July 2020 was my very first day as a Cisconian! Even amidst a time of unexpected twists and turns and never before experienced scenarios (like starting a job completely remote) – I was greeted by my optimistic managers, mentors, and fellow cohort members.

Michael holds his phone and looks out the window.

I was ready to start solving cases as a Technical Consulting Engineer! Even though I struggled to diagnose the symptoms for simple cases early on, I was met with guidance and support from our senior engineers and learned so much. Their wisdom left a profound impact on me and inspired me to not be discouraged, yet rather encouraged me to ask even more questions from high-ranking engineers and others throughout Cisco.

I was determined to look for opportunities where I could learn more about the things I do not yet know, which led me to join a fantastic Webex Team Space for our Connected Black Professionals (CBP) – one of Cisco’s many Employee Resource Organizations (ERO). Many of the magnificent women and men of CBP attended a Historically Black College University (HBCU) when obtaining their undergraduate degrees and being able to connect with a community of such an incredible caliber was comforting in such a weird, difficult time.

On August 14th, 2020 – my 21st birthday – I posed a question to the members of CBP, “What do you wish you would have known at 21?”  I never expected to receive so many priceless pieces of advice on how to not only transcend my career in technology, but also some very important things to focus on during this pivotal point in my life.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces of advice, complete with book recommendations for each:

1. Always Have A Goal!

The importance of goals and having a plan in place to achieve said goals was an important piece of advice.

The benefit of having a clear vision in what I want and how I want to get there can help in preventing unnecessary mistakes along the way. I was instructed to always remember the five P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

Keeping this saying in mind will surely be useful to me with any task or priority!

Michael leaning against wall looking at Camera.

Book Recommendation: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey

 2. Unlearn unhealthy patterns/habits!

Everyone has bad habits, but we can all take steps to unlearn them. Bad habits could lead me away from my desired path. Some of the most common bad habits in business are procrastination, blaming others, letting failure stop you from trying again, and fearing change. Bad habits are also, often, a result of one’s current system.

Unlearning these habits requires a proactive approach in acknowledging the bad habit and then knowing that I possess the freedom to change. I can get on board with that!

Book Recommendation: Atomic Habits – James Clear

 3. Value the People in Your Life Currently and Build Meaningful Relationships!

A common theme that many of the professionals from CBP mentioned was to take the time to value and acknowledge the people in my life. They told me to create more occasions to be around my family and friends as well as to network with individuals who share similar dreams and aspirations.

Furthermore, they also mentioned the importance of mentorship and how having someone more experienced can help make avoidable mistakes throughout my career.

Book Recommendation: How to Win Friends – Dale Carnegie

 4. Spend Your Time Wisely and Take Risks!

“Time is one of the things money cannot buy.” The advice given here was to proactively manage my time, especially during my early twenties.

Knowing that this is the youngest I will ever be and the oldest I have been, caused me to deeply reflect on how I wish to spend these critical times in my life.

Michael sitting in chair wearing Cisco shirt. I was given a challenge by one of my mentors – for one week to not use any form of social media. This slight change caused me to see how much free time I truly had by not mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or watching videos on YouTube. I started to read books I originally put on the back burner since starting my Cisco co-op. I also began to enter a deep focus state during my working hours and picked up the hobby of photography!

The change was profound, and even though the challenge is over, every Monday I delete my social media apps and take the day to relax and reflect.

Book Recommendation: The Defining Decade – Meg Jay

5. Save Your Money and Learn How to Invest!

How often have you heard others providing the advice to “save money and invest” – but have left it at just that never taught these very important skills?

It was recommended that I create a savings account to start making frequent deposits whenever I have the chance to. A Sales Manager in CBP told me, “Saving $20 to $25 dollars here and there may not seem like much, but it will eventually add up!”

Next up – investing! Sure, saving up for the newest iPhone or the latest kicks is cool, but will its value appreciate, or depreciate over time? While there is a time and place for everything, investment apps give us the power to purchase shares of companies at the press of a button!

Book Recommendation: Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill

I was so grateful to receive these incredible pieces of advice (and so many others!) to celebrate my 21st birthday and first year at Cisco. I cannot wait to put these to work and continue to grow.

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