Fight, Flight and Fibrillate

It’s been said that:

animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing.

And as animals, this theory holds true for us as well.  This theory was later revised to include fibrillation, aka freezing, which is the topic which rules my mind today.

When we are put under a stressful situation, both real and self imposed, the natural response is to attack it head on, run away from it (if possible) and worst of the three– freeze.  I say it’s the worst, because of the group it’s the only one that doesn’t immediately change one’s position.  This can have the unfortunate consequence of being deadly in force based conflicts.

Luckily, we don’t have to deal with that reality every day.  Instead we get one that slowly drains our very being, one that kills us every day because we cannot choose which of these options best serves our needs.  We are afraid to pick one option boldly– to leave a foot in the door so to speak– and that often does very little good for the soul.  Fibrillation is filled with regret.

An example of this came up for me recently; learning to get old.  I am not a very aged man, by most measures– but I am not a very youthed one either.  Our industry is such that kids who are much younger, with less responsibilities, and no spouses, are now flooding our ranks– sometimes with very respectable backgrounds.  Perhaps this was always true, but none the less, they  work longer, study more, with less distractions than I am capable of weaving.  And so I was faced with a choice– do I accept that I am no longer in that position and embrace the changes that are given to me (fight), do I avoid them and run away into a world that disservices my family (flight), or do I try and ignore it until it hurts (fibrillate)?

I’ve chosen to fight my demons, but that wasn’t my first inkling.  For about a month this bothered me a great deal.  I tried to flee it and force myself to read books, to work extra hard, to grasp onto something that I couldn’t hold on to.  I used to be top dog.  I could blow weeks on work– and have even slept through an entire weekend to prove it.  Not really the healthy way to look at the world, but I was really really sharp.

But that pursuit of a time passed was futile.  You cannot serve two masters– so I stopped.  I care too deeply for my family and friends, and I strive to being a vibrant human who is available to others.  Everything comes at a cost– especially the good things.  This means that many of the things I used to enjoy will need to fade away as other new priorities come into place.  I no longer see this as a loss.  It’s already taught me that I need to be a better steward of the time I have.  As I wrote this post, I am reminded of how failing I am in this regard.  I’ve spent more time today on sinks (including writing this) than I have focusing on making up for lost time.  Yet despite my desire to achieve, I came home solely so I can get my children to bed and give them a kiss goodnight.  This is called winning.

I’ve learned that studying takes up time, but it can be coupled with other things like lunch.  I carry a book with me now incase I have spare time to pick up.  I am learning not to waste moments– even if they aren’t focused.  Each breath might be my last– and I am beginning to understand that.

Finally, it’s also helped me realize that though others may prosper– I am not a pushover either.  I might not have chops in xyz technologies as some, but I am creative, experienced, and can create whole lots of hurt during a test.  I am not less because others are more. I am, as I always was, merely me.

I’m not sure why I am sharing this, except a few of my friends in this space have dealt with similar issues.  I am fairly certain that my pursuit and priority changes will make me a better husband, father, and friend.  They also might make me a better tester– but I doubt I will ever be a “celebrity.”  That is of course okay– as this industry already has far too many of them.


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  • Andre Gironda  On July 13, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Your blog makes you a celebrity in my eyes.

  • pinvoke  On July 13, 2011 at 7:39 am

    @andre: Thanks but no thanks, I work for a living. 🙂

  • CG  On July 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    when you are all done with infosec what will be left is family and friends, might be too late if you dont take care of them now.

    its a daily struggle to balance what i love/work with making time for family.

    • pinvoke  On July 13, 2011 at 6:40 pm

      It might be too late with the next breath you take. 🙂

      I know exactly the struggle of balance you speak of. It’s a daily thing for me as well.

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