At 15, I was diagnosed with depression. I always felt it should be something I hide away and never bring up at a job interview or on an application form. I always thought it is something to be ashamed of – that my gaps in employment should have solid explanations – and that my reasons for dropping out of my first year at University (“I didn’t like the course” or “I wanted to travel”) were weak.
With Cisco this was not the case. With Cisco I was honest from the start. With Cisco I knew that I did not want to be part of a problem. I did not want to aid the stigma against mental health by never speaking about it. I wanted to be honest. Yes, I have depression. Yes, it has affected me. Yes, it continues to affect me, but not always in negative ways.
Cisco accepted that, loved the honesty, and did not see it as a blemish of who I am, or the skill set I provide. They saw how much I had learned about compassion and empathy and looking at what is beyond the outward persona portrayed by an individual. They saw how I had learned to be brave, to put myself first when needed and, most of all, how not to treat others.
Cisco welcomed me with open arms for the person I am, not despite of my mental health nor because of my mental health.
Cisco also recognised the enthusiasm and the determination I have. Being honest is not always easy. Talking about mental health was never my strong suit and counselling for me was an hour of silence. However, my work at Cisco has shown me the positivity it brings too. I see how I can help so many and how so many are going through similar issues but do not talk about them.
Talking is the hardest thing, but it brings us together.
I started my Cisco journey on July 27th, 2020. A common question when meeting anyone within Cisco is ‘Why Cisco’? For me the answer is simple, why not? Amongst so many incredible benefits, one thing Cisco is shining a light on is the importance of our mental health.
In my time with the company, there have been check-ins with mental health professionals, and special guests that come to speak on this topic as well. There have also been a few ‘A Day for Me’ events – random days that Cisco leadership provides to the entire company where we collectively take a pause to relax, reflect, and recharge. Taking PTO is great, having a day where you know you won’t miss an email or ping is greater.
Being a degree apprentice is hard. Worth it, but hard. As we started in 2020, even a year into our three-year program, I have yet to see a Cisco office, desk, or colleague in person. My collaboration has looked very different. Unable to huddle in a conference room or around a white board, we’ve taken to Webex – where we’re able to hold similar meetings, collaboration efforts, and even fit in a friendly catch up or two to check in on one another so people don’t feel so alone.
With my experience, I make sure to offer to help as best I can. Whether that is an honest conversation, a moment to rant about something small, or even just a call with the cameras off and in silence. There is power in silence and simply being there for one another. And I’ve found this not only helps my co-worker, but it winds up helping me, too.
Over these three years, we must complete a Digital Technology and Solutions Degree, rotate into different teams, and prove ourselves each time – hoping to stand out. Our FY21 cohort, the ‘Cisco 60’, is the biggest yet. Having thousands of applicants every year, it’s an achievement even to get into the course. I have found reminding myself and my apprentice colleagues of how far we have come to even get into the program and into Cisco is so important.
As we started our journey we were told to think about out personal brand – what do we want to be known for? For me, I want people to say, “Oh yeah, I worked with Charlotte, she really understood me. She listened, she embraced my individuality, and she came up with a solution that just made sense.”
I want mental health to be a priority, not only for Cisco, but for everyone. I know my journey has only just started and I will make mistakes, but I also know I will learn and grow from those mistakes. That is who I am, and what I want my personal brand to be.
And it all makes me want to be a Cisconian. Cisco is the place I want to stay and thrive!
I know mental health is a long and hard inner war. I also know there will be and have been many battles, some I will win and some I will lose. In those instances, I will try and pick myself up. The question then, for me, is where can I do this? Where will I have the support and structure to work not only on my career but on myself? That answer is Cisco!
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