The Darkest Days
Most don’t know, but in the summer of 2012 I was laid off. My photography business was failing big time. Everywhere I turned, there was a wall. I was broke — in all the ways you can imagine a person to be.
I had no money. No direction. Debt Collectors (not recruiters or hiring managers) called me the most. Only one was ever nice to me. I started to hear the voices of all the people who told me I couldn't, or wouldn't — especially without a four year college education.
In desperation, I tried to sell insurance and spent more time crying in my car than making money. A sales person I am not. I seemed to fail at everything in those days, and I couldn't shake the dark cloud over my head.
I was on the verge of 30 (when I thought I should have all my ducks in a row) and sinking fast.
Life was shattered save for family and starting this life thing with Sean. I had a death grip on them, and a mild few dreams — like, just making enough money to pay what little bills I had. To maybe someday, I dunno, pay off all that debt I had incurred just trying to live. (An overwhelming majority of which was from medical bills and my fancy two-year education at a community college -- hm, yes. We Millennials certainly have it all, don't we?)
At 30, dreams like owning a home, getting married, and maybe even starting a family weren't just put on hold. They weren't even part of my five year plan — because I didn't have the funds to even dream about them.
I landed an interview, and thought this was the moment things were going to start "looking up" — what I didn't realize was that they would snowball first.
The business owner I interviewed with was a pretentious woman. I could immediately tell she thought she was better than 99% of the planets inhabitants, fine by me. I just needed a job. I'd be responsible for doing very important tasks like answering her phones and managing her rather busy schedule — and in every moment she made me feel second class, but none so much as when she asked, "You don't even have a four year degree, why should I hire you?"
That's when my give-a-damn busted.
I realized I didn't WANT this job, not even in this - the darkest, most desperate moment of my life. I took a deep breath — and I let her know it.
Did I get the job? Absolutely-freaking-not. But, that moment was a light bulb moment — the one where I was going to prove her and everyone else who had a crap opinion about me or the way I chose to live my life wrong.
It was the moment I realized I had value. I had SOMETHING to give this world. I might not have known how to package it in that moment or where it would lead, I might not have found the person or people who saw it yet — but it sure as shit wasn't going to have me answering her phones while dying on the inside.
I was a published author, a business owner, and not to mention — I received an education no one could touch from the hospitality industry. I wasn't ivy league, no. But I was in the league of DISNEY and UNIVERSAL. I knew how to communicate with people, I was skilled in how to say "no" with a smile, and I could make people feel good about it too. And I knew those were real world experiences no school could teach me. I was a writer, a photographer, a storyteller. Those were IMPORTANT, VALUABLE skills — not to mention TALENTS. On what seemed like the 175th day of staring at my resume and poking around the internet for things I could do to pay the bills, I came across an ad for a hospitality education company in Downtown Orlando looking for a social media manager and thought, "I could do that."
Making My Own Career Because of my photography business, I had been on social media since the "early days" — before anyone (even myself) saw its true power. I loved social — I just didn't realize it was a "thing" I could do. I sent in my resume, and thought nothing more of it. A week later, I was interviewing for the position — part time to start (I could begin to pay my bills again!) — and it immediately felt like home. I left, and text Sean, "It went well - I hope they liked me, because...I really loved it there. We had coffee and donuts during the interview!" 😂 I went back for a couple more interviews, which I thought were all good signs — and as March 2013 rolled around, I started my career as a Social Media Manager. I had almost no idea what I was doing, but the wonderful thing about my team was they allowed me to learn as I went. I was allowed to fail, so that I could experiment and grow. I was encouraged to explore and try new things to find starting points, with a focus on end results.
A year later, they offered me a full time role (holy hell, guys! I could start a SAVINGS account) with a 401k (YES! TRUE ADULTHOOD!) and that summer they'd send me to my first ever conference - Social Fresh - where I'd befriend the likes of the notorious Brain Fanzo, a fellow local social warrior Tim Burrows, the incomparable Matthew Knell, and a one Carmen Collins — who sat right next to me and only upon introductions of who we were by way of our social handles did we realize we had been talking to each other for WEEKS through Twitter. Matt and I had conversations at length that week about my future — truly, he lit a fire in me that saw BIGGER things than I had even known how to dream up at the time. A year later, a DM popped up in my inbox from Carmen, "I think I have an opportunity for you, if you're interested." I sent back, "I like opportunity."
