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by Michael Santarcangelo

Move your security career forward by looking back

Jan 04, 20115 mins
CareersCSO and CISOIT Leadership

Looking back at the successes and mistakes of the last year can help you gain fresh perspective for 2011

As 2010 drew to a close, I received a note from a colleague reflecting on the year part and thanking me for my mentorship and counsel. Reading his note reminded me that often the best path forward starts by looking back. As we welcome a new year full of ambition and opportunity, this is the perfect time to reflect on the previous year(s) to set the stage for a productive and successful 2011.

Feedback focused inward

During Communicating the Value of Security, I teach participants a lightly structured and simple approach to offering feedback to colleagues. I developed this approach to ensure more useful feedback by citing positives as the first step. The entire experience — whether giving or receiving feedback — is changed for the better when starting with positives.

Also see: Security careers: Responding to questions successfully

The same approach, turned inward, is a positive way to consider the past year with an eye toward the future. It takes as little as 20 minutes and as long as necessary. I am working through the process right now and expect to spend a few hours really considering the last year and focusing on 2011.

Start with a simple promise (to yourself)

Start by taking 20-30 minutes right now to follow the process below. If right now is not convenient, schedule a block of time for tomorrow and work through the questions. I am available to help along the way (either contact me, or leave a comment and I’ll respond).

First rule: there are no rules. The structure below is designed to guide the process and improve the results. More important than following the steps is the commitment to take time to consider the year past and set reasonable goals for the year ahead.

Looking back

Start the process by looking back over the year. Start by reviewing the calendar — look for meetings, trips, events — to find highlights of the year. No need to limit the review to professional activities only; sometimes the personal events and activities are the key to moving a security career forward.

After reviewing the calendar, memories and images of the year swim through the brain, creating the perfect time to go for a walk, run or to just find quiet space and enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Amplify the positive

With that firmly in mind, start by amplifying the positive: list three things about the past year that were nothing short of spectacular. These are the sorts of events that define the year: projects, personal accomplishments, even meetings, presentations or other successes that really stand out. Find at least three things worth celebrating. The list doesn’t need to stop at three, but it needs to include at least three. If the list is longer than three — it’s certainly been a good year.

Once the list is drafted, take time to identify three things absolutely worth continuing in the coming year. Physically write them down. Consider what it means to focus on amplifying these good things in the year to come.

Consider missed opportunities

With the list of positives complete, instead of focusing on negatives, take time to consider opportunities missed and actions that could be taken differently in the coming year. Same process as above — these are not negatives — and while the list can be long, the purpose is simple: identify three specific areas to focus on for improvement.

While the list and experiences are fresh, it might help to write a few sentences (or more) about how these three specific opportunities will be capitalized on and converted into positives in the coming year. The point is to start the momentum, but not to create a new burden. Simple words, concepts and phrases work best.

New ideas

Round the process out by writing down the new ideas that bubbled up during this exercise. Is there a course to take, a conference to speak at, or a protocol to learn? Is there a personal passion that would lead to improved professional and career success?

Write it down. Consider where it fits into the schedule for the year. Get excited about doing it.

Tell a friend.

Ask for help.

After looking back, move forward

The security industry has a tendency to focus on —and magnify — the negative. This look back is different — it is a chance to realize and even celebrate the many successes of the year. With the light structure outlined above, it is more: this is a chance to consider how to improve by building on success, improving on missed opportunities and finding new areas to spark passion.

For the ambitious, this leads into a variety of actions plans for self and career improvement. If there is enough interest, we can explore how to continue that process in the coming year.

But for many, the simple act of stopping long enough to reflect with some light structure sets the stage for a fantastic 2011.

Help me help you — I welcome the opportunity to learn about your areas to continue, or to improve — either in the comments below or by contacting me. I’d be happy to use this column to share ideas, insights and provide support for us to advance our goals together.

About Michael Santarcangelo: The author of Into the Breach and creator of Awareness that Works, Michael Santarcangelo is a catalyst that advocates for individuals while advancing organizations. By connecting individuals to the consequences of their actions, he delivers results that reduce risk, increase resiliency and allow organizations to more with less. Learn more at or engage with him on