Thursday, September 23, 2021

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

This is something many of us have experienced to one degree or another, at various times. Many have experienced, some have overcome it, others may not be able to and wonder why.

HealthLine tells us, "Imposter feelings represent a conflict between your own self-perception and the way others perceive you." I would modify that slight to, "...the way we believe others perceive us." Imposter syndrome is something internalized, and has very little to do with the outside world.

I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you, the reader, what I've learned over the years about what's really happening in the world when we're having those feelings of imposter syndrome.

Perception: I don't want to present at a conference, or ask a question at a conference, because everyone knows more than I do, and will ask questions I don't know the answer to.

Reality: Have you ever stood in the back of the room at a conference and just...watched? Most people you see aren't even listening the presentation. Some are on social media (Twitter, Discord, Slack, etc.), and some are on their phones.

When someone asks a question about a presentation, calm yourself so instead of the ringing of fear in your ears, you actually hear the question. Does the question have anything to do with the presentation? I ask, because in my experience, I've gotten a few questions following a presentation, and some of those questions have been way off topic. Looking back, what seems to happen is that someone hears a term that they're familiar with, or something that strikes a chord, and they take it way out in left field. 

My point is simply that, at conferences, the simple reality a lot of people aren't really paying attention. This can be very important, even critical, when the fear behind imposter syndrome is that you're under a microscope.

I've found that I've had to engage with people directly to get a reaction. When I worked for CrowdStrike, I was involved with a number of public speaking engagements, and for the last 5 or so months, the events were about 3 1/2 hrs long. Across the board, almost no one actually asked questions. For those who did, it took time for them to do so; some wouldn't ask questions until the 2 1/2 or 3 hr mark. Some would ask questions, but only after I'd goaded someone else into asking a question.

Perception: I could never write a book or blog post, no matter how prepared I am, because the moment it's published it'll torn apart, and I'll be eviscerated and exposed as the fraud that I am.

Reality: Most people don't actually read books and blog posts. My experience in writing books is that some will purchase the books, but few are willing to actually read the books, and even fewer will write reviews. It's the same with blog posts...you put work into the topic and content, and if you don't share a link to the post on social media, very few actually see the post. If you do share it on social media, you may get "likes" and retweets, but no one actually comments, neither on the tweet nor the post.

My overall point is that imposter syndrome is an internal dialog that prevents us from being our best and reaching our potential. We can overcome it by replacing it with a dialog that is more based on reality, on what actually happens, in the real world. 

My perspective on this is based on experience. In 2005, Cory Altheide and I published a paper discussing the artifacts associated with the use of USB devices on Windows systems (at the time, primarily Windows XP). After the paper was published, I spoke on the topic at a conference in my area, one primarily attended by law enforcement, and got a no questions. Several years later, I was presenting at another conference, and had mistakenly opened the wrong version of presentation; about halfway through, there was a slide with three bullets that all said, "blah blah blah". At the end of the presentation, three attendees congratulated me on a "great presentation". 



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