It was April 2015. I had just started to search for those "bigger, better" roles that Matt had inspired me to go after and I had even interviewed with what I believed at the time was my ultimate dream job. Carmen sent that DM the same exact week I had found out that I didn't get that dream job. Just four days before I had been shattered with one dream "ending" — and, yet. There was opportunity. A month later, I walked into my managers office on a Friday morning, a ball of nerves and gave my notice. She looked up at me with smile that said she knew this day was coming — and she was proud it had finally arrived, "Case, you did EXACTLY what you needed to do here — you learned, you grew — we were your education, and now you're going on to do AMAZING things!" It was like graduation, and while walking out of that office for the last time a few weeks later wasn't easy — my friends there made it easier in that they celebrated me in this moment.
I had found — no, MADE — a career for myself. Make no mistake, I knew almost NOTHING about Cisco. I didn't even realize the PHONES we had in my current office WERE CISCO PHONES until the moment I told a friend that I'd be leaving and about my new role.
She was excited, "Oh! Sysco — the food company?" "No, no. Cisco. The tech company — out of Silicon Valley." "The Cisco on our phones?!"
I looked down at her phone and saw the familiar logo, my eyes widening, "YES! That Cisco!"
Hey, you have to start somewhere...and I'd soon be drinking from the fire hose. 😉
Four Years Gone By
Looking back on the past seven years is often not easy, especially in those early days of 2012-2013 where things were simply dark and ugly. But, they're a crucial part of my story because they led me to here and now. Cisco was NEVER on my radar. As someone who was determined to live and work in Orlando, I was looking for jobs based in Central Florida. I knew people had positions that enabled them to work remotely, I just thought you had to sell your soul to find them. Now, four years later, I still pinch myself on a near daily basis that what I threw out into the universe came back tenfold.
Being a part of Cisco's Talent Brand team is the pinnacle of my career. I thought, for sure, I'd be that "true millennial" that would "job hop" every few years looking for the next career move — but the great thing about Cisco is that you can have all those career moves here! And, I'm proof of that too. My first 3.5 years at Cisco were as a Social Media Manager, where we worked to build the @WeAreCisco social channels and raise awareness about what an amazingly COOL place Cisco is to work. Our team had an incredible amount of success those first few years, and I was able to add "award-winning" social media manager and "speaker" to my resume.
Every day is always unique and different at Cisco, and you've heard me go on-and-on about our amazing flexibility, work-life integration, and opportunities to give back to organizations we're passionate about. (Cisco alone has helped me to raise close to $20k for the St. Baldrick's Foundation in just the past few years!) I often tell people I feel like I robbed the Bank of Benefits when I accepted the offer to work at Cisco. The company just CARES about it's people, and making US better so that WE can make the WORLD a better place to live.
These past 3+ years I loved being the human behind our @WeAreCisco Instagram account from day one, and growing that baby to 30k highly engaged followers. It was the moment where all my talents and skills came "full circle" as a writer, photographer, and social media manager and I will forever be grateful for that opportunity.
But, earlier this year, it was time to "graduate" once again and hand off that baby to a new (amazing) team mate who would be taking on our social channels, as I moved on to becoming the team copywriter, content editor, and provider of pixie dust. (I added that last part myself, but the team all agrees it's totally part of my new role) 😂
People sort of freaked when I "left" social — a moment Carmen and I were both fairly prepared for — but, here's the thing: writing was actually my first love all along. And while most knew me as the "Instagram Girl" — what most were missing was that for the past couple of years I had also been the managing editor of the Life at Cisco blog where I get to help our amazing employees craft and share their stories with the world. It's been incredible to have the opportunity to now grow into a role dedicated to writing and editing at Cisco — to continue helping our employees share their stories on Life at Cisco — and all while remaining on the same INCREDIBLE team to boot as we take on a new chapter in Talent Brand. The past four years have been a WILD ride — and I'm excited to see where the future takes our team. It took a messy road to get here, and I think sometimes people forget all the bumps, bruises, and wrecks along the way — I'm forever grateful though, and am happy to say that because of Cisco I've been able to start dreaming again. Follow @WeAreCisco: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Life at Cisco Blog