Facing fear and finding joy - how I put empathy to work

3rd Oct, 2023#31

"To see others more clearly, set aside your opinions, advice, and judgment, and put their truth above your own." Greg McKeown

In this episode, as an opener for Cyber Empathy's fourth season, I'll take you through some updates on the show and my personal life and share the topics we will be exploring this season. I’ll share how my loved ones’ unconditional love supported me through the taxing situations I had to deal with in the last year, and how our community granted me the honor of two awards at the 2023 European Cyber Security Blogger Awards, making Cyber Empathy the Most Educational Podcast, and the Best New Cybersecurity Podcast

Today's episode is also a reminder of why Dave and I embarked on this podcasting adventure that brought us nothing but joy; you'll hear about the most significant lessons podcasting taught us, my favorite reads for this year, and more. 

In this episode, you will learn:

  • A bit about how challenging last year was for me (2:20)

  • Not everything has to be as hard as we think (6:10)

  • A refresher on why this podcast exists and how I hope to serve you (9:40)

  • The key topics we’ll dig into in season 4 (13:20)

Guest

Photography of Andra Zaharia.

Andra Zaharia

Andra's work focuses on repairing the disconnect between information security specialists and the people they serve.

She is a cybersecurity marketing manager focused on organic growth, building content systems that drive organic growth while developing teams, processes, and the strategies to guide them.

When she's not fighting infosec marketing BS, she shines a light on how humans shape online security and privacy through Cyber Empathy.

Transcription

Andra Zaharia: Okay, so I have to admit: this is the sixth time I'm trying to record this episode. Recording alone is so much more difficult than having a conversation with a guest. So, hey there, and welcome to a new season of the Cyber Empathy Podcast.

This is the fourth season of this project, which I'm really excited about. And I'm very grateful that I get to do something that's so aligned with my values, and with the people that I admire and respect. The fact that I get to share their stories with you and that we get to have these heartfelt conversations is something that I never take for granted. I truly appreciate that you also resonate with this project enough to listen to it, to talk about it, and to share it with people in your personal—hopefully heartfelt—conversations as well.

So, I wanted to take a chance and do this solo episode to kind of give you a reminder, or a refresher, of why I started doing this in the first place. To give you a quick taste of what we're going to talk about this season, and to share a few things that I've learned since you last heard me.

So, I'm going to start with some of these kind of key lessons that have peppered my journey in the last year. The last year was extremely difficult on a personal level. My dad went through a very, very rough, life-threatening medical condition. And he made it through it because he's a fighter, but it took a toll on me; it was very traumatic for him, especially, and then for us—the rest of the family. So, much of my energy just went all into that part of my life. But, like any crisis, it's an opportunity; it can be an opportunity as much as it is a trauma, honestly. And I feel like I've done a lot of growing up in the past year, a lot of maturing. It's moments like these when you're faced with the horrendous thought of losing someone, that you realize the important things in life. Not only realize, but you get to embrace them again; you get to really focus on them, and just let yourself off the hook around the other things that are less important, artificial, or just not as relevant as you thought they were.

So, one of the things that I've learned throughout all of this journey, and while trying to do my work and really enjoying an immense level of support from everyone—thank you for this, to everyone who contributed, to everyone who said a good word, to everyone who smiled at me, and who just was there to lend me some of their energy—one of the key things that I learned through all of this is that we can hold within ourselves two apparently contradictory feelings or emotions. And that's one of the most difficult things that I've had to kind of absorb: the fact that I could be tormented by the anxiety and the fear but also be incredibly happy at the same time for a best friend who had their first child. It was such a year of contrasts for me.


But what they all had in common was the immense generosity and openness of my friends, of the people that I know, of people in the community, of my partner, and just everyone who shows up and who does this constantly. And the cliche is true: we don't know people's stories. We don't know what's behind their smiles, what's behind their benevolence, their patience, and their kindness. I feel like many of these people usually have a pretty difficult background story; they went through a lot of things, which is how they decided to embrace kindness, to embrace empathy, to just focus on those good elements in human nature that transform, honestly, everything. 

And this is exactly what one of the episodes in the season talks about, and you're gonna see it gets really personal. And I'm very grateful to the guests for opening up like that. Another one of the things that I've learned throughout the last couple of months, and the last year, is that not everything has to be as hard as we imagined it to be. I read Greg McKeown's "Effortless," a book about making things easier and doing what matters most. And he has some really clarity-inducing ideas in that book. I highly recommend it; I'm going to link to it in the episode description. It was one of my favorite reads of this year. And it really led me to reflect on how I used to choose—or I still do—well, it led me to reflect on how I often choose the most difficult path. I remember I had an English teacher, in my teens, who told me, "You always choose the most complicated sentence structure to express what you want to say." And well, that's something that, as a content specialist, I have learned to solve or avoid. But it led me to the realization that there are a bunch of things that I could probably make simpler for me, for myself, and for others. And that's something that I'd like to focus on in the future. 

