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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Cyber Security Professional

Have you ever felt underqualified for a cyber security job or thought of yourself as a fraud who is successful just because of luck? Or perhaps you believe you don’t have the same level of  skills as the amazing people around you? If the answer to these questions is yes, then you’re not alone. No matter what type of cyber security job you have, imposter syndrome in cyber security is very common.

Cyber security jobs are highly stressful. The ever-changing technology and competitive work environment inherent to the field may trigger imposter syndrome. In this article, we share insights on what imposter syndrome is. We also talk about how overcoming imposter syndrome in cyber security can help your career progression.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a prolonged feeling of considering oneself a fraud. When people experience imposter syndrome, they feel like the only reason they’ve succeeded is luck and live under the immense pressure of being exposed. Moreover, they often doubt their skills and abilities to successfully perform their work duties. 

The phenomenon has been recognized for quite some time. Two psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, first described it in 1978. Clance and Imes believed that the syndrome particularly affected high-performing women. However, the rising numbers of people suffering from the syndrome suggest that it isn’t restricted to women.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), imposter syndrome is most prevalent in high achievers who find it challenging to accept their success. Such people think they succeeded merely because of sheer luck and not their knowledge or talent. A feeling of inadequacy is difficult to get over, and can easily hinder your career journey.  

Is Imposter Syndrome Common in Cyber Security?

Yes, imposter syndrome is widespread in the cyber security space. While there’s no specific research on imposter syndrome in the cyber security industry, it is common in highly skilled professionals. Imposter feelings can occur in security professionals who are at the executive level just as easily as they can occur in someone who just landed an entry-level position. 

The University of California San Diego estimates that more than half of the computer science students in America suffer from imposter syndrome. Furthermore, the study also said that the constant feelings of imposter syndrome impact women more than men. The large number can be attributed to the increasing pressure on cyber security professionals to keep up with the dynamic digital world.

How Imposter Syndrome Affects Cyber Security Experts

It Leads to Self-Doubt and Depression 

Cyber security professionals who experience imposter syndrome often doubt their ability to do their work and hence are caught in a never-ending imposter cycle. In addition, the highly competitive nature of the tech industry doesn’t help either. As a result, cyber security professionals struggle with anxiety, depression, and significant career burnout issues.

It Can Create a Constant Fear of Failure 

Cyber security professionals are responsible for the security and safety of highly confidential data. Their decision-making ability can be clouded if they have low esteem and are uncertain, resulting in constant fear of failure. This effect jeopardizes the career of the cyber security professional involved and can severely affect the company or organization. 

It Restricts Innovation 

Innovation and self-belief go hand-in-hand. Most people have to take a giant leap of faith to innovate. However, the constant self-doubt and fear of failure due to imposter syndrome can restrict a cyber security professional’s ability to innovate and build new security systems. They can be so busy trying not to get exposed that they might stop learning and innovating in their field.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

Stressful Work Environment

Cyber security professionals work in a highly dynamic work environment. They’re required to constantly learn new skills to keep pace with the evolving tech industry. Moreover, cyber security professionals often work up to 90 hours a week, which worsens the situation. 

The unforeseen vulnerability coupled with stress can sometimes become overwhelming for those who feel like beginners even if they possess advanced skills. The fear that a mistake can cause a major security incident is enough to make even the most accomplished people extremely anxious. 

No Formal Paths to Become a Cyber Security Expert

It might come as a surprise, but there’s no clear path to becoming a cyber security expert despite significant progress in the tech industry. That said, the cyber security industry is growing and can even offer high-paying cyber security jobs to those without a degree. However, the lack of industry-standard certifications and advanced formal training can leave highly skilled professionals in the midway.

Personality Traits

Family upbringing, educational background, and other personality traits like perfectionism play a crucial role in the appearance of imposter syndrome. Moreover, the very nature of the cyber security industry makes matters worse. Cyber security professionals have the critical role of defending organizations from cyber attackers, and failure to do this can trigger imposter syndrome.

What Imposter Syndrome Looks Like in the Workplace

Since psychologists are yet to determine the exact causes of imposter syndrome, it can take various forms in the workplace. For instance, some cyber security professionals may have feelings of inadequacy, while others may feel insecure and jealous of their fellow professionals, leading to a toxic workplace environment.

It isn’t easy to determine who has imposter syndrome. You may feel like the best employee of the month is doing great, but they may be just pretending. People who experience imposter syndrome tend to lay low and don’t ask many questions. They also avoid sharing ideas, taking up new challenges, and even networking with the rest of the tech community.

Can Imposter Syndrome Be Cured?

Yes, you can overcome imposter syndrome as a cyber security professional. It isn’t easy to treat imposter syndrome since it isn’t recognized as a mental illness yet. However, you can take small steps to manage and overcome the syndrome, like learning to celebrate small wins or going to therapy.

