It’s so easy to look at other people whether in person at an event, or on social media, and think they’ve got it all worked out and that their lives are so much better than yours. Maybe even to want what they have. Judgement and assumptions come easy. It’s easy to make them and it’s easy to be triggered by them.
When I look at what I’ve achieved over the years, I see good and bad times. Times where I’ve succeeded against all odds and failed even though the odds were stacked in my favour. I’ve won and judged many awards, accomplished some inspiring work, met some incredible people, travelled to some magnificent places and have had some truly wonderful things said about me. And as a result, I’ve been both humbled and encouraged to continue with my mission – to make women standard in cybersecurity not exception. I’ve also witnessed meanness and spitefulness plus heard untruths being said about me, which I’ve found hurtful especially when I’ve been kind to those people and helped them build their careers in the industry. I’ve used many tactics to deal with these things, and more recently even considered suing for slander.
Knowing what I know now, I feel lucky to be able to make these decisions more freely than I could a decade or two ago. To be able to step away from my work and get some perspective. But it’s not always been like that for me.
Let me take you back to a time just after the birth of my third child. I’d enrolled on a Managing Director’s program, believing I’d become a better leader for doing so. I did, and received so many other wonderful gifts, for example longstanding friendships. However, at the first meeting, I looked around the room, heard from my peers and made assumptions. I walked in full of self-pity for I was physically exhausted, still breastfeeding, and my brain felt stewed. I thought all their lives were better than mine. That they had it so much easier than I did, and I asked myself, what was I doing there? Who was I kidding? How could I be able to keep up with everyone? How could I contribute?
But I had it all wrong.
During challenging times, it’s easy to feel more, isn’t it? Often, it’s a case of overwhelm, helplessness, despair, unworthiness, regret, self-loathing, insecurity, bullying, blame, shame and so on. Additionally, to think that these hard times will go on forever. Please understand they won’t. As corny as the phrase is, life is a journey, we are all evolving and whatever happens, the world will still turn tomorrow.
Every moment and every feeling is just an invitation for you to deepen your understanding of yourself and rise to the highest version of yourself. You can’t control events. You can only control how you respond to them. So, whether you’re going through bad or good times, know that those times are transient. They pass quickly.
The Parable from King Solomon explains this well and it’s a favourite of mine. That’s why I’m sharing it with you.
There was a king, and he once said to the court sages,
“I have a ring with one of the finest diamonds in the world and I want to hide a message under the stone that can be useful in a situation of extreme despair. I will give this ring to my heirs, and I want it to serve them faithfully. Think of what kind of message will be there. It must be very short to fit in the ring.”
The sages knew how to write treatises but did not express themselves in short sentences. They thought and thought but did not come up with anything. The king complained about the failure of his venture to the faithful old servant who had raised him from infancy and was a part of the family. And the old man said to him,
“I’m not a sage, I’m not educated, but I know such a message. For the many years I spent in the palace, I met a lot of people. And once I served a visiting mystic whom your father invited, and he gave me this message. I ask that you don’t read it now. Save it under the stone and open it only when there’s no way out at all.”
The king listened to the old servant. After some time, his enemies attacked the country, and the king lost the war. He fled on his horse and his enemies pursued him. He was alone; his enemies were many. He rode to the end of the road. There was a huge deep cliff before him; if he fell there, it would be the end. He could not go back, as the enemies were approaching; he could already hear the clatter of their horses’ hooves. He had no way out. He was in complete despair, and then he remembered the ring. He opened it and found this inscription,
“This too shall pass.”
After reading the message, he felt that everything went quiet. The pursuers got lost and went in the wrong direction. The king was filled with gratitude to the servant and the unknown mystic. The words were powerful. He closed the ring and set back out on the road where he gathered his army and returned to his kingdom. On the day he returned to the palace, they arranged a magnificent feast for the whole world – the people loved their king. The king was happy and proud. The old servant came up to him and said softly,
“Even in this moment, look at the message again.”
The king said,
“Now I am a winner; people are celebrating my return, I’m not in despair, not in a hopeless situation.”
The servant answered,
“Listen to this old servant. The message works not only in moments when everything is bad but also in moments of victory.”
The king opened the ring and read,
“This too shall pass.”
And again, he felt a silence fall over him, although he was in the midst of a noisy dancing crowd. His pride dissolved, and he understood the message.
The old man said to the king,
“Do you remember everything that happened to you? Nothing and no feeling is permanent. As night changes day, so moments of joy and despair replace each other. Accept them as the nature of things, as part of life.”
