Jennifer Minella, VP of Engineering at Carolina Advanced Digital, led security and risk professionals in a discussion about mindfulness and leadership as part of the Peer-to-Peer discussion at RSA Conference 2015 in San Francisco. Below is Minella's notes from the session.
The idea of this P2P was that we can affect change in the workplace around us, and sharing ways to go about that. In the end though, I think the whole of the group realized change starts within, and once each of us/them gets a handle on a personal culture and series of mental habits – that will creep, leak, and seep in to the surrounding people. And that’s how a workplace culture of mindfulness is born – through self-awareness and self-control, not through forced meditation sessions on the job.
The topics varied from personal practices- what worked/didn’t work for specific people – to bigger picture thoughts of why we feel we have a lack of control and mastery in our lives, and how to start “naming” the problem before we tackle the solutions.
There were a cross-section of attendees, some who were familiar with mindfulness practices and had been applying them (recently or in the past) and others who were experiencing a certain amount of burnout and stress, had heard of positive results of mindfulness and wanted to hear more about it.
Without a doubt, effective ways to deal with stresses of the workplace in infosec came about several times. We found ourselves prodding in to why we feel the stress so acutely in our industry, since what we do isn’t more or less important than other jobs out there. Some people lamented the pressure of expectations to always be connected and available. Ultimately though the surprise outcome of each of these paths was that we are putting the pressure on ourselves, it’s something we’re fabricating in our minds most often and it’s self-inflicted.
One person talked about how he changed to not answering emails around the clock, and how his coworkers and bosses reacted to that. You know what? They didn’t – no one even noticed. That experience was echoed throughout most of the room. So then the next question is – how do change the way we think to set reasonable expectations for ourselves; how do we build in mindfulness and perhaps even compassion to our work culture to reach these goals and better sort out these self-inflicted pressures from the real ones.
I believe this session really let people dig inside themselves and look at things through a few different viewpoints. If nothing else, when they stepped out of that room and back to their desk they’ve probably at least settled on the fact that most days are only as stressful as they make them to be in their minds. Realizing that puts the control back in their hands and knowing you have control over your happiness and your productivity is huge.
One person left almost as soon as the session started, after introductions. It just happened that he struggled with getting outside of his comfort zone, and even coming to this P2P was a challenge for him he told us all. When he got up and left so early, my co-host Mike Rothman and I didn’t take it as a slight at all- we understood that just walking through the door, sitting down, and sharing his fears was a huge achievement for him and we were delighted to have offered a safe place for that type of growth. That’s the personal growth we hope everyone will find in themselves, day by day, step by step.