-pick the things that serve us in our own, individual journeys through life. Clones tell no compelling stories and provide no seasoning to the stew. Those who have a story, have an unabashed point of view and who share it authentically are the ones who change and enhance the world conspicuously. And the Universe will always see to it that the most passionate and authentic among us will end up at a table together (or an interview!) to provide that validation we often seek in a world that doesn't quite "get" us.
Something to take with you...from my songwriting days:
"Like a fairytale beginning I can finally be amazed by a world I never understood. I see the beautiful in everything I see. Something so beautiful is happening to me."
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