A 2011 research paper first published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science stated that an estimated 70 percent of people experience impostor syndrome at one point in their lives. According to a study done by TeamBlind’s data analytics team for the social media network, approximately 58% of people in a technology-related industry suffer from impostor syndrome. I’m one of them.
You read the title and now you might be asking yourself, what is impostor syndrome?
Defined strictly by the Oxford English dictionary, impostor syndrome “is the persistent inability to believe that one success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one own effort or skills.” This is also commonly known as fraud syndrome, impostor experience, or impostor phenomena. Those who are afflicted with impostor syndrome often incorrectly believe that all of their personal success is received by either beginner’s luck or some means of fraudulent activity such as cheating or lying. These people often try to stick to the lowest position on the totem pole that they can afford to be in, to ensure that they are as close to their own level of perceived intelligence and success. Those who have impostor syndrome are more likely to over-prepare themselves for a meeting or a project is given adequate time and will often panic if they are merely thrown in to the deep end. Those who are suffering may be less willing to take risks and put themselves out there for fear of failure.
Impostor syndrome during the National Cyber League is like a ride on the Vomit Comet. You have your highs when you feel you know exactly what you are doing. You feel as though you were put on this earth to do NCL and you feel like a technical badass. But then you have your lows, where you are not sure if you can even spell IP. For some people, it’s an entire challenge category for others it’s a particular challenge and the perceived difficulty of said challenge. We forget all too quickly that just because a challenge is marked as easy, certainly does not mean the challenge is easy. Every competitor has a different background and everyone has their favorite categories or tools that may give them a leg up in any given challenge, or their knowledge may not come in handy in a specific game.
For those of you who competed in Spring 2020, you may recall a number of people, myself included, who struggled with an easy challenge. The challenge itself was meant for us to take a step back and think about why we default to some answers and not others. Most of us defaulted to what we would normally do in the Cryptography Gym Challenges and never stopped for a second to take a step back, reevaluate the situation and think about alternative solutions. Instead, most of us either took to Slack to say “I don’t understand how I was able to solve a medium challenge but not an easy challenge” or, ” I must not be reading this right”. Some people stated that they felt like failures and embarrassed for feeling defeated by an easy challenge. We jump straight to self-doubt without thinking about other options or other plans of attack.
Instinctively, I think the first thing we do as humans is downplay our intelligence and strengths, but, as a society, we need to migrate towards a growth mindset. Rather than being negative and saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not smart enough,” you should adapt your thinking. Say ‘I don’t know this yet” or “I wasn’t able to solve the challenge this season, but I’m going to take another look work on it in the off-season and come back stronger!” When used correctly, growth mindset is one of the greatest tools to beat impostor syndrome. Because all it takes is adding a second sentence or a final word at the end of your sentence to remind yourself, that you are still learning, and you are going to work to improve.
P.S. This trick works in the real world too.
That being said, go forth and kick ass! Or should I say, “Grow forth”?
Also, check out my next blog coming Saturday, 5/16 for my personal experience with Impostor Syndrome, and my 3 big tips on how to beat this.