All my life I have had a strong feeling that whatever I do, even if it is something that I know full well I am good at and am perfectly capable of doing, I am not good enough at it.
I had no idea what this feeling was, but it has been there throughout my life and ever-present, like an old friend. Even at school, if I did well and got A’s and high marks for my work, I would think that the teachers had made a mistake. If I got praised for something by my family, I would think that they were lying to me. There was a voice in my head from as far back as I could remember that said loud and clear that whatever I did, no matter how good it was, I was a fraud and I would be exposed as such at any moment.
This feeling was especially strong in my work. If my boss in any of the roles I’ve had said I had done a good job, I would think he or she was wrong, that they meant the praise for someone else. I wouldn’t speak up in meetings or voice my opinion because I felt like I was a fraud, that my opinion was rubbish, not wanted and wrong. I would keep quiet and then seethe quietly inside while colleagues would say what I wanted to say, and then get all the credit. If I did achieve something big, I would put it down to timing or luck rather than my skills and abilities.
I didn’t realise that there was an official name for what I was feeling until a few years ago. I stumbled across an article on Forbes.com which was me to a T. That article talked about Impostor Syndrome.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
The official definition of impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. It was a relief to know that there was a name for what I was feeling and that it was a fully recognised condition.
Over the years I can see clearly where my impostor syndrome prevented me from applying for roles that might have suited me or speaking up in meetings to share my ideas and thoughts, because I thought there was “no point” as I wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t get those roles anyway, and my opinion and voice wouldn’t count for anything because I am a fraud.
I learnt to live with it, and the voice in my head that said I was a fraud and not good enough ever left me. It was there when I got my first job in 1995 working with the host of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in the UK, Chris Tarrant. It was there when I entered the cyber security industry in 2009 and joined my ex-husband’s software development company. It was there even though it grew from just the two of us in our home office to a small business with members of staff, offices and a network of distributors and resellers in over 50 countries. It was there when I founded the UK Cyber Security Association. It was there when I submitted articles for publication on key topics in the cyber security industry.
Impostor Syndrome and Validation of my Work
Recently I won 2 awards for my work in the cyber security industry. I won SC Awards Europe “Outstanding Contribution to Cyber Security” award and Cyber Security Awards “Cyber Security Personality of the Year” award. For the first award I decided not to go to the ceremony. Firstly, I thought that a HUGE mistake had been made and that I wasn’t meant to be a finalist for that category. I was up against the likes of Stu Hirst from Just Eat and Ian Glover of CREST to name but a few, both of whom I admire and respect in the cyber security industry greatly. There were far more worthy winners in that category than me. Yet I won that award. And I STILL felt that there had been a big mistake made, that the judges had meant for the award to go to someone else.
When it came to the second award I was recovering from surgery so I couldn’t attend the ceremony even if I wanted to, but still the voice in my head was telling me that winning “Cyber Security Personality of the Year” was another huge mistake on the part of the judges. So how do I handle impostor syndrome, and drown out the voice in my head that tells me I am a fraud and I will be exposed as one at any time?
My next article on “MeDecoded” will focus on how I handle impostor syndrome as someone who is #ActuallyAutistic, and what mechanisms I have put in place to manage the thoughts I have that I am a fraud and not good enough.
We are always looking for people to share their experiences or thoughts on topics related to Neurodiversity. If you have something that you would like to share, then please get in touch.