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The Great Imposter: 6 Tips to Flip the Script on Imposter Syndrome

By Lisa Ventura, the award-winning Cyber Security consultant and the CEO and Founder of the UK Cyber Security Association (UKCSA)


Have you ever had the following thoughts and phrases going around your head?

“I’m a fraud and I will be found out any second.” “That award was meant for someone else, not me.” “Other people are way better than me.” “I don’t deserve this”.

If you recognise yourself in any of these thoughts, you are definitely suffering from imposter syndrome. It is debilitating and gets in the way of us following our dreams and goals and gets in the way of us being our best selves and living our best lives.


What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome was first discovered in 1978, by two psychologists, Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, and it refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it also has strong links to perfectionism and the social context. It is characterised by feelings of inadequacy and debilitating thoughts often around your career in terms of your achievements and reaching your goals. Studies have shown that many high achievers suffer from impostor syndrome, and famous impostor syndrome sufferers include Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie amongst others.


But how do we flip the script on impostor syndrome? Wouldn’t we all like to feel confident and assured in our abilities all the time? Here are some tips that will hopefully help you all flip the script on impostor syndrome once and for all and kick it to the curb where it belongs.


Tip 1: Know the Signs of Imposter Syndrome


We often overlook the signs of impostor syndrome that come up in our day-to-day lives. However, recognising these signs is the first step toward overcoming them.


If you suffer from imposter syndrome, some of the thoughts you might have are that:


  • You feel like you "got lucky" when you actually prepared well and worked hard.

  • You find it hard to accept praise.

  • You apologise for yourself when you didn't actually do something wrong.

  • You hold yourself to incredibly -- sometimes impossibly -- high standards.

  • You find the fear of failure paralysing.


Pay attention to your language choices, both when you are talking to other people and when you are talking to yourself -- especially when it comes to talking about work. If you find your own success or the praise others give you uncomfortable, do some reflective thinking on where those types of thoughts came from and what it means in your professional life.


Tip 2: Know That you are not Alone


When you have impostor syndrome, some of the most important encouragement comes from realizing how many hugely successful people, both male and female, have built amazing careers even while regularly coping with it. I talked earlier about how many celebrities suffer from it.


Knowing that even the most accomplished and successful people suffer from imposter syndrome helped me to flip the script on it and realise that I am in very good company. After all, if the greatest Rockstar in the world Freddie Mercury could suffer from it, I could suffer from it too!


Tip 3: Follow Your own Path and Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

My third tip for flipping the script on imposter syndrome is follow your own path, and don’t compare yourself to others.

There are always people with more skills than you. There is always someone more attractive than you, higher up the career ladder than you, faster than you, thinner than you or, quite frankly, better than you. And do you know what? I honestly don’t care, and neither should you. You are unique, and you should follow your own path, not look at what others are doing. Their paths are their paths. They have had different life experiences, different careers, different struggles and different life challenges. But the only person you have to be better than is the person you were yesterday. And you don't even have to be better than that person. Also, it is okay to go backwards sometimes because we're human, and things don’t often happen to us in a straight line. Life is full of twists turns and curveballs, something I have learnt to my detriment!


Tip 4: Be Proud of and Acknowledge Your Achievements


After I launched the UK Cyber Security Association, I suddenly found myself in high demand. But unlike before, I was determined to make the most of every opportunity that came my way. I said yes to numerous speaking engagements. I said yes to writing articles and blogs for key publications such as Info-security Magazine, Computer Weekly magazine, Sophos’s Naked Security blog and many more. I said yes to being interviewed, being on podcasts and video chats as a guest and appearing at events as a panellist. And then, the awards started coming. I won SC Magazine’s “Outstanding Contribution to Cyber Security” award, Cyber Security UK’s “Cyber Security Personality of the Year” award, Women in Cyber Security USA’s “Supporter of Women” award, I won a Tech 100 Women award and I won Security Excellence’s “Woman of the Year” award. I was also included in SC Magazine’s “Top 50 Women in Cyber Security” list in 2019, named as “Infosec Superwoman of the Year” for CISO Magazine in 2020 and included in SC Magazine’s “Top 30 Women of Influence in Cyber Security During the Pandemic.” One of my biggest achievements though has been becoming a finalist for ITV’s National Diversity Awards in the Positive Role Model (gender) category, my impostor syndrome really went through the roof then! I still do not know the outcome of this as the awards have been postponed several times due to COVID-19. Every time I was a finalist for or won an award, my impostor syndrome went into overdrive! I would always be thinking, “I’m a fraud”, “They have got it wrong,” or “This wasn’t meant for me, it was meant for someone else.” When I won SC Magazine’s “Outstanding Contribution to Cyber Security” award, I did not even go to the ceremony. I thought I had no chance of winning it and found out that I had won the award from their Twitter account. So how did I start acknowledging and being proud of my achievements? Well, I flipped the script and vowed to use them for good, and by that, I mean I use my achievements, awards and experiences to inspire others to enter the cyber security industry, especially women and those who are neurodiverse. The cyber security industry has a huge skills gap and gender imbalance, so if I can encourage just one other person to consider a career in the cyber security industry because they have looked at me, my awards, and my achievements, then I will be happy.