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is recognizing and accepting your feelings. Moreover, cyber security professionals can talk about their feelings of inadequacy with their career coach. They can also turn this into a learning experience, and take the opportunity to upskill themselves. 

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Cyber Security 

Recognize Your Feelings 

Recognizing that you are suffering from imposter syndrome and accepting those feelings is the first and the biggest step one can take to overcome it. Once you do, take a step back and wonder why you deserve to be in cyber security? Listing the reasons why you are right for this career track can help you eliminate negative thoughts and think more highly about yourself.

Talk to a Mentor 

Breaking the silence and expressing your feelings is another crucial step. Find a mentor who can listen to you and help you express all the emotions that suffocate you. A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to offer a solution. Sometimes all it takes is someone to listen to you. You can talk to them about why you failed to complete a project successfully or discuss the challenges of your new project. 

Set Achievable Goals 

Setting up realistic goals is the next important step to overcoming imposter syndrome. Try to sharpen your strengths and manage your weaknesses. Next, determine small milestones to help you focus on one task at a time. Share your goals with your colleagues and let them help you.

Learn From Your Failures 

Failures are essential and can be beneficial for career advancement. If you focus on what you’ve learned rather than the outcome, you will realize your strengths. Learning to recognize mistakes and mitigate future risks is integral to cyber security. For cyber security experts, failure can often lead to innovation and help prevent massive data breaches in the future.

Upskill Regularly

Never stop learning. Upskilling can help cyber security professionals navigate the ever-changing environment of the tech industry smoothly. Schedule your day in such a way that you always have time for self-improvement. This could mean enrolling in a coding bootcamp, researching the worst cyber attacks, or even working on your soft skills. 

How a Coding Bootcamp Can Help You Get Over Imposter Syndrome

As long as technology evolves, cyber security will evolve with it. Cyber security is a high-stress career path, and there’s no easy way to succeed in it. However, you can deal with imposter syndrome and reskill yourself with a coding bootcamp. Unlike a college degree, a coding bootcamp lets you acquire relevant skills in all aspects of security over a short period of time.

It is the best way to cultivate a growth mindset. At a bootcamp, you might face the failures you face while doing your job. However, you will also learn to get over a roadblock and learn from your failures. Cyber security bootcamps can boost your confidence level and create a pathway to new skills, leading to career growth.

Can Imposter Syndrome Be a Good Thing?

Yes, imposter syndrome can present an amazing learning opportunity if managed properly. Although it can feed feelings of self-doubt, it may also lead cyber security professionals to do a better job. In addition, those who suffer from the syndrome can be more empathetic and cooperative.

Why Imposter Syndrome Is Good

  • It pushes you to learn constantly. Imposter syndrome allows people to self-assess their strengths and weaknesses, further helping them gain the skills they need to grow in their careers. 
  • It gives you a competitive advantage. You may go the extra mile to do a job, which can give you a competitive advantage over your colleagues.
  • It helps you manage your ego. Feeling like a fraud can keep your ego in check. You won’t get way too comfortable in your job, and you’ll keep looking for ways to be better at what you do.

Why Imposter Syndrome Is Bad

  • It can cause depression. Imposter syndrome can cause self-doubt and lead to depression. It can affect both professional and personal relationships as well. 
  • It leads to a persistent fear of failure. Many professionals find it challenging to achieve unrealistic expectations while experiencing the syndrome. This can lead to a constant fear of failure, which ruins confidence in the long-term.
  • It can deepen your insecurities. Imposter syndrome can force people to compare themselves with their colleagues and deepen their insecurities. This kind of insecurity and feelings of jealousy can create a toxic work environment. 

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back

Although imposter syndrome was discovered over four decades ago, it is still prevalent today. It can affect people at any level, at any time of their career, be it an entry-level cyber security professional or a CEO of a security company. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, be kind to yourself and channel your inner strength to overcome it.

Imposter Syndrome in Cyber Security FAQ

Is imposter syndrome a mental illness?

No, imposter syndrome isn’t recognized as a mental illness yet. It is a psychological concept where people experience feelings of chronic self-doubt. Imposter syndrome can trigger many mental problems like anxiety, stress, and depression.

Does imposter syndrome go away?

Yes, you can overcome imposter syndrome by recognizing your feelings and talking to someone you trust. Upskilling is also an excellent way to defeat imposter syndrome. You can also overcome imposter syndrome by talking to a therapist.

Why is imposter syndrome so common in tech? 

Tech is one of the fastest-growing industries. The growth offers plenty of opportunities but makes it highly competitive for those who aspire to join this field. The constantly changing job roles and the pressure to keep evolving can lead to imposter syndrome. However, it is possible to deal with impossible syndrome while learning to code or working on a coding project. 

How do you overcome imposter syndrome in a new job?

An excellent way to overcome imposter syndrome in a new job is by visualizing your success. You can also reward yourself every time you do an exceptional job. Another way is to ensure you are in an ongoing learning process.

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