Avoiding Burnout: Let's Talk about Self-Care
By Eric Thomas
Quick disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Don’t take medical advice from a tech guy on the Internet.
A day in the life of a cybersecurity professional is packed with meetings, triaging alerts, training, monitoring threat intel feeds, and explaining to coworkers why clicking on random links is a bad idea. Sometimes, this all happens before noon! Beyond the occasional and abundantly rewarding feeling of saying “nah fam” to an executive who insists that he should be allowed to visit some suspect fantasy site his buddy told him about, the days can be stressful, frustrating, and time-consuming. Cybersecurity teams have significant responsibility and in the words of Uncle Ben (R.I.P.):
With great power, comes great responsibility
Thanks, Unc! But you kind of left us hanging. I’ve revised Uncle Ben’s famous quote to include a more complete message for young Peter Parker and for Cybersecurity Pros.
With great power, comes great responsibility, stress, anxiety, and if you’re not careful, burnout and poor performance.
For many of us, the latter is all too common. I’ve personally given everything I had for months without recharging until I hit rock bottom. My performance suffered, and I grew distant from my co-workers. As a result, I had to engage in an uncomfortable conversation with my boss, followed by some exhausting damage control. That said, it’s time for us to have “The Talk” (not that talk). It’s time for us to talk about self-care and mental health.
Before you give me the Internet version of side-eye, hear me out. As an industry and culture, we consistently perpetuate growth. This is a good thing. Technology is ever-changing and threat actors are always learning new techniques. We are always “working.” Maybe you’re not at your office, but you’re likely studying a cert guide, watching a course on Cover6 Solutions, attending a virtual conference, reading a threat feed, learning Python (everyone is learning Python), practicing on TryHackMe or Boss of the SOC, etc. If you’re like me, even your podcast lineup is predominantly cyber-oriented.
Spoiler alert: My post next week is my top 5 podcasts.
The one thing you may be ignoring is your mental health and self-care. I’m not talking about work/life balance because what is that even? I’m talking about taking time to do something completely unrelated to technology. If you’re thinking to yourself, “all my hobbies are related to tech.” you may be on the path to content overload. The following statement will be considered blasphemous to Cyber Puritans. To them I say…I said what I said.
Take a Vacation. (Actual Doctors you should listen to) A real one. Don’t take your laptop, don’t take your work phone. Don’t check Twitter or Feedly. Don’t schedule a conference, exam, boot camp, etc. Step away completely. It’s important for us to authentically and genuinely take time to recharge our minds. As a bonus, it makes you better at your job. Take one day a week to do nothing. Seriously, read a book! I’m sure there’s a great list of non-techie tech books somewhere on the Internet. Binge-watch a show or have a themed movie night (My go-to is heist movies). My point is that stepping away from actively working and even passively skilling up can be a great way to get better at both and avoid become worse at either. If you’re still reading this, you may be looking for that “but”. There are no “buts.” Taking time off makes you better and we should be doing more of it. Decision-makers are responsible for entire business units and the livelihood of the people who protect the kingdom. The need to put some distance between you and work becomes even more significant as you ascend the org chart. (ISACA with the assist.)
Our culture increasingly glorifies the hustle and no-sleep mentality. As cool as that sounds, it leads to burnout, inefficiency, less productivity, and ultimately mistakes that could cost companies millions. Do yourself a favor and take a step away from the keyboard, connect with friends and family, and relax. Stay safe and Take care of yourself. Happy Hunting!
- 55 percent of Americans did not use all their vacation days.
- Even when they actually do take a vacation, 41 percent are checking into work while away (i.e., they are not fully unplugging).
- 84 percent of U.S. executives have canceled vacations in order to work
- Vacation not only makes us feel more energetic and less stressed it also leads to a strong and immediate impact on the physiological networks in our bodies that are associated with stress and immune function.
- Disengaging from work when you are not at work makes you more resilient in the face of stress and more productive and engaged at work. Even a short weekend getaway can provide significant work-stress recovery, while longer trips away provide even more relief
About the Author Eric Thomas (alias blueteamthomas) is a security analyst, threat hunter, instructor, and mentor with more than 15 years of experience in IT networking and InfoSec. Connect with Eric: @blueteamthomas on Twitter, IG, and Clubhouse