Use this story and remember that no one is perfect. We are all just human; passing through life, trying to do the best we can. Understand that you own your times of challenge and good fortune. They were all and will always be, transient. The hardships will pass.
Know it’s OK to retreat. To get some space to re-energise and heal. You’re not a failure or weak when you do this. Know that you can change your patterns of behaviour and without judgement. This might take some time because you’re learning a new way of being and you’ll trip up every now and again. Know too that you will survive difficulties, that you will be changed by them and that you will have to forgive yourself and maybe others in the process. However, know that you’ll be stronger, healthier and wiser as a result.
Understand your needs, too. It’s easy to think you know yourself and understand what these are, but most of the time few people do. Without this knowledge, your boundaries won’t be clear and all that will mean is that you’ll find yourself upset with people who will unknowingly be breaching them. Or you’ll be doing work that’s not aligned with what you really want. Work that drains you, triggers bad habits, weakens your leadership.
If your hurt turns to anger along the way, accept this. It’s OK to release your rage if someone or something has violated your boundaries, threatened your safety, or the existence you’ve carefully cultivated for yourself. So often, we’re told not to get angry, but if you don’t release this it will just fester in your body and make you ill.
Anger serves a purpose and righteous anger can be channelled to solve problems mindfully. Just look what I’ve done with the IN Security Code of Conduct, which has been keeping more people safe (especially women) at cybersecurity events since 2019. I was angry at women being exploited or harassed but this is how I channelled it. More than 100 events are using the code globally and even the larger cybersecurity events, like Infosec Europe, AISA and Black Hat reviewed it so they could improve their own.
Anger also lets others know you will not tolerate, which is important because you get what you tolerate. However, you’ve got to pick your battles. There will always be times when you have to let some things go and not give them your energy and attention. There is power and strength in silence and stillness.
Stay open minded more. This was a call to action I gave at (ISC)2 Congress when I keynoted. There were many heated discussions, outbursts and misunderstandings with discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion. Please try to see things from other people’s perspectives. Bring a sense of curiosity to all you encounter – a beginner’s mind and growth mindset. You’re so much more interesting that way and this always results in a good discussion even if you end up agreeing to disagree.
If you’re not sure how to do this, because cybersecurity has a unique culture of both attack and protection, or if you want to better communicate and lead, look to the ‘OK Corral’ model. I first came across it in my early twenties when a relationship broke down and then was reminded of it a few years ago when I certified as a coach. It’s incorporated into one the leadership training programs I offer.
Based on Transactional Analysis by Eric Berne, the ‘OK Corral’ model proposes that situations, moods and behaviours, trigger one of four reactions. The model establishes that when faced with these conditions, we have a choice in the way we see and perceive ourselves and in the way in which we perceive and react toward others. It has four ‘OK Corral’ reactions.
I’m OK, You’re Not OK: In this situation, a person appears self-assured or smug. In reality there usually far from this and are battling their own insecurities. But with an attitude of self-importance and no care for anyone other than themselves, they’ll typically develop unhealthy competitiveness with others and will often look for opportunities to put someone else down or highlight someone else’s mistakes.
I’m not OK, You’re OK: In this situation, a person may feel inadequate or powerless in their role. This is when you’ll see someone withdraw and maybe even undermine their own abilities to do a job.
I’m not OK, You’re not OK: This is the worst situation to be in. It’s where you’ll find disrespect, attacks and negative dialogues. You might also see an element of stubbornness if you’re leading someone and have asked him/ her to complete something for you.
I’m OK, You’re OK: This is the situation you want. Here, you allow room for optimism and collaboration. It conveys mutual respect and allows for both parties to find a constructive approach to issues. When you use this approach, you’ll come across as more self-confident in your own abilities and if you’re leading, you’ll create a good team environment where team members will be less likely to self-criticise or critique their peers.
As for your wins, give thanks for these blessings. Own them. Acknowledge and celebrate them. Take pride in them. Give yourself a pat on the back or a high five. It’s all too easy not to and to move on to the next task on the to-do list. And never worry about someone accusing you of showing off or bragging when you share. The energy is very different. People feel it.
Finally, I hope you take power and freedom from this. Pay the insight forward! People are watching all the time and most likely copying your leadership.
Now I want to hear from you…
- Tell me, how do you deal with the good times and bad times in cyber? What top tips do you have for us? Please share them so others benefit.
PS. Image by Pexels, Anna Shvets
PPS. If you want to understand what your needs are plus learn, connect and excel more, get on the waitlist for The Source. It’s my brand new platform for women in cybersecurity.