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Texas is a state known for many things – extreme winter weather isn’t one of them. But there we were, with a week of weather that dipped well below our average temperatures into single digits. My mom and I sat in our car for three hours, trying to generate warmth, and put on our best Survivor impression as we watched the news of over 4 million Texans being impacted by this unprecedented winter storm.

Aaron's home - damage from the Texas Winter Storm.

Texans in all 254 counties lost power, running water, internet connection, and for many – pipes in their homes froze, then burst open, flooding much of the home. My family and I were no exception, and that was where we found ourselves. No power, running water, internet connection, and when our pipes burst the water flooded the entire first level of our home. I thought the laundry list of problems stopped there, but that week I also received the news that one of my friends from high school was in her final days battling stage 4 cancer.

Who saw all this coming? I sure didn’t.

On top of that, that same week I had mandatory training to complete for Cisco’s Leaders in Finance and Technology (LIFT) Program designed for Early in Career Financial Professionals. Without a reliable internet connection, having to move into a hotel with my family so our home could be worked on, and mounting stress – how was this even going to be possible? I’m proud to say that my team, leadership, and Cisco was there for me at every moment. This was a challenging and scary moment for my family, but many vital lessons would come out of this arduous experience.

A month later, I’m still working from our hotel room (trying to live my best Suite Life of Zack & Cody Life) and I’ve had some time to reflect on a week without power and how Cisco supported me.

1. Show up for others: I received over 50 uplifting, sincere messages from my fellow Cisco employees checking in on me that week – it was those messages that kept me going. And while I was told to take the time I needed to focus on my family, I also knew I wanted to continue to show up for my team and our LIFT training.

During the training while on my break, I received a call from my grandmother, who had no power and was running out of water. She always finds a way to smile through adversity and said these words to me, “I know you are working through the winter storm, but you have to show up and keep working the best way you can.” Thank you, Grandma. We all can put those words into practice in our professional and personal lives. Showing up is often one of the best things you can do for your family, friends, and co-workers.

2. There’s power in the silver lining: My family and I moved into a hotel following my Cisco LIFT Training so workers could get started on our house repairs. During my Webex calls at work, people see my hotel background and ask if I am on vacation. I usually smile and respond as candidly as possible about what we went through and what’s going on. Most of my co-workers have praised me for finding the silver lining and refusing to be driven by negative thoughts. Even though I am not on vacation, I’m choosing to have a good day every day and spread positivity. During my morning routine, I make sure to speak to the janitors I see up early cleaning rooms, hotel butlers helping others into their rooms, and front desk receptionists answering questions about hotel bookings and prices. Being kind and positive goes a long way – for those around you, and your well-being too.

Aaron works from hotel.

3. Progress starts with truth: As you may now know, the Texas power grid is separate from the rest of the country, meaning we can’t borrow supplemental electricity and when the grid was stressed by this winter storm it created an exponential demand for electricity forcing widespread blackouts. In result, we witnessed its limitations. It’s now projected to cost more money than any disaster in the history of the state impacting every county in Texas. As I thought of the experience, it’s a lot like our personal stressors, limitations, and the power we hold in ourselves day-to-day.

With a 148% increase in video meetings over the past year and experiencing multiple stressors in an unprecedented year – feeling the emotional and physical toil and burnout of the new world we work and live in is real. Personally, I’ve struggled to make work-life balance a priority and this led to me enrolling in Cisco’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) so that I could participate in therapy. Why? Using that metaphor, I saw a storm coming within myself and I knew that if I did not prepare for it, it would essentially ‘cut my power off’ too.

Luckily, I work for a company where I don’t have to ‘be on my own power grid.’ That’s the power of Cisco! We truly do have each other’s backs, and our leadership and teams understand our well-being is directly tied to how we show up. We are encouraged to prioritize our physical and mental health and well-being, and that speaks volumes to me.

Knowing that my team and Cisco were there for me (and continue to be) fuels me to keep going.

 

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