Carpe diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of Cisco Empowered Women’s Network
What better way to start the New Year than with a monthly Cisco Empowered Women’s Network series about role models in the technology industry? We all make resolutions and set goals to improve ourselves– but somewhere along the way, life interrupts our plans, we find ourselves juggling different priorities and invariably things get dropped. What you will find in this segment is inspiration from ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary results. Everyone featured in this series has faced challenges and opportunities that the rest of us can identify with; let’s draw inspiration from the choices they made and aspire to the outcomes they created.
Welcome to ‘Carpe diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of CiscoEWN’
To kick off our first post of the monthly series, we have an incredible guest -- Denise Donohue.
Denise has worked with information systems since the mid-1990s and her expertise spans most technologies. She has authored numerous Cisco Press books and frequently shares her knowledge in webinars and seminars. Find out more about Denise.
Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CiscoEWN): You started your career as an economist with government agencies and here you are now – a senior network architect with some of the most difficult industry certifications under your belt. What happened along the way?
Denise: Life and kids happened! I quit my full time job to be a full time mom to my three kids. But along the way I started tinkering a little with home computers and found it interesting. I also have a background in education so I started working from home and franchised a business that brought computers to daycares and schools. When my husband lost his job and I had to go back to full time work, I considered returning to my comfort zone of economics and government. But that wasn’t where my heart lay – by then, I had grown to love computers.
CiscoEWN: What were some of your headwinds and tailwinds during this difficult transition?
Denise: I’m not sure I would advise anyone to juggle that many balls at the same time (smiles)– but if you have to do something, the only way is to jump in with both feet and do it. My headwinds at the time were intense – I was very guilty about leaving the kids; I was the weird person among the neighborhood stay-at-home moms peer group; the field I had chosen was very difficult and drained me physically and mentally – there were many days that I cried because I was exhausted and I missed the kids so much. But what kept me going was that despite the challenges I really enjoyed what I was doing and felt deep down that this is where I was supposed to be. I loved the technology, the new learning and meeting new people. Following my passion and trusting my gut were my mantras during that phase.
CiscoEWN: Following your passion is a great advice – but don’t you need a support system or some motivation to actually do it?
Denise: Absolutely! My family understood that it was finally my time to do what I had to do – and they shared responsibilities around housework and cooking dinners etc. Of course, there was a fair share of whining also – especially when I came down on Christmas day just for the gift-opening and then went right back to studying. So, for all of us, despite some basic support, you have to continue to motivate yourself and keep in sight why are you are doing something. Competition also helps. I had a colleague who got his CCNA and CCIE (Cisco certifications) before I did and he was gloating about it. That really lit a fire under me and my goal was to get my own certifications within a year after his.
CiscoEWN: You are the author of not one, not two – but twelve books! How did you persevere?
“…if you have an interest, a goal that you want badly enough – you can get it. And sometimes not knowing exactly what it takes to get there helps. Then you can focus on each step.”-Denise Donohue
Denise: (Laughing) I suffer from total amnesia about how hard it is. I guess that’s why I keep going back and doing it. Some of the books took six months; some took as many as a couple of years. I considered dropping the effort many times, but then I knew I had things I wanted to say and felt this was my way to give back to my community. It was my labor of love. I find that if you have an interest, a goal that you want badly enough – you can get it. And sometimes not knowing exactly what it takes to get there helps. Then you can focus on each step.
CiscoEWN: What would you write in a letter to your younger self?
Denise: It took me a long time to understand that I should have faith in my judgment and myself. If I could speak to my younger self, I would tell her that she is good enough and smart enough and she should do what she needs to do with self-confidence. Also, I would tell her not to let resentment overcome her. At the time, I resented my husband’s job loss because it forced me out of my comfort zone. But time and my achievements have given me faith that there is a reason for the way things happen.
When CiscoEWN contacted me and asked if I was willing to be the first person featured in this series, I hesitated because I felt I didn’t have much to say that was out of the ordinary. I felt I was just doing what I do and it’s not all that special. But then my daughter said ‘Mom, you should do this. You have been my inspiration’. And that just meant so much to me – it gave me pause to look back and see how far I have come. I would tell my younger self that too.
