There’s Only Life and How You Choose to Live it

August 12, 2019 - 52 Comments

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.

Dustin standing with his now wife, baby, and cat.

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.

Dustin in a hospital gown and bed takes a picture with his then fiance from his hospital room.

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.

Dustin smiles with his Security Renewals team for US Public Sector and LATAM.

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.”

Want to join our amazing teams?  We’re hiring.  Apply now.


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  1. inspiring!

  2. Very inspiring!!

  3. Inspiring story !!

  4. "The effort…eventually becomes indistinguishable from authentic optimism and selflessness." What a push! Congratulations on your recovery and a big hand and heart to the teams, friends, family, and medics that saw you through it all. Beautiful story. Love and light!

  5. I got a certificate just like yours. 3/29/2017 completed chemo for stage 2 non-Hopkins lymphoma. I was a red badge at the time and John Moran said, take all the time you need. I wanted and needed to continue to work (WFH) and it was great therapy. Became full time in 7/2017. Thanks for the great article.

  6. So humbling and inspiring

  7. Nice Post

  8. Thank you for sharing this! Very inspiring!

  9. Amazing story.. very inspirational. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Real stories like yours inspire real people. Thanks for sharing and wish you good luck.

  11. Thanks for sharing your story and how life turns out having incredible people around you. Amazing!!

  12. Thanks for sharing, its truly amazing. Best wishes for you!

  13. And to think, I got to sit only 10 feet away from you when you got back. I've heard your story before, but every time you re-tell it I take something new away. Thanks for sharing the amazing journey you've been through.

  14. Inspirational!

  15. THANK YOU, Words of Wisdom like these don't come along every day.
    Congratulations on your new life.

  16. Brilliant!

  17. Charlotte Montemayor Love the candor and lesson! Great storytelling!

  18. What an inspirational storytelling gift that you have. I was a classically trained musician with an MM to show for all my hard work, and in one instance of losing focus….. I burned my hand while cooking. In that heartbeat, my life changed forever. I struggled for a long time trying to find my place in the world once everything I trained for, struggled for, sacrificed for was taken away so suddenly. Cisco is the only company I've worked with that has allowed me grow and lead – even though I'm nowhere close to my field of previous expertise. That's what family does – and that's how Cisco steps up. Thank you for reminding me of this through your story, and I wish you continued success and happiness!

  19. WOW… What a rollercoaster ride you've been through and what a wonderful way of putting life, Cisco, etc into a context which we can all relate to, but hopefully never experience in the way you did…
    I am in awe of you being able to formulate this series of events with such eloquence. I am honored to be a colleague !

  20. Thank you for sharing, Dustin. I am a Lymphoma survivor. When I was diagnosed I was 36, had two little children (one and half and a three and half). Life happens, and one just has to ride it. Last thing you want to worry about at those times are work, and bills – and they were taken care of. Like they say in the British Army: Onward and Upward, bud!

  21. Inspirational story, Dustin! Thank you for sharing! All the best for you and your close ones – at home – and at the Cisco!

  22. Thank you for sharing your story Dustin. Brilliant courage & strength you and your family have displayed, hugs to them and the cat! Will remember the life tag line – lots to learn! God bless & enjoy the journey at Cisco!

  23. Thank you for sharing your amazing, wonderful, tearful, tears of joy story Dustin; it certainly makes me sit back and think about how precious life truly is. I am so happy for you and your family!
    Here's to "there's only life and how you choose to live it"!

  24. Fantastic story, inspirational, thank you for sharing

  25. You are an inspiration to many, Dustin! Miss you, man!

  26. Thank you for sharing your story!

  27. Thanks for sharing Dustin, you truly are an inspiration to us all. I hope the future continues to be positive and bright for you and your new family.
    All the best and live life to the full!!!

  28. Thank you for sharing your story. Your message really resonates "There’s only life and how you choose to live it.”

  29. Big hugs to you, your darling wife and your precious child! Thank you for your inspiration, Dustin! You are an amazing leader for life!

  30. Awesome story – Thanks for sharing and encouraging. Congrats on your new marriage, new baby and new lease on life!

  31. Dustin, very inspiring story! Wishing you the very best in life.

    Totally agree, There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only life and how you choose to live it..!

  32. Dusitn
    As an almost 22 year veteran @ cisco (with a few dalliance's outside of cisco to round out my knowledge) I learned the same lesson. I too was diagnosed with Cancer almost exactly 12 months ago, only I am late in my career and had just recently come back home to Cisco. I had always known that Cisco takes care of their own , but I really never "Knew" that till last year. You learned what I learned, Life throws you curve balls, you can either foul them off or strike out, it all in how you choose to address the situation.
    I am glad you survived and thrived

  33. Thanks for sharing your amazing story and how you have been able to reevaluate what matters in life.

  34. Thanks for sharing your story. Wishing you good health and happiness. Kudos to your boss and team for standing by you and reminding us what Cisco culture is all about.

  35. Dustin, reading your story reinforced why I love coming to work for this amazing company. We truly are blessed with the culture and systems here to live our life to our fullest potential possible.

    Thank you for sharing your story and may God bless you and your family.

  36. Goose Bumps while reading this!! Wow…Cisco IS the best place to work..and reading this story is just more proof.
    Thank you for sharing your story, such courage and strength. Dustin, continue to lead by example.

  37. Very Inspiring story Dustin! Thank you for sharing. Stay healthy and stay happy! No one is exempt from life's ups and downs and your story is a true inspiration on how to sail through the lowest period that life throws at us.

  38. Dustin is a true inspirational leader who embodies the value of positivity, grit and determination in face of the most challenging circumstances! Thank you for being that beacon we can look towards for guidance in the midst of life's storms.

  39. That was some serious messaging. You are an inspiration. I would like to doff my hat to you and all the Cisco team members who stood by you during tough times. Wishing you greater success in your role.

  40. Inspiring story !!! Lots of good wishes to you and yours!!!

  41. Man, you rose like a Phoenix. Hats off to your determination. It requires great courage to put this down here. Cisco truly deserves the tag – @LoveWhereYouWork

  42. Cisco is lucky to have you and you we’re lucky to have a boss like Greg! Truly inspiring!

  43. You are a COMPLETE Inspiration Dustin, I am both motivated and inspired by your words, courage and strength. Thank you for sharing and helping me look at the beginning of this day in a completely different light. I appreciate you!!!

  44. Thank you for sharing your story! really inspiring how you've face your life and battle with cancer. your first mgrs quote is so true! we need to get things more in perspective, there is only 1 life!

  45. Words to live by . . . amazing!

  46. Wow, nothing like some tears and smiles to start my day. Thank you for sharing, you are amazing!

  47. Thank you for sharing. Very well written. I am very proud of Cisco as well. Best of luck to you and your team!

  48. Thank you for sharing! You are lucky to have realized what you just shared at such young age. The principle is so simple, that our egos have a hard time accepting it for what it is. Wishing you all the best!

  49. Very well said. This brilliantly written piece leads to introspection. All the best !

  50. Bravo Dustin! @LoveWhereYouWork means just a little bit more today than it did yesterday…

  51. Extremely we said and your sentiment is shared by so many at Cisco! It is a wonderful place to work!

  52. Brands may reportedly have one more piece of brilliant transfer work to do this summertime