Author Elaine Harrison-Neukirch
Overcoming the doubts and fears of “Imposter Syndrome” can be a challenge, but it’s not one we have to work through alone. With any challenge, there are obstacles to work through before completing sucessfully. By building support networks, having the faith and willingness to take those first steps, and possibly fail, Imposter Syndrome can be kicked to the curb.
The first time that I had heard the phrase Imposter Syndrome was when I attended a webinar about it in 2020. As I listened to a panel of women in a variety of cybersecurity professions discuss their experiences , a “light bulb” went on in my head. They described different scenarios that I had actually faced throughout my career in IT and cyber security. I was thrilled to know that I was not the only person who has dealt with Imposter Syndrome.I wasn’t able to label it previous to the webinar but now I had a name for my feelings.
This blog was not easy for me to write, admitting to vulnerabilities and doubts “out loud”, publicly and to myself. My goal is to help others find their confidence by understanding that the doubts have a name - Imposter Syndrome - and that there is a community of us ready to provide support and encouragement.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome comes from constant self doubt in your abilities. You may feel like a fraud in your profession. Like you shouldn’t be doing your job because you aren’t really qualified. You constantly compare yourself to others in your profession, always deciding they’re better than you. These feelings come from within and are fed by our self doubt. I also believe that Imposter Syndrome can be fostered by those around you. If you have managers or coworkers who constantly ignore your input or “blow you off,” it can contribute to your feelings of worthlessness in your profession.
When did my Imposter Syndrome begin?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. The seeds were planted when I was a child. I had a family member who constantly told me I wasn’t good enough. In high school, I wasn’t much of an athlete and our gym coaches made sure that I was aware that I wasn’t “good enough” in gym class or for a sports team.
My grades were good and I excelled in other areas (art & computers). However, I still felt like a failure thanks to this chorus of negative voices at home and in school.This stuck with me into my adult life.
Why did my Imposter Syndrome stay with me?
I have been in the IT industry for about 15 years. I transitioned from managing a hotel to becoming a pc tech for a small manufacturing company. I was in my early 30’s. Throughout my IT career, I have had a variety of managers & coworkers who seemed to doubt my abilities. There were more than a few times when I would make suggestions and recommendations to them only to be ignored. I was constantly interrupted in meetings. Finally giving up because of the effort it took to be heard.
After a while, I began to wonder if I knew what I was talking about. Even when my supportive coworkers validated that I was correct in my recommendations, I still felt I wasn't qualified and needed to be better.
Breaking free from Imposter Syndrome's hold over me
If you don’t suffer from Imposter Syndrome, it may be difficult for you to understand. It’s not easy to overcome these feelings. Especially if you have lived with them for years.
I started a new job several months ago. I really enjoy working for this company. We have a fantastic culture. The people I work with are all amazingly supportive and encourage branching out. I have yet to feel like my input was shrugged off or ignored. Managers and coworkers alike are encouraging me to do more public speaking and presentations.
I can whip up a blog in no time. I am able to run a chat group in a workshop without issue. The thought of getting up in front of people and presenting is terrifying to me. I am terrified that I will sound stupid and people will roll their eyes as I talk. Terrified is a strong word but it fits. I get anxious just thinking about presenting at a conference. This is ironic considering I always encourage my daughters to get out there and not be afraid to do things out of their comfort zones.
I recently submitted a proposal to present at a Women in Cyber Security conference. I have conflicting feelings about this. I hope the presentation makes the cut, this will validate that it is good enough for a conference. However, that means I’ll have to present at an in-person conference which brings anxiety, doubt, worry and fear.
I will be presenting this talk in a couple of weeks. I volunteered to present to a group I have been in for over a year. Even as I write this blog I want to back out of presenting because I don't think I will be good enough. This is my “test run” to see if I can get through my presentation without having an anxiety attack. If I make it through this presentation, I will be more confident in submitting for other conferences and talks.
The great thing about this group is that I feel like I know many of the participants. I am comfortable with them and I know they will provide great feedback. Yet, I struggle with feeling inadequate and doubting my presentation content.
I’ve found that the more I get out of my comfort zone and force myself to do these things, the less self doubt I have about my abilities in Cyber Security. It’s kind of like high school, I can’t do everything in Cyber but I do excel in some domains.
Here’s to Imposter Syndrome becoming a thing of the past. The more we can support and encourage each other in our endeavors, the less hold it will have over us. This has been proven by the support I have received from my fellow Unicorns (coworkers)!
I hope I have inspired some of you to work through your own Imposter Syndrome. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you want to chat about it or need some encouragement.
About the Author: Elaine Harrison-Neukirch has over 10 years of experience in cyber security working in the healthcare and financial services industries. She currently runs the customer support program at SCYTHE. Elaine advocates for Women in Cybersecurity; she is a member of both Women in Cybersecurity and Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu. She is also Education Lead for CSNP.