After graduating high school, I was every country song I had ever listened to – your typical ‘peaker’: captain of the wrestling team, driving a Trans Am, and dating the same girl for over two years. On the surface, everything was great – but as I entered the collegiate chapter of my life, I struggled to find my footing and direction.

Group of military personnel in their uniforms.

After the second semester, while friends pursed their sophomore year of college – I had flunked out. And for the first time ever, I had no safety net – nothing to fall back on.

It was tough, but I called my dad – and, surprisingly, he wasn’t mad at me. He even told me that he did the same thing right before he joined the U.S. Army, and that his father did the same as well. So, while I waited to go back to school, joining the National Guard seemed like the best option to help me get my life back on track.

10 “steps” (and a few years) later – I landed an incredible job at Cisco as a Customer Success Specialist on our Customer Experience team.

1. Be Unprepared and Not Ready for College – This happens to many as they enter college with a limited plan on where they might want to end up. Or, perhaps, they (like me) get wrapped up in the new ‘freedoms’ of college life. If this is where you are, don’t worry – you are not alone. Take a moment to consider what you’re passionate about, where your strengths lie, and what areas you’re interested in.

2. Drop Out – Sometimes we have to fail to grow, and you can only fail forward if you start by failing. The failure isn’t the kicker – how you respond and what you do to get back on track is most important here.

3. Join the National Guard – After taking my ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), I discovered that I have a great deal of potential and that were two career paths in front of me: combat medic or IT specialist – perhaps I was swayed by the bonus to become an IT Specialist, but that’s the route I took and I shipped off to basic training the next month.

4. Get Your Life Together – I had a lot to learn about myself and life in general, and I was grateful that the National Guard instilled much of this in me. I had some great drill sergeants that shared bits of wisdom along the way like, ‘Don’t be the same person you that you were when you got here.’ – those works stuck with me.

I left basic training a completely new person. When I got home, I also realized that I had run away from my problems for the past nine months. It was a shock I wasn’t ready for and I realized it was time to tackle my problems head on.

5. Continue to Grow – After boot camp, I knew I could do anything. So, I went back to Charlotte and got to work on growing my skills not only in sales, but IT as well. When I applied for a role in sales for a million-dollar company, they saw I had IT experience in the military and hired me (at age 19) as their Internet Sales Manager. A year later, when I left to go back to school, I brought someone on and trained them into my role which was a huge accomplishment.

Ryan with mountains behind him.

6. Go Back to School – This time around, I took school more seriously. I showed up for those 8am classes and focused hard on my studies. That first semester, I made the Dean’s List and started working in the networking department at UNCC (University of North Carolina Charlotte).

7. Become a Contractor – With limited experience, I knew it was going to be tough to enter the workforce but was able to secure a position in sales with 75% travel as a 21-year-old. These were some of the hardest, and longest days of my life as I put everything I had into my career – but I learned so much from other veterans in the business too. After six countries and 20 different cities and regions, I burnt out and knew I needed a change. Cisco had always been the gold standard of networking equipment. I had installed the equipment a hundred different times, but never dreamed I would have the ability to actually work for the company and making the same exact equipment!

8. Interview for Cisco at 2am in Guam airport – After searching for the perfect opportunity, I found a role at Cisco that excited me. I was in Guam, 14 hours ahead of where my interviewer was located. So, I had my first interview at 2am in Guam, and was invited for an in-person interview after that. I flew back and 30-hours later, I was jumping for joy when I accepted my Cisco offer!

9. Start your Cisco Career – The first joke I made when I walked into Cisco’s Raleigh, North Carolina campus was that I felt like Julia Roberts in ‘pretty woman’. I was suddenly going from crusty network closets to the beautiful campus in Morrisville. I felt like a serious imposter, like I didn’t belong. The wonderful Customer Experience (CX) team are some of the most humble and amazing people that I’ve ever met. By the end of my first month my imposter syndrome washed away – I finally felt like I was where I was supposed to be.

10. Never Stop Growing Your Career or Network – It took me eight years to find my way to my dream job at Cisco, and I suppose that is my point – there is no ‘one way’ to finding your way here, or to any dream career for that matter. It may be something that happens ‘overnight’ and it may be something that takes time. But if you are dedicated and stick to chasing down your dreams – I have no doubt you will succeed.

I’ve since updated my LinkedIn (shout out to my sister for helping me to update my profile photo!) and can’t wait to see how my career will grow at Cisco. There truly are no limits here, either. Don’t be afraid to adjust where you are headed and strive for something different. If plan A doesn’t work out move on to plan B, and if needed, plan C. The most important thing is to just keep moving forward.

Here’s hoping your hard work and determination will lead you to Cisco too!

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