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By Infosecurity Professional Staff

Larry Whiteside Jr. is a veteran CISO, CSO, CTO, former U.S. Air Force officer and a cybersecurity thought leader. He's offered advice to Fortune 500 companies and runs a nonprofit association to increase the number of minorities and women in the cybersecurity career field.

Despite such accomplishments, Whiteside suffered from Imposter Syndrome until developing techniques to overcome the self-doubt that can self-sabotage a career and impact how others interact with us.

"We've all felt this, but the important thing is to acknowledge it and have a dialogue," Whiteside told an audience at ISC2 Security Congress.

Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome is discussed more often as cybersecurity becomes more diversified. Those new to the profession, particularly those historically underrepresented, can believe they lack the talent or knowledge to be on a stage, in a room, leading a team or even at a job interview.

Whiteside admits part of his experience with Imposter Syndrome comes from having a more complex background and race than others in the room. He outlined several common symptoms of Imposter Syndrome:

  • A feeling that you don't belong
  • Thinking you're fooling yourself or those around you with your capabilities
  • Crediting success to luck
  • Often feeling like a fraud

The CISO noted that Imposter Syndrome is real, is not meant to keep someone humble, nor is it only felt by women in male-dominated industries. He also noted that many successful people suffer from this psychological syndrome—highly accomplished people like actor Tom Hanks, poet Maya Angelou and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—have all acknowledged it as a challenge.

"The important thing is to recognize this and figure out what you can do," Whiteside said. "To get past it, move forward and not let it be crippling for you."

7 Tactics to Cope with Imposter Syndrome
The first step is to recognize Imposter Syndrome. Only then can you own it and deal with it. Whiteside suggests the following:

  1. Separate feelings from facts. Understand that Imposter Syndrome is felt only by you, not by those you interact with.
  2. Annotate accomplishments. Sit down by yourself and write out things you've done in your career. Celebrate your successes.
  3. Don't compare yourself to others. If you are in the room with other accomplished professionals, that's where you belong.
  4. Don't expect perfection. You want to do your best, but perfection is not realistic—not for every task or project. Instead, remember that most people want their needs met. They don't fixate on everything being perfect.
  5. Share failures. We all fail sometimes. It's important to tell someone about it instead of holding it all in. Most people will be OK with that when you let it go, and then you own it and explain how you'll do better next time. Know you aren't the only one failing. The important part is to fail to learn from failure. Approach it as a learning opportunity.
  6. Recognize it and communicate with others about it. Pinpoint what you are going through and then share it with friends, colleagues, and a therapist. "It's not good for your physical health. It's not good for your mental health. You've got to find people you can talk to about these things."
  7. Give yourself some grace and compassion. Give yourself a break. Life is hard. Don't be your worst enemy and beat yourself up over something you can't control.

"Nobody can do this for you," Whiteside warned. "Not your wife, children, mentors, parents—you must recognize it yourself and take the actions yourself. If you can't help yourself, nobody can help you."