Since 2013, I’ve had the privilege of crafting and amplifying Galileo’s employer brand. Funny thing is, there hasn’t been much “crafting.” I said early on that my role is simply to peel back the curtain so others can see the rare mix of passion, fun, and intention reflected in Galileo’s mission and people. When I decided to take on a new challenge one summer, and join a seemingly quirky yet loveable team of education-loving, tutu-wearing dynamos, I had no idea I’d stay for seven years. Looking back, I now see my time with Galileo has been the experience of a lifetime—full of growth, laughter, tears (lots of those), learning, and soul expansion.
Back in those days, Galileo HQ would host a two day training at Mills College in Oakland to prep hundreds of summer staff to lead camps throughout the Bay Area. When I arrived that first day and saw a sea of costumes and heard chanting . . . well, let’s just say I felt out of my depth. How did I end up here? Yet, over the course of that summer, I came to learn that there could be many different representations of leadership styles at Galileo. I also observed that every single person I met from HQ had a special glimmer in their eye, and a kindness in their voice that assured me I was right where I was supposed to be. Exhausted from long camp days? Yes. But still so drawn to wanting a little more of that magic they had. And, if possible, to offer some of my own.
That fall, I joined HQ’s People Operations Department. In my first week at the office, there was a brown bag lunch, complete with a visiting zookeeper and his boa constrictor AND the opportunity to join the Campsgiving committee (our Fall, gratitude-themed celebration). Sometimes now I see new hires and they have the same expression I did all those years ago: a combination of delight and disbelief as if to say, “are these people for real?” Turns out we are.
As I prepare to wrap up my time on the Galileo team, words could never express what this organization means to me, but I am going to try to articulate it with a few things I have learned.
Over the years, I’ve visited almost every single camp location in California (Chicago, I am still coming for you!) and have taken lessons from some of the best leaders on the planet, from summer interns all the way through every layer of the WE in “WE ARE GALILEO.”
Here are my greatest takeaways:
“Team” isn’t something you’re on, it’s something you do.
Galileans can (and do) intentionally build healthy team trust and connection faster than most companies have even after years of working together. Of course, part of this is hiring for shared values, but I am convinced that being on this team simply makes people want to be better because of the care and integrity they’re surrounded by. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron, and the way Galileans consistently make “team” a verb yields endless inspiration for everyone involved. Don’t believe me? Just ask anyone who’s ever had a birthday celebration planned by a Galilean.
Growing can hurt sometimes, but it is safe to evolve with the right people.
If you’re lucky in this life, you connect with people who provide you with a safe space to make mistakes, to evolve, and to help you find your true gifts and purpose. Is it all rainbows and fun machines? No. (You did see where I mentioned tears above, right?) At the same time, I would never be ready for the next step in my journey if not for my managers and team who always provided a soft place to land, explore, and ask, “what if?”
Leadership can (and should) come from anywhere, and accountability matters.
If you’ve made it this far, you might think I’m painting a picture of some sort of workplace utopia. As wonderful as it is—just like any other meaningful relationship—we work to make it this way. Every single one of us, every single day. Like any place, Galileo isn’t perfect, has knowledge gaps, and areas for growth—and we are the first ones to say so. One of the most important lessons I have learned at Galileo is that nobody wins when there’s not a spirit of candor and personal agency, met with open ears and accountability.
Whatever it is, measure it in numbers and in heart.
If you’ve ever been a candidate, employee, or customer of Galileo, chances are you’ve received anywhere from one to a few dozen surveys from us, and I can promise you that at least one person on our team has read every single one of your responses. That is where the heart component comes into play. We ask what you think because we actually care what you think. And as someone who isn’t naturally drawn to data, I have also learned the constant business need for gathering measurable information (to couple with contextual observations) from which to draw concrete conclusions. For the heart-on-sleeve-wearing empath on the other side of this article, this is an important lesson as I launch my own consulting practice.
There’s always joy to be had.
Joy has always been a hallmark of Galileo culture, but the past year has pushed all of us beyond anything we’d ever thought we’d see or experience in our lifetimes. From the pandemic to civil unrest to an unprecedented presidential election season, we’ve been faced with sadness, anger, grief, and loss. Somehow, Galileans still find little ways to infuse our days with joy. Three minute weekly Zoom dance parties? Check. Mini care packages—complete with snacks—sent to our homes during our annual summit week? Check. A Slack channel dedicated to cringe-worthy reality TV? Also check. (Don’t worry though, that one is optional.) The point is, we still find ways to bring the silly and the joy, and when one of us can’t quite muster it, that’s okay too. Someone else can boost you that day, or you can just do what you need to do to care for yourself. No judgment, but the joy is there when you’re ready and want to access it. And really, how beautiful is that?
To paraphrase Toni Morrison, you are your own best thing—and it’s okay to say so.
One of the promises we strive to fulfill for our teams is that Galileo is a place where mission-driven, joyful, and dedicated people can find and expand their professional purpose. I’ve done just that here. My team gave me the space to grow in confidence and to zero in on my specific zone of genius. This has fundamentally changed the way I see myself, and how I choose to speak life into and honor my talents. I hope everyone gets to experience that at some point, both personally and professionally.
So, this is my love letter to a career-making organization. Thank you for all this (and so much more!).
Viva Asmelash is an Associate Director of People Ops focused on outreach, communications, and inclusion. When she’s not polishing Galileo’s employer brand or consulting with her own clients, chances are she’s at an art museum or cooking at home. Viva is also an active mental health advocate in northern California. She loves fashion history, her dog Ruby, and helping to create more inclusive and equitable spaces.