Professionally and personally, you get just a few people in your life who really make an impact on your life. One that lasts forever, and transcends time, space, distance and the assorted BS that life throws at you. Derek Zeller was (is, and forever will be) one of those people.
I don’t really know how to cope right now, but I know he’d tell me “write it down”. He’d tell me that the words will just find their way. He’s been right about this so many times before, so I suspect he’s right this time, too…
Derek was a talented sourcer, no surprise there. One of the best we’ve seen in our industry, and one who cared deeply about the profession. He wanted to make it better, more real, and more human. Which is no surprise, since he was just about the most damn human you might have ever come across. Today, he’s no longer with us, and the void can’t be filled – and that is crushing my soul.
Derek (AKA “D”, “DZ”, “DerDiver”) and I met I don’t know how many years ago through recruitDC. Once he was in my orbit, he never left. If you met him, you were in his orbit too – whether you knew it or not. His personality was infectious and when he walked into a room he WAS the energy in the room. When he spoke, you felt like everything he said was being said directly to you. He was unlike anyone I’ve ever met, or will likely ever meet again.
Professionally, few people gave more back to the recruiting and sourcing community than Derek. He’d approach you at a conference to chat you up, get to know you, and welcome you into the “family”. Once you were in, that was it. You were his people. I watched in awe, time after time, year after year, as he took people under his wing, and divulged the good, bad, and the ugly of this profession we are in. Few people have ever had the cojones to do that. Brand didn’t matter to Derek. Being Derek WAS his brand.
I was lucky enough to sit on the same team with him at comScore. I knew bringing him on board would be huge for us. I learned from him over the years, but sitting next to him and getting in his head was like a Master Class in “how to do it right”. He was the one who showed me the “human” side. “All the sourcing skills in the world are worthless if you aren’t human”. That stuck with me, tattooed forever onto my soul.
As a writer, the words Derek put to paper or a keyboard simply EXPLODED off the page. His heart and soul was in every word. And it wasn’t always pretty. There was a lot of pain there, a lot of “past” that he was reckoning with, as we all do. But whether the words were professional or personal, you knew exactly what he was trying to convey. No fluff, no spin, just “this is what’s on my brain, and you should hear this”. I loved that about him. I admired and envied his courage. When I wanted to start writing, he was my biggest champion. “Pedro, they are your words. You have something to say, so stop hiding it.” It was some of the best advice that anyone had ever given me. I often sent him things that I was thinking about publishing, because I needed someone who would give it to me straight. Derek NEVER, EVER failed me (or anyone else) because he ALWAYS gave it to you straight. He helped me find my voice, and I’m forever grateful for that. I only wish I could repay you, hug you, and hear you one more time.
He was more than a writer and a co-worker. He was my friend. One of the ones that I realized I was lucky to have. So many countless nights discussing life, love, music and humanity. We dove into the meaning behind so many Pearl Jam songs. I swear we dissected a 100 songs together. When I was going through my divorce, he checked in weekly to make sure I was keeping my shit together. I will never forget that. Derek gave you all he had. Even if it meant less for himself. He loved hard. He bared his soul to you, and in turn picked the locks of your soul. You had no choice but to bear it all to him in return.
I’m gonna miss you, brother. More than I can ever put in words. This piece will never suffice. I’ll pay it forward in business and life, just like you taught me. I’ll do my very best to honor you by waking up every day and just “being human”.
Rest easy, DZ. We got it from here. We’ll make you proud. I love you, my brother.
Oh, dear dad
Can you see me now?
I am myself
Like you somehow
I’ll wait up in the dark
For you to speak to me
I’ll open up