10 Japanese Concepts That Will Fire Your Self-Motivation For Certification Study

Dave On Cyber
8 min readJan 29, 2023

When the student is ready the teacher appears. When the student is truly ready the teacher disappears. — Lao Tzu

What’s Lao trying to convey?

You are a student. You are also a teacher.

Learning new skills and acquiring appropriate cybersecurity domain knowledge is not limited to cracking an interview, job security or advancing the career.

Learning and sharing what you know is an attitude and way of life.

I would have never passed CISSP without self-motivation. The certification is considered the gold standard of cybersecurity for a reason. The material is beast. You cannot just read the material and pass. The exam is challenging and tests your perspective on all the organisation's domains.

There are books, resources and quotes on how to motivate yourself. Sometimes, you need a word.

A simple word that has deep meaning.

I came across ten Japanese words transformed for cybersecurity lens and self-study. Although I will use CISSP as an apparent reference for the sake of this article, it applies to any certification you can ever desire.

Don’t ignore the below Japanese concepts if you have no plan to study or have already achieved top-level certifications. It can still enhance what you have learned and amplify your knowledge.

1. Oubaitori

Never compare yourself.

The usual question when beginning a certification study is how long does it take?

I had the same question. Some people have cracked CISSP in 2 weeks. It takes 3 to 6 months for most people. It took me more than a year and two attempts.

One seed. Different cultivation.

You cannot compare your study timeline with anyone. The destination could be the same, but the journey will be different. When you plant the seed for the certification, it blossoms differently for each individual.

Even after earning the certification, you cannot compare yourself with people who don’t have or have yet to achieve. I have seen people without CCNA certification possess a CCIE level of expertise.

Studying and earning certification is about the kind of person you become in terms of discipline, dedication and determination. Ultimately, we are all in the same industry, intending to provide services.

2. Kaizen

Continuously improve.

As stereotypical as it sounds, there is always room for improvement.

Continuous iteration on worthy ideals towards success.

Achieving certification does not mean the end of the study. It’s the beginning.

Those who are CISSP or hold the same level of certification would agree with me on what it takes to earn the certificate.

I am CISSP. But I am not an expert.

I might have understood Risk Responses in one way. However, connecting with like-minded people opens the opportunity to learn the same concept from a different perspective.

3. Wabi-Sabi

Embrace imperfection.

Wabi-Sabi would be my favourite word because I believe in imperfection.

Imperfect is beautiful

I admire the beauty of imperfection so much that I wrote an article titled Why CISSP Is For Slow Readers.

I could be better.

I have flaws.

It’s my privilege to write in the public domain, and even though I have achieved a gold standard certification for information security, I have yet to improve.

The Japanese philosophy acknowledges three basic tenets:

  • Nothing lasts forever
  • Nothing is finished
  • Nothing is perfect

Social media tends to project perfect people. However, it’s the other way around.

You connect with people at an emotional level when you are transparent about your vulnerability.

English is my second language. In so many ways, CISSP is an exam of the language. I had to invest a reasonable amount of time learning words, their meaning and interpretations to understand the context of a question.

I have a technical background. Studying for CISSP was a significant challenge as I had to shift my mind from being technical to being a manager. Accepting flaws and being true to yourself works in your favour.

Imperfection finds new ways. Perfection is the dead end.

4. Gaman

Have dignity during duress.

When I failed my exam on the first attempt, my immediate thought after coming out of the examination hall was, “That’s it. I had enough.”

Going through the 1000+ stuff again and facing those 175 questions is a mental game. However, after a few long walks and retrospections, I rode the wave again.

You must build a solid tolerance and patience to overcome a setback. A good computer system is measured based on its tolerance level in the technical world.

You increase your tolerance level when you nurture with patience and self-reflection.

Lift. Balance. Breathe.

It’s human nature to continuously measure what’s missing. We hardly notice what we have achieved.

I looked at the report card. Out of eight domains, I was good in five. The other three required study. It would be best if you had emotional maturity during a challenging time.

The best thing you can do is slow down, breathe and take a long walk.

5. Ikigai

Know your reason for being.

The certification study wakes you up early in the morning. Now that you have passed the exam, what makes you up in the morning?

Wake up with purpose.

Another certification that challenges your understanding to the next level?

Or you want to harness what you learned. That’s what makes me happy.

Learning and sharing what I have learnt is helping me to connect with many people daily.

Share what you know.

My passion is to tell a story. Writing and drawing digital sketches to explain concepts strengthens my learning.

