Just over two years ago, on August 16th Mike Wilkey passed away due to cancer. Mike was a UX Designer at Fallon Community Health Plan here in Massachusetts. I knew him very briefly, but he had a significant impact on my life. His love for his family and his drive to help people in any way he could made him a truly amazing person.
After Mike passed away, his wife asked me to write something about him I decided to write about what Mike taught me. Here’s what I wrote:
Let me first admit that I never got the chance to know Mike Wilkey as well as I’d have liked to. Mike and I met through Twitter, which depending on how things work out in the future (and how far into the future you read this) may be a quaint little stepping stone in the history of how our world communicates, or perhaps a ridiculous notion of social interaction geeks seemed to enjoy in the early 21st century.
It was similar interests that introduced Mike and I. Both fathers, caring very much for our families and making every effort to put them first. And both interested in how humans interact with objects and each other to create the experiences that shape us as we grow. I was struggling to figure things out, stuck in a job where I felt overly restricted and under appreciated. It was destroying me, and it was destroying my relationship with my wife, son and infant daughter. I’ve never been one to keep things to myself, and my disposition was clear in the messages I posted to Twitter.
Mike saw this, and began to reach out beyond the somewhat superficial exchanges we had been having up to that point. “We may have a position here at Fallon,” he sent, “it may not be exactly what you’re looking for, but I think we can make it work. I’m happy to help. Call me.” And with that, someone who was only slightly more than a stranger to me gave me his phone number.
Now, I hate phone calls. I am the worlds worst conversationalist. It’s painful. And the thought of calling someone I barely know was pretty much absurd, never mind that I was more-or-less asking this person for help, another very difficult thing for me. But I did it. I was desperate.
A very laid back and friendly voice answered, and proceeded to ask me how I was holding up and talk about how cool it would be for us to work together. He mentioned again that he didn’t think the opening at Fallon was a perfect fit, but that he wanted to make it one. He would talk to his boss about adjusting the job responsibilities and shifting things around on the team to make room for me and to let me do the things I wanted to do. I was stunned. I think I barely spoke the whole conversation. He ended the conversation by again inviting me to call if I needed anything, anything at all.
Now maybe this doesn’t sound like a lot to you. Talking to someone about a job opening? It’s no big deal. But you have to understand where I was mentally and emotionally. Where I live there is no real call for the work I do, and I was not in any position to move. i thought I would be stuck in that job until it killed me. It was not a good place. And Mike was the first glimmer that something good might happen, that things could, and would get better.
I followed up with Mike’s boss and interviewed for the position. In the end, the match just wasn’t there. Both Mike and I were a little disappointed that we couldn’t make it work. But Mike did not give up on helping me find something better. He continued to help me. He encouraged me through a number of interviews with a firm in New Hampshire, Mad*Pow, where I am currently employed as I write this. We exchanged messages and a few phone calls with him providing me with help on how to answer different interview questions, how to present myself, what kind of work to include in my portfolio. I credit much of my getting hired to his help. And joining Mad*Pow was truly one of the best moves I made. He recognized that it would be, and even when I thought the interviews were going nowhere, he pushed me to keep going.
Mike has come to symbolize one of the handful of rules I am now determined to live my life by. These rules, I feel, are the key to living a good life, a life that means something and makes the world a better place. I will share with you the rule that Mike came to stand for - Always be helpful.
It doesn’t matter who or how, if you have the opportunity to help someone, to make their life better by any measure, do it. I don’t care if they are your best friend, a total stranger, or even someone you despise. Help them. Do whatever is in your power to make them feel better, to make the difficult situation they are in easier, to get them over the obstacle that is blocking their way to moving forward. It can be something a small as holding a door, it can be as large sacrificing that which you hold most dear. It doesn’t matter, just always be helpful.
Mike and I did eventually meet face to face, and in the time we knew eachother he helped me with a number of other challenges I came up against. I know that I thanked him a number of times for all that he did for me, but I’m not sure he ever knew how much of an impact he had on my life and how I’ve chosen to live it.
Whoever you are reading this, Michelle, Mike’s children, Mike’s parents, siblings, friends… even if you never knew Mike, take this to heart. This world and the people in it will always need help. And we will always be in need of more people like Mike Wilkey. Maybe you can be one of them.