And speaking of books that I've read this year, the absolute favorite read of this year is "The Three-Body Problem" series. If you haven't heard about it, it's a sci-fi trilogy, that is just absolutely mind-blowing. Netflix is actually doing a series about it. And while reading this immensely detailed, expansive universe that the author has created, it reminded me of the value of really cultivating empathy in the most practical and approachable way possible. There's no way I'm going to spoil this book for you because it's way too complex. But one of the things that this book does is that it follows humanity as it goes through various eras, where they have to face a lot of new and world-changing events. And when we are faced with those shattering, events that completely transform our reality, that we realize what we're made of. I feel like crisis situations, like the ones I've experienced in my life, either bring out the best in you or the worst in you. Obviously, it can do both — maybe at the same time, sometimes. But it's after that initial shock, you do have the space to choose how you're going to show up for others going forward. And I highly recommend this read; it is absolutely fantastic. It's one of the best things I've ever read. And thank you to my friend Christina, who gifted these books to me and who first introduced me to this absolutely monumental trilogy. 

Now, one other thing that I wanted to mention in the "key lessons" category is that I have noticed how much people in our industry, and in cybersecurity, long for emotional expression. I feel like we all need this to develop confidence, to shave away some of the fear, and some of the self-imposed pressure. And it's also a way that we get to feel connected to ourselves, to our purpose, and obviously to the people we care about. Now, my personal goal with this podcast, and with the work that I do as a communication professional, is to expand the group of people that we care about—individually and as a community. 

And speaking of community, Cyber Empathy had a milestone in June earlier this year. It won two awards at the 2023 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards, which were voted on by the public—so, by you. Thank you so much for supporting this project. Cyber Empathy was the most educational podcast and the best new cybersecurity podcast at the 2023 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards, which was amazing to me. It was such a special moment because it made me realize that this tiny podcast, that's a passion project that I record literally in my living room with no funding, no sponsorships, and nothing like that, is actually reaching people all over the world. It's using the magic of the internet to bring out something good in people, to give them something that they need. And again, that is so, so special to me. And thank you for voting for this podcast, for supporting it, for listening to it, and for making time to connect with these ideas, and to carry them over in your life. I'm just so, so grateful for that. Even though things have changed over the past four years in ways we could have never imagined. 

Ever since I started Cyber Empathy, one thing has stayed the same, which is kind of my mission around this podcast. My goal is still to carve a little space for thinking, for sitting with our feelings. I want this podcast to give you a space to "slow your roll," so you can expand the time that you get between stimulus and reaction. So we can just feel like we can just breathe, and just have a moment to ourselves to remind ourselves of all of the good that we have in our lives and that we have in this community. And just to remind ourselves of our own power to do good and to choose things that are good for both ourselves and others.

Aside from all of the other things that we can do with these ideas and with this energy, I actually found a quote in the book "Effortless" that I mentioned earlier, that really speaks to this podcast. And it goes like this: "To see others more clearly, set aside your opinions, advice, and judgment, and put their truth above your own." Now, this, to me, is a sentence about lack of judgment, which is something that I strive to practice. I talked about this in another solo episode that I did, where I shared my experience with doing a course that was focused on improving listening skills. And that was one of the key topics: to be able to listen to others, to be able to truly connect and be present, we need to show up with a clean slate—or as clean as it can be, obviously—because we need to have self-compassion and self-empathy for ourselves as well.

So, given everything that I've shared in this short, but hopefully helpful and clarifying episode, some of the things that we're going to explore in this season are the seven habits of highly empathetic people. And if that reminds you of a book, it's because it was modeled after the book. And I have just a great, really generous guest that's going to talk about this. We're also going to talk about practicing a growth mindset outside of cybersecurity and how important it is to your career in this space and how you decide to make your role an enduring, resilient one. We're also going to talk about using empathy to fuel optimism, which is really helpful if you want to avoid being cynical, which I feel is so easy nowadays. We're also going to discuss how to shape our expectations around how difficult or easy it is to choose kindness and empathy. And again, that goes really deep into some very personal things that I can't wait to explore with you. We'll also talk about nonviolent communication and how it can disarm people who tend to have adversarial attitudes. We're also going to talk about cyber trauma and how we can support and protect the most vulnerable people around this. And we're also going to touch on the power of being a discreet, but consistent and reliable presence in other people's lives.

We have a feast of stories and personal experiences that we can learn from, that we can sit with together, that we can use as guides, as reflection points, as quotes to guide our days, or just as sparks of energy that will hopefully help us get ahead with what we're trying to do.

One of the other things I wanted to mention before I wrap up and leave you with a question that I really love is that, although you haven't heard Dave in a while, it's not because we've fallen apart. It's just because Dave has other things that demand his time and energy. You can still find him online; he still does projects, and he still takes care of the Cyber Empathy website. He's always a great supporter of this project. It's just that it's going to be me from now on, so you're kind of stuck with me—me and the guests, thankfully. So you don't have to hear me talking on and on.

Speaking of not going on any longer, before we listen to the other episodes that feature guests, I wanted to leave you with this question, which is also from "Effortless" by Greg McKeown: "What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?" I hope Cyber Empathy helps you achieve just that.

I'll talk to you soon, and I can't wait to hear how this episode and how the season has helped you. If it did, let me know; I'd love to read about it.