CiscoEWN: Leave us with your favorite Carpe diem statement.
Denise: For people who are wondering what to do with their life, or are stuck, don’t be afraid to take a step. Chances are you can always step back if you need to. ‘You can only do what you can do -- don’t feel bad about what you can’t do.’
Today. Tomorrow. Transformed. This was the theme of the second annual Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CiscoEWN) forum at Cisco Live. And what a great week of transformation it was, and a great way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cisco Live! Sorry for the long blog post, but it was an exciting week for us!
CiscoEWN is a global community of highly motivated, professional women, as well as a forum for Cisco customers, partners and employees to network and motivate one another at Cisco Live and in virtual and live events throughout the year. Our founders and Executive Sponsors highlight our goals for CiscoEWN at Cisco Live US in San Francisco this year:
CiscoEWN sponsored several activities during the week each of which gave the opportunity for women in technology and our male allies to gather together and network, learn from and empower each other.
We kicked off the week with the CiscoEWN Forum on Sunday, a four-hour event with a packed agenda of mentoring sessions, panels, and keynotes. Here’s a recap of the afternoon:
Over 450 men and women, including Cisco employees, customers and partners, attended (up from 250 attendees last year!).
50 executive mentors shared life experiences and offered advice in an icebreaker mentoring session with attendees.
Cisco President and COO Gary Moore shared his thoughts on why diversity and inclusion is important for business.
Exactly one year ago, during the launch of the Cisco Empowered Women’s Network at Cisco Live Orlando, we asked the audience: “What would you do if you were not afraid?” On that day, we couldn’t have imagined the incredible journey we would take in answering that question and, ultimately, in building the Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CiscoEWN).
CiscoEWN was created out of a collaboration between myself, Priscila David (Director, Systems Engineering, US Commercial East); Rima Alameddine (Sales Director, Enterprise NY); and Anuja Singh (Manager, Systems Engineering, Public Sector). All three of us work in the field sales organization at Cisco and have daily interactions with customers and partners. We realized that Read More »
I recently attended the annual Leadership Conference, sponsored by Simmons College, considered to be the world’s premier professional development event for women. This year’s theme was “Jumping the Curve,” stepping away from the familiar and stepping up to the unknown.
While I have been engaged with the conference for the past several years, I find each year’s experience to be something special and I continue to be humbled and inspired by the journeys of many of the participants. I wanted to share some of the ideas that stuck with me. The following advice may not be new, but I find it worth repeating – and relevant to women and men.
Don’t be afraid to take risks: With every new endeavor, you’ll gain new experiences and expand your network. Along the way, you’re likely to gain new sponsors and potential advocates.
Invest in networking: Stay connected with your professional and personal contacts. And when you connect and collaborate, if you serve as mentor or mentee, be sure to be clear on objectives to foster a successful relationship.
Dare to compete: Be confident in your abilities, and don’t be afraid to step into the ring. Keynote speaker Hilary Clinton addressed this keenly, noting that male colleagues are more likely to raise their hands regardless of qualifications.
Be patient and adapt quickly: The very funny and talented Rita Moreno spoke from experience as a successful entertainer who overcame years of struggle against Hollywood typecasting. She reminded us that success rarely comes overnight—there are many struggles to overcome, and we must be flexible to succeed.
Don’t just judge; act with purpose: We all harbor some unconscious bias toward others, and that can affect our actions. Instead of judging, listen actively and take action on what you can control and change. As Gandhi once said, “Be careful of your thoughts, for they become your words. Be careful of your words, for they become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for they become your legacy.”
These points of advice can serve us well if we put them into practice, but just how do we do that?
Please take a moment to share your strategies for jumping the curve in the comments section, or continue the discussion on Twitter.
Since publishing this blog, I’ve been touched by the number of people who have reached out to me, both from within Cisco and outside of Cisco from other companies, to find out more about how to set up a successful Reverse Mentoring program. Their interest inspired me to write this blog on 10 simple steps you can use to set up a Reverse Mentoring Program. Read More »