Do People Experience Imposter Syndrome in Cybersecurity?
Written by CJ McGillivray
Cybersecurity is a dynamic industry where the stakes are high and the pressure is on. Things are constantly changing and cyber threats are continually evolving. No matter how many cybersecurity courses you have successfully completed, it is only natural to experience the occasional wave of doubt or insecurity about your skills. When the going gets tough, you may even feel as though you are underqualified even though you are perfectly capable of handling whatever gets thrown at you. Hello, imposter syndrome.
What Exactly is Imposter Syndrome?
What exactly is imposter syndrome and how can you learn to overcome it? In their academic article on treating the causes of imposter syndrome, Dr. Samyukta Mullangi and Dr. Reshma Jagsi provide a succinct working definition of the phenomenon. They describe imposter syndrome as “a psychological term that refers to a pattern of behaviour wherein people, even those with adequate external evidence of success, doubt their abilities and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.” When you struggle with imposter syndrome, there is often a perceived divide between what you know and your assumption of what everyone else knows. And anyone can experience this, even when you are more than qualified and have extensive training in your field. Mullangi and Jagsi note that some people “[attribute] accomplishments to luck or good timing instead of merit, voicing fears that they had simply duped others with an illusion of competence.” This type of thinking can be quite pervasive in cybersecurity given the constant variation and demands of the field.
Who Experiences the Phenomenon?
Short answer, everyone. Even famed author Neil Gaiman has an illuminating anecdote about his experience with imposter syndrome. On this personal blog, he writes about a discovery he made during a social gathering with some of the most accomplished creators, thinkers, inventors and brilliant minds in contemporary history. In this room full of incredible people, Neil Gaiman found himself chatting casually with “a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman” who expressed feeling out of place among such giants. The older man told him, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” Then comes the reveal. Gaiman responds, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.” Sound relatable? You may find it shocking just how many accomplished, remarkable individuals experience imposter syndrome in the same way you do. Even Neil Armstrong feels that way sometimes. Talking about it and understanding that you are not alone can help reduce some of the associated anxiety and stress that comes with feeling out of place. It can also be quite inspiring to know that the people you look up to are going through something similar. For some added inspiration, check out this compilation article from Entrepreneur Media featuring a number of leaders, entrepreneurs and performers who struggle with imposter syndrome.
What Are Some Practical Solutions to Shift Your Perspective?
It may not happen overnight, but you can start by welcoming imperfection and embracing failure when it occurs. This will help you get one step closer to overcoming imposter syndrome. Try to shift your perspective by surrounding yourself with people who support your progress and value your expertise. Hold your head up high and stand by your education. You can do this by prioritizing your ongoing learning and certification needs so that you can confidently present yourself as a qualified expert in your field. Dedicate your time and effort to ongoing learning with the help of accessible online cybersecurity courses. Upgrade your cybersecurity skills with online Arcitura courses and CompTIA courses or jump into the world of information security management systems with PECB courses. Find yourself a mentor and share your doubts with them. Create a strong support system and try not to be too hard on yourself. Remember that your expectations may differ from reality, but that is okay. Your relationship with imposter syndrome will be an ongoing progress. From the first man on the moon to a beginner cybersecurity specialist, anyone can experience imposter syndrome. But you can shift your perspective when doubt creeps in. Through willingness and an earnest curiosity for knowledge, you can move beyond imposter syndrome and embrace your potential.