Part 3 of this 3-part series. Listen to part 2 right here!
W Risk Group founder Karen Worstell chats with ITSPmagazine’s Selena Templeton about the stresses, frustrations and victories along her journey as she got into, dropped out of, and then returned to an InfoSec life – part 3.
In part 2 of this 3-part interview, Karen shared how, as she got into leadership roles such as CISO at AT&T Wireless and Microsoft, the stress just kept mounting and she just kept working harder because she was afraid of being declared unfit for the job. And then one day a voice in her head woke her up and said that she was a fake and a fraud. Unsurprisingly, she was afraid that she had actually lost her mind and sought help. And that was when she realized that she couldn't make herself do InfoSec anymore.
"Being in InfoSec is a little like standing on the beach and looking out at the water and going ‘yup, that’s a tsunami’ – and knowing that you’re going to be right there when it comes and pounds you into the sand. But you know what? We don’t have to stand and be pounded into the sand. We can actually surf that wave."
In this 3rd and final episode of Karen’s story, having dropped out of InfoSec, she asked herself what she wanted to do. The answer came to her via a note she had written in 1997 that fell out of her daytimer – she wanted to serve people who were grieving. Through a series of “coincidences,” she got her Masters in Theology, finished 2,000 hours of supervised clinical training, and became a Chaplain.
One of the biggest things she saw while doing this work was that some of the people who were hurting the most were the professionals who were there to help others. She learned about something called moral distress, which is where it’s necessary to take action that may go counter to your own personal values, and she realized that the people whom she had worked with for all those years in cybersecurity (including herself) were experiencing the same thing.
"We need to change the conversation about how the workplace gets managed so that this kind of accumulated moral distress and harm does not take place. When the workplace is dysfunctional but it’s a great job for you, your choices are: stay or leave. And if you choose to stay, how do you stay and not sacrifice yourself? How do you maneuver the life-work balance?"
As she says, sometimes what seems like going off the path is actually a divine plan to get you more tools to come back to where you were but with greater strength, experience and compassion – for others and yourself. She tells her story about how doing this work in grief and trauma led her back to InfoSec, which can be a really lonely business, and emphasizes the importance of reaching out to talk to someone if you’re going through a difficult time.
Without further ado, here is the third and final part of Karen’s story “If I Can Do It, You Can Do It: The Struggles Of An InfoSec Life.”
About Karen Worstell
W Risk Group LLC founder Karen Worstell, MS, MA is a cybersecurity expert who was inspired to study cybersecurity while a computer science grad student after her professor encrypted a final exam. She had to use her kit of code-breaking tools – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Her work was initially in research at companies like Boeing and SRI Consulting to develop computing models for the emerging world of distributed computing and the Internet. She presented appeals for improving cybersecurity for the Internet alongside luminaries like Donn Parker, Peter Neumann, Rhonda MacLean, the late Howard Schmidt, Fred Thompson, and the Secretary General of Interpol in the early 2000s. Later she held leadership roles in cybersecurity for Bank of America, AT&T Wireless and Russell Investments.
Today she consults on cybersecurity talent, matching cybersecurity professionals to the companies who need them, and provides coaching masterminds and intensives that contribute to improved cybersecurity by increasing resilience in IT pros in highly stressful roles.
She believes that computer science and cybersecurity are important career fields for everyone, and encourages women and young female students to excel as computer technology professionals through her mentoring and coaching programs. She has spoken internationally on the topic of cybersecurity, is the author of books on the subject and is also a contributor to publications on cybersecurity, IT, and e-discovery.