Cybersecurity professional drank all the coffee and now has an empty cup

Why You Need to Invest in Yourself (And Not Feel Bad About It)

You can't pour out and serve others from an empty cup.

Robert Wood

There is definitely a hustle culture in cybersecurity. At the same time we talk a lot about burnout in our field. This is against a backdrop of growing stressors, evolving tech, creative adversaries, and loads of unfilled jobs.

I’ve fallen victim to this hustle culture a number of times throughout my career. In some ways its’ benefitted me tremendously. Early in my career for example it allowed me the opportunity to get exposure to a lot of things. To learn a lot from a lot of people. To get hands on. To try things, struggle at them, persevere, and ultimately grow.

It can be a slippery slope though. When everything is about work you become like atlas holding that stone. It’s never enough and you will eventually run into a wall.

Investing in yourself is a good thing. That investment can come in a number of forms:

  • Regular exercise or dialing in your nutrition
  • Taking up hobbies that aren’t related in any way to your day job
  • Setting clear boundaries around the time you’re going to be working or not working and sticking to them
  • Reading or learning skills based on your own interests and not directly related to the job you have now
  • Getting outside more, even during the workday taking walking meetings or working from cafes with outdoor seating

These sorts of things shouldn’t be shamed, they should be celebrated. Anybody coming into work who is feeling refreshed and mentally clear will be able to perform better.

Get up and move

I mentioned walking above because it’s one of those things that is so simple yet so powerful. There are plenty of studies out there that positively correlate brain activity and certain expressions of the brain, such as creativity with walking (this is one such example. This Stanford study is only one example of many.

Brain scans conducted before and after very simple physical activity also reinforce this.

Brain scan images after sitting quietly for 20 minutes and after 20 minutes of walking

The above image was taken from research scans conducted by Dr. Chuck Hillman from the University of Illinois.

The unfortunate thing about this very thing is many (thankfully not all) organizational cultures still shame people for taking meetings while walking. The expectation is that even in this remote world, we are glued in front of our computer screens. Cameras must be on and we must be in our chair with a professional background to prove that we’re present and engaged.

I’m going to advocate for leaders and managers championing the exact opposite. Encourage your teams to get up and move regularly. In fact, do it yourself too.

Investing in learning

Regardless of the topic, learning new things gets your brain engaged. As your brain works it reinforces a process called neuroplasticity.

Think about it like exercise for your brain.

You can do this in a number of ways such as engaging in new experiences, reading a book, watching or listening to something educational. The point is to get learning. As you’re doing so, it could be helpful to think about the possible transferability of certain things to your day job. Or you can simply keep that learning to yourself and let it fill your cup.

For example, I read a lot. A lot of what I read isn’t related to work at all. But I am a better dad, husband, friend, and I believe, professional because of it. I read books on theology, sociology, history, psychology, and then occasionally some business or tech books. I find these things fascinating and if nothing else I’m more prepared for dinner party conversation.

Do it without shame

You shouldn’t feel bad about investing in yourself or refilling your cup. If you continue to empty yourself out you’ll eventually be running on empty. When you hit that point, it’s not healthy or good for anyone. Especially you.

If a work culture is shaming you for investing in yourself that might be a sign that you’re in a toxic culture. Proceed carefully and mindfully.

Your life is not work. You have 168 hours in each week. Try to make sure you’re spending them in the right way. Right will mean something unique to each and every person reading this. But it should align to your priorities and values.