I take a lot of time to write, draw and sketch. I like simple stuff. I keep working on the content till I feel it’s minimal. I enjoy this process.

I also love street photography and filmmaking. Telling a gripping story in a short time feeds my minimalist nature.

Ikigai is about self-discovery. You have to keep experimenting with yourself unless you realise which activity makes you forget the sense of time. You have found your Ikigai when you wake up without an alarm. You have found your game when you create, regardless of the attention.

Make your certification experience more than your study. Learn how to create content around the material and share it with the community.

Don’t forget to cherish imperfection — Wabi-Sabi.

6. Shikita Ga Nai

Accept and let go.

I found this Japanese word is related to Greek philosophy — stoicism.

Stoicism is about things you can control versus things beyond your control.

Accept what you cannot change, let go and move on.

Accept and let go.

Many professionals have spent earning Cisco certifications in the 90s. However, infrastructure-related skills are expiring due to the cloud. Business wants to automate everything.

Robots are going to dictate farming and drive-through.

We cannot control how artificial intelligence and Blockchain will change the technology landscape. Or can we?

It’s debatable.

But we can adapt. We can learn. We can evolve.

That’s how we respond to change. Responding to change requires a student mentality.

7. Shu-Ha-Ri

First learn, then detach and finally transcend.

Shu-Ha-Ri originally belonged to martial arts. It’s about skill development and training. Understanding this concept opens your mind to go on the journey to becoming an expert and beyond.

There are three stages — learn, master and innovate.

Three stages of learning
  1. Shu: In this stage, we study the material and learn the fundamentals, definitions and concepts. You must read various books and online resources and watch video training to familiarise yourself with your study domains. What’s unknown to you will be known at the end of this phase.
  2. Ha: You can bend the rules once you have acquired basic knowledge. It’s about practising and developing the same things with various methods. What’s the point of learning risk management if you don’t apply it to your job or life? What’s the point of knowing a cool hack trick if you don't try on Kali Linux?
  3. Ri: It’s about going beyond the expert level and finding innovation, creativity and enhancement of your expertise. I see content creation fits here. You can blend various methods to express your knowledge, making people consume the content uniquely.

8. Kintsugi

Repair cracks with gold.

Yet another word that intersects for embracing imperfection — Wabi-Sabi

Kintsugi applies to broken pottery with golden or silver cracks. The end product still has cracks, but they are not normal ones. It’s golden. Therefore, it’s a metaphor that helps you to celebrate your limitations.

After I failed my first CISSP attempt, I admitted that I was putting more emphasis on reading the material rather than recalling it. Our brain builds a new memory path when we recall the information. In other words, memory is strengthened when you leverage the spaced repetition method.

Embrace the flaws and make it beautiful

It was the flaw, but I used it to strengthen my understanding of weak domains. My future studies will always be different.

Integrate your limitations with yourself to find a new you.

9. Omoiyari

Show consideration for others.

Self-study can begin with a selfish act, but it doesn’t have to end with that.

You spend time, effort, and energy creating a new path to unlock a new destination. You don’t owe anything to people. However, a little consideration to uplift people about to start their journey to study any certification is your prime responsibility.

The other way to understand is you have only dumped information with logical sense in your brain. Just because you managed to answer 70% of 175 questions should not put you on a dead end. Instead, begin a new journey.

Many CISSP holders have helped me to achieve what I wanted. They didn’t owe anything. But they spend time sharing their idea of success. Today, I am continuing the chain.

Luke Ahmed put it best when I shared my CISSP story on LinkedIn.

Keep our flame alive.

Keep the flame alive — Share what you know.

When you show a kind gesture to people about what you have achieved, you are about to spark infinite possibilities.

10. Mottainai

Don’t waste what is valuable.

Many skills that were relevant a decade ago are now becoming outdated. Many infrastructure technologies are migrating due to cloud and A.I. It doesn’t mean what you have learnt is waste.

Never throw your skills away. Instead, learn to reuse and integrate to learn new skills. It doesn’t have to be technical skills.

I learnt digital sketching from scratch during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown lifted, and life is almost back to normal. What about the time I invested in learning the skill?

I blend my sketching skills to express cybersecurity concepts to tell a story. Learn what’s valuable to you and recycle with time.

Japanese concepts and their deep meaning are profound. It’s more than just studying for certifications. It can be applied to all aspects of life.

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Dave On Cyber

CISSP Certified professional writes cybersecurity with digital sketch and storytelling form. Check out https://daveoncyber.gumroad.com/ for notes and downloads.