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  • Donald E. Hester

Embrace Tenacity: Leave Stubbornness Behind for Success

I attempted to explain tenacity and stubbornness to one of my children: the notion that tenacity is a desirable trait while stubbornness is an undesirable one. Although some people consider them synonymous, they are actually very different. Personally, I have found that having tenacity has been beneficial for my career and life, while stubbornness has been detrimental.

Let's take a look at how dictionaries define these words:

Tenacity: the quality or fact of being extremely determined; determination; the quality or fact of persisting or continuing to exist.

Stubborn: displaying unwavering determination to not change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of valid arguments or reasons to do so.

To me, tenacity represents the persistent and determined pursuit of a goal. It's about not allowing anything to hinder you from reaching or achieving your goals. You are open to adaptation and change, doing whatever is necessary to reach your objectives with energy and enthusiasm.

Two key aspects of tenacity are adaptability and energy. Adaptability means being flexible and adjusting to changes while still aiming for your goals. On the other hand, being energetic is essential for a tenacious individual. Pursuing goals requires a certain level of drive and enthusiasm. Ultimately, the goal itself is what matters most.

In contrast, stubbornness involves a determination not to change course, even when the situation changes or continuing may prevent the desired goal from being achieved. Stubborn people resist change, even if it's necessary. They cling to the status quo, disregarding anything that challenges their current course. You often hear them say phrases like "it has always been this way" or "this is how we've always done it," without considering why or if it still aligns with the intended goals. In short, stubbornness focuses on continuity rather than the goal itself.

Throughout my career, I've even witnessed organizational stubbornness. Leaders or corporate cultures become fixated on the "way" things have always been done, losing sight of the "why" behind those practices. It's akin to driving a car toward a cliff without changing direction. Sometimes, it feels like all they want to do is go faster! They stick to their established methods, completely ignoring the intended goals. A corporate culture of stubbornness does not serve the organization well.

This type of stubbornness also manifests in areas such as internal controls and cybersecurity measures. Outdated controls that no longer serve their intended purpose remain in place, offering little to no mitigation. Meanwhile, there may be new and improved ways, possibly more efficient, to implement controls. However, they go unexplored because "that's the way we've always done it." Side Note: When someone says, "That's the way we've always done it," it triggers a strong reaction in me. It's like nails on a chalkboard—I can't stand it. If you utter those words to me, be prepared for a lecture.

“Let me tell you a secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies in my tenacity.”

– Louis Pasteur

From a personal level or the level of an organization's culture, we should strive to be tenacious rather than stubborn. Never give up on your goals, but if a process or path isn't leading you closer to them, let it go. Avoid getting stuck in a fixed way of doing things. Adapt as necessary to keep moving forward.

During the early 2000s, I set ambitious career goals for myself, including becoming a CSO (Chief Security Officer) by the time I turned 50. Back then, being an executive in charge of information security often entailed overseeing physical security as well. As I researched the background of CSOs, I discovered that the most common certifications for the role were the Certified Protection Professional (CPP), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). Additionally, many CSOs held degrees in security management. Armed with this information, I developed a roadmap to obtain the necessary certifications and degrees. Tenacity played a crucial role in my journey toward achieving these goals. The CISSP and CISA certifications required immense effort, and it was my unwavering determination and energy that propelled me forward. For instance, I dedicated nine months to studying for the CISSP, even squeezing in study sessions during family gatherings. Although some may have perceived me as less sociable, my focus remained steadfast.

I successfully obtained the CISSP certification and subsequently pursued and obtained the CISA certification. Following that, I turned my attention to a degree in security management, the closest option available to a cybersecurity degree at that time. The degree focused mostly on physical security management, and I selected cybersecurity courses as electives to add a concentration to the degree in information security.

Over time, the industry underwent significant changes, and a new executive-level position emerged that aligned more closely with my aspirations. This position was the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), which specifically focused on cybersecurity while excluding responsibilities related to physical security. During this period, I talked with one of my professors, discussing why he did not have the Certified Protection Professional (CPP) certification. Surprisingly, the professor, who held a Ph.D. in security, explained that obtaining the CPP certification would offer no tangible benefits for someone with his level of expertise. This conversation prompted me to reconsider the necessity of pursuing another certification that focused on physical security.

Consequently, the CPP certification primarily addressed physical security and no longer held relevance for my evolving career path since a new executive-level position now existed that was solely cybersecurity. So I made a deliberate choice to pivot and discontinue my pursuit of that particular certification. Rather than stubbornly holding on to my now outdated plans, I embraced adaptability as a means to ensure continuous progress toward my goals.

I achieved my goals when I obtained the position of Director of Information Systems and Security, which is equivalent to a CISO in an organization of similar size, long before reaching the age of 50. This achievement stands as a testament to the power of tenacity in navigating changing circumstances.

I want to be transparent and acknowledge that my life and career haven't always been smooth sailing. I am far from perfect, and there have been times when I've exhibited stubbornness and inflexibility. There were moments when I was unwilling to adapt to new realities, and as a result, I experienced unnecessary pain and setbacks. Stubbornness has never been a beneficial trait for me.

However, on the flip side, I firmly believe that tenacity has played a vital role in my success. Being determined and persistent, giving my maximum effort, has proven to be invaluable. Therefore, the lesson I've learned is to commit wholeheartedly to my endeavors, putting in maximum effort, but to avoid stubbornness and instead embrace tenacity.

My wish for you is that you will tenaciously soar to new heights!


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