Embrace your struggles. Many people go through adversities, some more than others. However, those same struggles, challenges, and experiences make you who you are.
Who am I? I’m Cristopher Lincona Diaz, a first-generation American, the first in my family to graduate from college, and a CX US Commercial Project Specialist at one of the world’s top companies. But how did I end up here in the first place?
With corrupt government, violence, and gangs plaguing Central America, my parents came to the United States from Honduras and El Salvador in the early 90s to pursue the American Dream.
Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the common struggles of immigrant Latino families: financial instability, language barriers, and immigration issues, but I never once saw my parents complain. They played the cards they were dealt, and that was something I always admired about them. No matter the situation, they were optimistic, resilient, and able to push through situations when the odds were stacked against them. Through their struggles, they instilled in me those same qualities and work ethic.
For a period when I was young, we were separated from our father. It was hard on all of us with my mom alone with just the kids. Being the oldest of six, I was sometimes my siblings’ role model. Here I was, a young child, feeling helpless because I could only do so much. I had it ingrained in my mind that I would change our situation. That I would be the one to change my family’s trajectory. My first goal was to go to college.
From a young age, I put those qualities my parents instilled in me to work. I made sure that I excelled in school. I eventually ended up at one of the best universities in North Carolina, not only that, but with a full scholarship.
For once, I thought I would have stability in my life, but I was wrong. That first year in university was the worst in my educational journey. I commuted to save money on housing and to be around my parents, as they still relied on me heavily. Since I was the first person in my family to go to college, I had no one to go to for advice, and we weren’t surrounded by college-educated people. Nonetheless, I kept my head high and did my best to survive. But, I was fighting between two worlds: one at home and the other in my educational journey. In one world, I played an influential role at home. In the other, I was battling to finish my education.
I ended up being on academic probation my first year of college and on the brink of having my scholarship taken away. It got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to drop out.
I went to my counselor to tell her. We bickered back and forth, and I stood there as she tried to convince me to stay. According to her, I was potentially throwing away an amazing opportunity many don’t get. She advised me to go to my college’s director before I made my final decision.
I met with him, and something about that conversation changed my view of college and how my life was going.
So, as I looked for ways to get more involved on campus, I joined TRiO, a Student Services Program helping first-generation and low-income students navigate college. TRiO was cohosting an event called Cisco Day, where students would have the opportunity to tour the Cisco campus and network with employees. I had honestly never heard of Cisco, but I wanted to improve my professionalism, so I decided to sign up.
During this time, I had long hair and would wear earrings, but I wanted to make sure I looked presentable, so I cut my hair, took my earrings off, and put on my best—and only—suit. I came to the event nervous but ready. When we arrived on campus, I saw how beautiful it was and thought to myself, “I can really see myself working here already.”
To my surprise, when we entered the building and were greeted by the Cisco employees, we were the only ones in professional business attire. Everyone at Cisco was casually dressed, and I was shocked! Then, I was greeted by a software engineer who had long dreadlocks and wore earrings. I asked him if Cisco was okay with that. He told me Cisco didn’t care how you dressed or spoke—you could bring your whole self to work.
We continued touring the campus, where I met tons of awesome people. At the end of the event, a speaker closed out the day. She said something that really resonated with me, “Cisco wants you to bring your truest self to work!”
As a minority and first-generation college student, this made me happy. I felt like, for once, if I could work at Cisco, I wouldn’t have to fight between two worlds anymore or be a different Cris. I could just be me.
After that day, I was determined to work at Cisco.
From my sophomore to my senior year of college, I was rejected from every role I applied to at Cisco … except one. I came to the interview fully as myself with my clean haircut, earrings, and love for my culture. Funny enough, the same team I spoke with during my sophomore year at the Cisco Day/TRiO event is the same team I was hired on and work on today. Full circle, huh?
My life has been an uphill battle, but without my parents and the example they set for me, I would not have conquered all my struggles. I embraced them and didn’t let them stop me from accomplishing my goals or losing myself in the process.
I want to leave you all with something I recite to myself whenever things get tough.
“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.”
For anyone at a difficult point in your life, I’m rooting for you. Embrace those struggles because they make you who you are.
Be you, with us. Explore opportunities now.