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I am but I’m not: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome in Cybersecurity

My ex-colleagues and I had a chat a while back. The topic was imposter syndrome. Some mentioned how they never felt they were sufficient to fit the job role they held. Others felt that they were never good at what they did, despite having ground-breaking records on file. I’m not superman but I mentioned that I couldn’t relate to this feeling. That’s because I had a different view point about this feeling of insufficiency. I’ll discuss that shortly.

What is imposter syndrome?

Wikipedia says imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

Irrespective of how good you are, what you know, what you’ve achieved and how well you perform your job tasks, imposter syndrome can make you feel like a total fake. Imposter syndrome can make you the feel as if your entire career is a lie. You’ll never feel like you're good enough. There’s this constant thought of the day you’ll “finally get exposed”. You can continue to learn all you can and accomplish more than your peers but you’ll never get the satisfaction that comes with being among the top 1% in your workplace or your cybersecurity network.

How can one move beyond the constant feeling of never feeling sufficient? How can cyber professionals overcome imposter syndrome?

Sincerely, I think it’s an illusion, a mirage. Imposter syndrome happens only in the mind. It’s nothing physical. It’s not something you see, it’s something you think! You feel incapable because you think you’re incapable. You've already accepted what you thought about yourself in your mind.

How do I see imposter syndrome differently?

I think that imposter syndrome may manifest from a knowledge gap.

The main reason I may not be as good as I want to be is because I don’t know something other experts know, or I can’t do something (e.g perform penetration tests thoroughly) other experts can. So, I work to close that gap. That way, whenever I feel insufficient, I just feel it’s because there’s something I don’t know. Not because I'm not good enough.

Controlling your mind to understand that there’s only so much you can learn or do is a good way of addressing imposter syndrome. You can’t always be the “almighty” no matter what you’ve accomplished. Technology is dynamic and as a result, you must constantly learn new things.

Having constant thoughts of incapability that can’t be tied to any reason is a waste of brain power and mind space. I’d instead have thoughts of how I can work to close any knowledge gap that make me feel incompetent. Performing tasks that close this gap provides a feeling of great satisfaction for me.

About the Author: Charles Chibueze a Senior Security consultant with over 5 years of experience in penetration testing, incident response, SOC, threat and vulnerability management.

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