When I skimmed the New York Times health section on Tuesday (a habit left over from my last job, when I would scan the articles looking for mentions of my authors), a headline caught my eye, and thoughts about the accompanying article have been bubbling at the back of my head all week: “Feel Like a Fraud? At Times, Maybe You Should”

The jist of the piece speaks directly to a feeling that has plagued me for as long as I can remember–that at some point, people are going to wise up to the fact that maybe I’m not as smart as they think I am. I never realized this furtive sense was actually measurable:

Questionnaires measuring impostor fears ask people how much they agree with statements like these: “At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.” “I can give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am.” “If I’m to receive a promotion of some kind, I hesitate to tell others until it’s an accomplished fact.”

Uh, yes, yes, and yes. I almost always cringe inwardly and feel slightly ashamed of myself when someone tells me I’m smart. But maybe it’s not so self-defeating:

But the dread of being found out is hardly always paralyzing. Two Purdue psychologists, Shamala Kumar and Carolyn M. Jagacinski, gave 135 college students a series of questionnaires, measuring anxiety level, impostor feelings and approach to academic goals. They found that women who scored highly also reported a strong desire to show that they could do better than others. They competed harder.

On the other hand, men with these hangups become underachievers, which I think is interesting. The article goes on to make the distinction between “healthy” feelings of imposterism and deliberate false humility aimed at lowering expectations. Does that actually work? The few times I’ve semiconsciously tried to sell something like that, the other person wasn’t buying it. Anyhow. Anyone else out there feel like they’re pulling a fast one on people who think they’re smart or talented?

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