I’ve been seeing quite a few articles/posts about burnout in infosec/cybersecurity lately. It seems to be a common issue with most work roles. I’ve been burnt out before. Coming out of an especially hectic season of life, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about continuing to make progress professionally when things are going off the rails.
One characteristic of many jobs is that it will expand to fill the space you allow. Have a desire to work 24×7 – it’s likely that you can find “work” things to fill that time. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want to do. But in different stages in life you will have different amounts of time to devote to work-related stuff outside of work hours. There is a lot of pressure in many careers to never or rarely disconnect. InfoSec can certainly lean this way. There is so much to learn/do that just skill development can eat up all of your time. Plus you have to keep up with current events (actual news about breaches, things being exploited in the wild, trends, etc.). It can seem like if you aren’t doing infosec every waking hour, you are slacking. In many ways, this is very similar to academia. If you don’t eat/sleep/breathe your discipline and put in 80+ hour weeks, you obviously don’t have enough passion about your field to succeed as a professor at a major research institution. If you’re willing to go to a more teaching focused institution, maybe 60 hours is acceptable. I’m not saying that’s what most people do or that’s the only way to do academia, but there is a definite pressure to make work your life. InfoSec has a tendency to skew the same way. With the added “fun” of a perception that if you haven’t been hacking since you were in diapers, you obviously don’t know anything. I’ll admit to rolling my eyes a bit when things talking about how to break into infosec essentially equate to go back in time and start when you were in elementary. But I digress, the point here is talking about some ways to continue making progress professionally when everything is a hot mess/dumpster fire/insert analogy of choice.
Professional Development/Continuing Ed
Bottom line, the dedicated professional development and continuing ed may have to take a backseat. You only have so much intellectual capital in a day, and when that’s getting exhausted dealing with the kerfuffle of life, intense professional development might not be the best idea. But you don’t want to do nothing, so what do you do? Is it wrong to say Twitter? Would LinkedIn be more acceptable? I’ll use both to keep up with what’s going on when things get crazy. Because curated with a specific purpose in mind, social media can be both mind numbing and informational. With the added bonus of (potentially) helping your professional network grow and career development. But I’m also quick to set those aside when I feel like they are detracting.
You may have already committed to something before stuff got hectic. You’ve got to know yourself in this situation. Is it better to postpone because continuing will stress you out? Or is it better to keep going because it will give you something to focus on? I’m a both/and kind of person, so I usually end up doing some combination of pushing deadlines back and keep working.
I think you’ve also got to talk to your people about what you have to continue to get done during whatever major life event is happening. If you aren’t on the same page, disappearing to work on your cert or class or whatever might not be received well.
But how do you actually get stuff done? I’ve found planning to be critical. Preferably planning to do what you need to do in 5-10 minute chunks. Because that may be all the time or energy that you have. But that’s long enough to read an article or tutorial, watch a video on Cybrary or YouTube, get through several paragraphs in a book, etc. I’ve found eBooks especially helpful here because they are always with me and my progress syncs between devices. I still prefer real books in some situations, but I can’t deny the utility of the electronic variety. Podcasts can also be helpful, but I’ve found they don’t work as well for me in those small chunks.
I guess it comes down to do what you can but recognize that this might not be the right season to do much. I missed my book club all summer because getting the reading done and clearing the time for the call just weren’t happening. It sucks and I’m frustrated at having missed because the book (Attacking Network Protocols) was one I really wanted to do, but priorities. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do everything I would normally do, and that was the item that made the most sense to set aside for a time. I’ve been burnt out before and know that it’s better to put a few things down for a season and come back to them. Because when you try to keep everything going, you can dig yourself a hole that takes much longer to recover from than taking the L up front (and yes, I know it’s not really a loss, but it feels that way).
There are so many other things that can go into staying functional when life is having a tantrum. You’ve really got to figure out what you need to stay within your bounds of acceptability. It’s okay to set things aside for a bit. But knowing what is essential to keep moving in the direction you want to go in is critical. Yes, we all want to be living our best life, but I think it’s completely okay to sometimes just be living my best life that I can achieve at the moment.