Tip 5: Don’t Strive to be Perfect, Strive for Excellence


I am a huge perfectionist. One of my hobbies is bullet journaling, and when creating spreads in my bullet journals I have been known to rip out pages if I make a mistake and start all over again, even if I have taken hours creating that spread. I must have everything around me in perfect order. My day must run to a perfect schedule. I will go through draft after draft after draft of a blog or article until I think it is perfect. I know that this is part of my being autistic, I have to have a schedule, and everything has to run like clockwork. It makes me feel very uncomfortable if there are changes to my day or planned schedule and routine.

Flipping the script on being a perfectionist is probably the hardest thing I have had to do. Perfectionism is often a way to make sure you do not fail, but a prevention mindset is hardly the best one for creativity and innovative thinking. To try to combat this, I focus on the worst-case scenario, and how unlikely it is to occur, and realize that there’s probably something I can do in that worst case scenario anyway. I now have bullet journals with pages that have errors on and are not torn out. I send off blogs and articles after a couple of drafts instead of several, and nine times out of ten they are accepted. I do not have to have everything in its place anymore. This is hard, and I struggle with it every day. But I no longer strive to be perfect, I strive to be excellent. And there is a huge difference.


Tip 6: #BeKind to Yourself

Imposter syndrome often manifests itself as a voice in our heads, berating us with negative messages like "you're not smart enough" or "you're a fraud." Negative self-talk is a bad habit, and it can heavily influence our stress and anxiety levels.


"Being kind to yourself" simply means changing the way you talk to yourself in your head by practicing positive self-talk. Not only can it help you become less stress and anxious, but it can also help you build the courage to do things that'll bring you greater rewards. While you might find it hard to silence the negative thoughts completely, you should practice adding positive thoughts to your inner voice.


First, try to catch yourself whenever you have a negative thought. Then, turn around and challenge your own claim. For example, if you find yourself thinking, "I just got lucky," challenge that by thinking, "What steps did I take and what work did I put in to get to this point?“ Then, you can answer your own question using affirmations, which are short, focused, positive statements about a goal you have. It might be as simple as, "I worked hard – and I always work hard."


Psychologists have found that repeating affirmations like this can improve stress and anxiety levels, perhaps because these positive statements build a bridge into your subconscious mind.

Final Thoughts

It is not up to you to convince other people your business is worthy or important or successful. Everyone feels like a fraud or like an imposter in their own world. It shows up in different ways and at different times, and it can lead to fear and uncertainty. Whatever happens, don’t let it stop you before you even begin.

 

About Lisa Ventura

Lisa Ventura is an award-winning Cyber Security consultant and is the CEO and Founder of the UK Cyber Security Association (UKCSA), a membership association that is dedicated to individuals and companies who actively work in cyber security in the UK. She has over 10 years’ experience in the cyber security industry and is passionate about raising awareness of being more cyber aware in business to help prevent cyber-attacks and cyber fraud. She is a thought leader, author and keynote speaker and has been published in various publications globally. Her first book “The Rise of the Cyber Women: Volume One” was published in August 2020 and her second book “The Varied Origins of the Cyber Men: Volume One” was published in November 2020, both to great acclaim. Lisa is a Board Member of the Global Cyber Security Alliance, sits on the board of Think Digital Partners and is part of Cyber Security Valley UK. She is also a strong advocate for women in cyber security, the cyber skills gap and neurodiversity. In 2020 she was named CISO Magazine’s Infosec Superwoman of the Year and in 2021 she was named as one of the Top 30 Women of Influence in Cyber Security During the pandemic by SC Magazine.

 

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