Mental health

Grief isn’t just a death thing

Since leaving Maersk, I seem to spend a lot of time talking about Maersk.

Is that normal? When people leave their jobs, it’s normally a reasonably straightforward affair. Maybe you’re happy in a role, maybe you’re not. But some opportunity comes up, which you go for, and you leave. You make your farewells. You do your handover. Perhaps some drinks are involved, and the perfunctory card with some scribbles saying “All the best” – that kind of thing. Or perhaps you’re made redundant and things are somewhat more fraught, but you get on the market and eventually you find something – I’d hope!

But for the first time in my career I’ve found myself talking about that old job way more than any other position I’ve ever held. It was a pretty extraordinary job, having been around to experience the impacts and aftermath of one of the most infamous cyberattacks ever. But I thought I was, well, depressed. Why? Well, first I thought it was the drink. Not that I was drinking that heavily! But it was certainly not a weekend-only thing, so I gave that up. But this ‘depression’ continued. Maybe it was something deeper, or just some natural inclination towards negativity? I often found myself staring into space and found it difficult to get motivated to ‘do’ things. Generally this meant I’d work silly hours trying to get work done. Even the simple things – writing a document, would take an inordinate amount of time.

Seeking closure

Then I thought maybe it was this story – Maersk, me & notPetya – that I needed to release? Get that catharsis. It does genuinely impact me when I see another story about some organisation getting hit by ransomware because I just know what that means for the teams involved in bringing that business back. The time, the money, the people and their families. The impacts are huge. I’ll bet as you read this, that yet another story is breaking or about to break.

But even after publishing, these feelings didn’t go away.

I don’t know everything about myself, and that’s OK. So, I did something that apparently men are pretty bad at – I went to see a therapist. Now, I’m not proud; I know what I know, and happy to admit I don’t know everything. Luckily there’s a hideous number of other people on this planet and generally there’s always someone out there who will know more about about whatever it is you need. That might be to help fix the car, build a house, why not get help with your mental wellbeing?

So I did that, and the results were surprising…

Photo by Fabian Irsara on Unsplash


Damnit, I’ve been grieving! Wow. It makes total sense.

I absolutely loved that job. I loved the people I worked with. The relationships I’d built up. The company. All of it. Yes there were issues, as there is anywhere – but fundamentally, I loved that job. And the circumstances under which I left meant there was unfinished business. I’d have loved to have seen it all through but with the circumstances in my life at that time – there wasn’t really any option other than to leave. But that doesn’t mean to say I was emotionally prepared to leave.

It turns out emotions are pretty illogical things. Logically, it made complete sense to head off on adventures. But emotionally, my brain didn’t care about that, it wanted and missed that job.

And just recognising this simple fact has helped so much. I always associated grief with death, but actually I’d experienced this before. When I was made redundant during the 2009 financial crisis I had to leave London and all of a sudden a life I loved was over. And for years I yearned to be back. Luckily wounds do heal and life does move on. But clearly this has happened twice now: I grieve for jobs I have loved and left.

Getting to know myself

All this made me realise that, whilst I always knew that I was passionate about what I do, I never understood the degree of feelings I’m capable of having towards a job. Some people seem to be more fortunate. They speak about their roles in a rather clinical manner, detached. Maybe this is emotional intelligence, or more likely just a difference in personality. My belief is that having identified what was impacting me, this has only increased my own emotional intelligence, and now I’m able to identify what it is about work and jobs that I love, I can focus on building those elements into any new roles.

Know where your happy space is and do more of that

My really happy space, is where I’m a trusted member of a community of people where there’s mutual respect. Where what I say can have an impact on people – making them more effective, or helping their customers (internal or external) to be more effective. At my best; There’s some problem, you get a bunch of talented people with a range of disciplines in front of a whiteboard (or preferably a Surface Hub) and thrash out a solution to the problem in terms of people, process and technology. Coming from an identity background this will typically revolve around securing infrastructure (principle of least privilege), modern workplace (MFA, Hello for Business, Conditional Access), O365, mergers & acquisitions, cross-tenant collaboration (B2B) and so on. And by focussing on these kinds of things, I can increase the white space around that dark spot of grief, and move on. Winner.

The other way of increasing the white space is in the relationships I’ve acquired since publishing the notPetya post. Other ‘cyber survivors’ have got in touch and this has really opened up some interesting discussions. And I hope that one day I can turn these relationships into something more tangible – making organisations recognise and manage cybersecurity not just in terms of figures and statistics, but as a human concern. They have a duty of care to their people – customers, employees, partners and vendors. If we can form a community around this concept, articulate it in a way that has an actual impact. Man, that would be huge.

Don’t be too proud

So mental health. It’s really important. And if you’ve got difficulties, don’t be too proud, more drink or more exercise may hide it – but won’t necessarily deal with it, just go and speak to someone. Who knows – it might open up a few doors you didn’t realise were there.

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