Goals, we all have them. But what if, after achieving you your goals, your dreams change? And how do you even reach a goal to begin with? For me, it took a lot of hard work, dedication, and persistence. But it is exactly those things that led me to becoming a Project Specialist at Cisco for our Customer Experience (CX) team.

Kirkland McKenzie on the field playing football.

At a young age, I was built up with so much resentment. I felt like two different people – “Kirk” or “Jr” at home was respectful, quiet, and caring. Then there was “Kirkland” – the disrespectful, mean, overly aggressive (but intelligent) kid. Although my parents were separated, they did the best they could in raising me. The things I did growing up were not a result of what was going on at home but more so a lost soul trying to figure out who he wanted to become.

I started playing football in the fifth grade – and my life changed. At the time, I lived with my dad – who had previously played football and introduced me to the game. I knew it was a way to honor him, and my first season playing – I fell in love. I finally found something that helped release my built-up anger and express myself.

Unfortunately, when I returned to Durham, N.C. to live with my mom, the bad decisions and wrong influences all came back with me. Over the next two years, I lost track of how many times I was suspended or in detention. I found joy in hanging around the wrong individuals and doing things with no good intentions. I knew these actions weren’t me, but everyone else thought it was cool. Quite frankly, I was selfish.

It wouldn’t be until the seventh grade, where I would begin to learn my lesson when – for the thousandth time – my mother was called to the school after I had been suspended. The look on her face changed me forever and knowing that I had hurt her so deeply is what hurt me the most.

On the days I stayed home, I noticed the hours of hard work my mother was putting in to provide for our family – often working from 9AM to midnight. I would always try to wait up for her, and then fake being asleep as she’d come in to check on me so as not to get into trouble and sometimes, I would hear her cry.

I knew she was tired, and that rarely – if ever – did she get a moment for herself. I also knew money was tight, but she made every day the best she could for us kids. Seeing this brought tears to my eyes, and I knew I had to change myself, my actions, and my perspective – so that I could change the path of my future.

This realization brought me back to football. I knew furthering my education meant the world to my mom, and I thought football might help me to get a scholarship and pay for college. So, at 12-years-old my first goal was made – football was going to be my way out.

As I entered high school, I became the best student I could be – no more trouble or bad decision – I even gained 40 pounds going into my sophomore year! I was determined to do whatever it took to get a scholarship, and as my seasons progressed, I gained more recognition and awards than I expected. The notary was great, but there was one thing missing – a scholarship.

At the end of my junior year, I had spoken to hundreds of coaches, received plenty of letters and invites – but still no scholarship money. With one year left to achieve my goal, I wasn’t about to give up. My senior year was unlike any other, but when the season ended, I felt I had nothing to show for it.

Then, on December 7, 2016 – the phone rang, and my life changed again. It was Fayetteville State University. I finally had my scholarship! My mom and I both cried that day, realizing I had finally achieved my goal.

I played football for my dad, but I went to school for my mom. And it felt so good to be able to give her this gift.

During my freshman year of college, I had a lot of playing time but felt lost again. The goal I had set four years prior of playing football at a higher level was accomplished – now what? What was my next dream?

After an injury ended my season, I knew I needed a life beyond football. My football mentor at the time worked at Cisco – I had never heard of the company before, but he made it seem like a dream company to work for. I wanted in on that dream, too.

Kirkland accepting his diploma at graduation.After football season ended, I left Fayetteville State University and transferred to the illustrious North Carolina A&T State University. There was no more football. I had bigger dreams.

Over the next four years, I applied to Cisco over 15 times for different positions and was turned down every time. I certainly had my doubts that perhaps this wasn’t the company for me, that maybe Cisco was just too far outside my reach. But during my senior year of college, I thought I’d apply just one last time – and I made it to Cisco Day but folded under the pressure.

I was trying so hard to be what I thought Cisco wanted me to be – that I failed to realize what Cisco wanted was me.

January 2021, I received an email inviting me to apply for another role at Cisco. I said to myself, “I know this isn’t going to work, but let me try this one last time.”

This time, I committed to being my authentic self, knowing that if they could not accept that – then this just wasn’t the company for me. I made it to Cisco Day again, and when I saw the date, I panicked a bit as I was going to be traveling on that day! But I made it work, and at the end of the day, I knew I had given it my all and showed up as the one and only Kirkland.

On March 19, 2021, my mother’s birthday, I received the email I had been waiting for – Congratulations, you are now a Cisconian!

At that moment, another goal was achieved. It took me four years to achieve my goal of landing a football scholarship, and it took me four years to achieve my goal in becoming a Cisconian. I knew right then and there that, no matter what you are doing in life, no matter how long it takes you – you can achieve whatever it is you put your mind to! And, yes, it is okay for your goals and dreams to change – because that is how you wind up exactly where the world needs you most.


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