There’s Only Life and How You Choose to Live it
A lot has happened to me in the last three years—got engaged, got diagnosed with leukemia, got married, built a house, leukemia went into remission, wrote a book about millennials, had our first child—and Cisco has been part of my life through all of it.
My first leader at Cisco was a large, easygoing guy named Greg Bolden. He occasionally said, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s just life and how you choose to live it.” The first time I heard him say it, I didn’t buy it. After all, I worked for Greg, I didn’t live for him, and what was Cisco to me? It was a job for some unknowably large corporation. My time and effort for their money, a square deal.
The next five years were an abject lesson in the value of experience, how “why” always trumps “what,” and—to adapt a famous Peter Drucker quote about culture and strategy—how life eats work for breakfast.
I started working at Cisco in 2014 after a round of golf with a Cisco employee named Tommy Cooksey. Tommy and I previously sold together at a startup company and remained friends after we stopped working together. We were connected by nothing more than general life. We were both unmarried, both childless, and both ignorantly obsessed with a vague understanding of success. While golfing, I learned that Tommy made more money than I did and was able to sometimes work remotely – Cisco even paid for his cell phone! I was sold.
Tommy got me an interview, and a few months later, I was selling Cisco products and services to the United States Army on Greg’s team.
Greg liked connecting work to purpose. He’d talk about the importance of serving those who served and protected all of us. My grandpa served in the military, and my brother was an officer in the Air Force, but I still didn’t feel some larger connection to what I did for work. I just worked for money.
Back then, I thought my disconnect was from military service or Cisco or something else in the job, but the truth was that I just didn’t believe in “us” as a purpose. I didn’t believe in working for something greater than myself.
Then, I got engaged.
It was my first full-blown effort to create an “us” of my own. My fiancé and I were building a house and sharing a budget and working through the pains and delights of trying to connect two lives towards a mutual purpose. I figured if I worked hard enough and made enough money, my fiancé and I could have the lives we wanted, but if I’m being honest, both work and life were going only okay.
Then, five days before our wedding in 2016, I was diagnosed with leukemia. When life gets hungry, work doesn’t stand a chance.
The next 33 days were spent inside of UNC Hospital. My fiancé didn’t leave my side even for a single night. Greg showed up with a care package, a stack of cash, and an assurance from him and my coworkers that they were there to help in any way they could.
Every member of my sales team came and visited individually, bringing gifts. In the ten months of chemotherapy that followed, teammates texted and called. Cisco’s health insurance covered medical bills of nearly $900,000 and their disability insurance kept income flowing during treatment. Greg repeatedly assured me that I would have a position waiting for me whenever I was healthy and wanted to come back.
Experiencing cancer is inherently lonely, but the kindness of others, a prioritizing of connection that elevates our humanity, felt like a small miracle. The empathy I felt from Cisco and others helped me form principles that I utilize today as a husband and a father.
Not to sound too Jerry Maguire here, but we live in a cynical world, and we work in a business of tough competitors. I’d spent so much of my life concerned about what I did, that I hadn’t given that much thought to why I did it. It took an actual change at the DNA level—a chromosomal mutation called cancer—for me to realize that there was no unknowably large corporation.
There was just a bunch of people striving to live by some metaphorical values of connection that we called Cisco.
If I could realize legitimate empathy for others, the kind I had felt during my own crisis, then my work of connecting the world was no different than my life’s connection to family and friends. When my oncologist declared me cancer free, she also said that I was clear to work.
I was 31. I had started my life.
It’s now been two years since I came back to Cisco after cancer, and I’ve just recently been promoted into my first leadership position. I manage the Security Renewals team for US Public Sector and LATAM. I’ve found that the effort to shed cynicism and selfishness eventually becomes indistinguishable from authentic optimism and selflessness, and I legitimately desire for each member of my team to realize this optimistic, selfless version of themselves while they’re here at Cisco.
So, on the very first day I spoke to my team, I chose my words carefully: “Here’s something I learned from my Cisco connections: There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only life and how you choose to live it.”
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