As security professionals, we deal with a tremendous amount of stress. Like my boss circa 2015 told me about a week into our tenure together, we tend to be perfectionists, and frequently we’re asked to deal with the most cavalier people in our organization. It’s a toxic combination.

One of the first things that boss asked me after we met was what I think about at home. In all honesty, I can’t help but think about work sometimes. But I have a lot of other things I think about at home too. Important things like my family of course, but other important things too, like trains and baseball and baseball cards. And for the last few years I’ve been in the position of mentoring younger members of my team. I always tell them to get a hobby if they don’t have one.

It’s no secret that many security professionals drink far too much, and some don’t stop at drinking. At times, that leads to tragic consequences, such as the death of security superstar Barnaby Jack at the age of 35. Call me judgmental if you must, but I grew up in a house where alcohol abuse was the norm, so I’ve experienced firsthand the unintended consequences of it.

Alcohol affects some people differently from others. Sometimes it’s debilitating, but there is such thing as a high-functioning alcoholic. People can still tell. My father was one, and it was no secret. A hobby is a better, healthier way of dealing with the stress.

Hobby ideas

There are many fewer unintended consequences to having a hobby or two. They get your mind off the problems at work without the nasty hangover, and if you’re ever in the situation where you need to get your money back out of it, I can recover some of the money I’ve sunk into trains or baseball cards. You can’t do that with drugs or alcohol. A nostalgic hobby can even reverse some effects of aging.

Need some ideas for a nostalgic hobby? Vintage computing or video games. Vintage computing may be a little too technical and remind you a little too much of work, or maybe not. You could also take up record collecting. Or collecting VHS tapes if you want something inexpensive. A lot of hobbies are expensive but they don’t have to be.

Writing open source software uncompensated after spending all day programming at work isn’t the best idea for a hobby. Just saying. If you’re more of a maker than a collector, take up woodworking.

How a hobby helps your thinking

The other nice thing about a hobby is that it can help improve your thinking. I impose limits on my train hobby. The limits change from time to time, but generally speaking, I go out of my way to avoid post-1950 technology.

That’s one appeal of vintage computing. You’re dealing with all sorts of limitations there. Otherwise I’d be typing this blog post on an Amiga 500.

When you force yourself to work within certain limitations, that can help at work where you have to work within all sorts of limitations every day. And the nice thing on your own time is that you get to pick the limitations rather than having them dictated to you–and yet it helps you to continue to function well when you don’t get to pick the limitations.

Stress

But beyond all that, I’ll remember a conversation I had in 2011 for the rest of my life. I met a classmate I hadn’t spoken with since college to get his take on some stuff I was dealing with at the time. Like me, he is the son of a doctor. And he told me bluntly I needed to get away from that situation–the stress was going to shorten my life.

Stress shortens your life. Any job is going to have some stress in it, so we can’t eliminate that. But we can deal with it, and a hobby that gets your mind onto other things and puts you in your happy place goes a long way toward that.

If you wonder why a blog called The Silicon Underground has a lot of content that doesn’t have anything to do with technology on it, that’s why.