People tend to call me because I’m a blend of helpful and optimistic – you might say a caffeine free way to start your day.   So when the phone rang, and I was asked to be part of a well-being initiative Cisco was introducing in our EMEAR region – my Mary Poppins nature kicked in with a quick, “Yes!”  Little did I know that this yes would be life changing – for me and my family – and would test my natural optimism to its very limits.


The initiative being introduced was in collaboration with internationally renowned well-being expert, Jessie Pavelka.  What I had said yes to was sharing my experiences as I lived the “Pavelka Way” and – most importantly – completing a major challenge six months later. That challenge would be to climb the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom,  Ben Nevis, which stands 4,013 feet tall. Eek!

My starting point was that of “struggling to walk up a flight of stairs” – what possessed me to sign up to such a massive challenge?   Honestly – the fear of how tired and unfit I had become was far greater than the fear of that mountain. Just the month before I started this challenge my family had been in a car accident – thankfully no one was injured but the impact this event had on us was significant.   It was suddenly very clear how tired, unfit, and lacking in resilience I had become.  As energized as I was by my career – I had almost no energy left by the weekend and simply wasn’t able to be as present for my husband David and thirteen-year-old daughter Iona as I should have been.

Something needed to change.  The phone call felt like a life line.

How do you go from a standing start to the top of a mountain?  One step and one day at a time. Using Cisco technology to meet virtually, Jessie spent time getting to know what made me tick, what my schedule looked like, and helped me find the time and space to fit in well-being and movement  – he realized quickly that being outdoors was key  for me! And this was my path to my 15,000 daily step target, which became a joy to do!


At the same time I was putting more color on my plate, cutting out processed food, and getting more sleep.  That’s pretty much what I did for three months as I focused on getting stronger and more fit one step at a time – and the health benefits were almost immediate!

Then came the more challenging part of the process – having built up a level of fitness and making movement a part of every day, it was time to tackle my mind power.  This is where Mary Poppins felt well and truly out of her depth!  My challenge was to complete a high rope obstacle course, and I don’t mind admitting I’ve never known fear like it – ever.

Taking the first step off the platform was the toughest moment – I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it! Turns out that the fear of failure was greater, so off I zipped! Over the course of the morning I screamed, I cried, I got angry, I fell off obstacles and somewhere along the process a switch flicked in my head – and I think this is where Wonder Woman made her first brief appearance. I finished the obstacle course. Bruised, tired, and more proud of myself than I’ve ever been.  I could not believe what I had done!

Now it was time to get serious about this mountain climb – for the next three months I grew my inner Wonder Women gradually day by day.   A big part of Wonder Woman’s power, of course, is her attitude and her mind power! That’s the muscle I built up the most when I stopped talking myself out of things.  When you stop second guessing yourself a whole new world of possibility suddenly opens up.  When it came to the day of the climb I felt 100% ready.  Nervous, scared and excited.  But definitely ready.JeanKerr3

All of the elements from the Pavelka Way – food, movement, mind power, and family –helped to power me up the mountain on the 4th of September! I ate the right fuel to get energy all day. I paced myself and dug deep physically on the tougher parts of the climb. I stopped to actually notice and take in the incredible scenery on the way up, and even managed a few peaceful moments of reflection. Most importantly, I built an incredible support team around me in the lead up to and during that day. What made the experience even more meaningful was the ability to raise over $3,000 for Scottish Autism thanks to the generosity of sponsors and our Cisco Matching program.

What I thought would be an ordeal to “get through” turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life – I discovered strength in myself I did not know existed and realized that what you can achieve becomes so much greater when you are part of a team all pulling in the same direction.

My career at Cisco is all about creating the best teams and enabling people to truly play to their strengths, every single day they arrive to get to work. I’ve learned more about the power of teams and how to discover your strengths in my mountain climb than I could ever have imagined, and it’s exciting to now take what I’ve learned back into my work.

This was an incredible opportunity to have and Cisco even provides the perfect environment to #payitforward as I share my experience and insight with others who maybe want to find a little bit more energy in their days.

My main takeaway from this experience?   What you are truly capable of lies on the other side of fear – we discover strengths we don’t know we have when we push past what we’ve always done. But you don’t have to do it all on day one – start with one step at a time.

It’s also never been clearer to me that humans are not wired to succeed on their own – we just aren’t.  Building a team around you for support is vital for your learning, your success and it’s just much more fun!

When you think anything is possible – I mean truly believe it – it turns an optimist into an adventurer.  It’s where Mary Poppins becomes Wonder Woman.

Interested in joining a company that empowers you to find your strengths? We’re hiring! Apply now!


Jean Kerr

Head Leadership and Team Intelligence