Karen Worstell did not recognize the first signs of burnout. She had an MS in computer science, two young children, and a three-hour commute. She continued to push herself, even waking up earlier to fit in more exercise. “Finally, my body gave out -- and I ended up with mono meningitis and strep and lost the use of my left arm for a year,” she says. “I had had all the warning signs for months and just ignored them because I figured my reserves were limitless and I could push as hard as my misplaced priorities thought I needed to.”
She had another experience with severe burnout driven in part by a company culture that “was like being kicked in the stomach and having my legs swept out from under me.” Worstell eventually left the cybersecurity field to complete a master’s degree in theology and pursue her chaplaincy.
As a part of that experience, she worked with patients and families at the VA, as a community liaison for a hospital, and with patients in the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population of Pierce County, Wash., population. “I realized that the same kind of moral distress, moral injury, trauma, and burnout I saw in the populations I served was also prevalent in the cybersecurity community,” she tells InformationWeek.
Now, Worstell is a senior cybersecurity strategist at cloud computing company VMware. She brings her personal experience and her training back to cybersecurity. “The chaplain doesn’t wait for the soldier to make an appointment in the comfort of a field tent; the chaplain goes to sit with the soldier in the foxhole. Cybersecurity and technology are my foxholes,” she explains.
Worstell’s story is a sobering one for anyone grappling with burnout in the cybersecurity field. Burnout is pervasive, insidious, and it does not come with easy solutions. Worstell and five other cybersecurity leaders share their thoughts on how to manage burnout in cybersecurity teams.