Being Unmasked as an Imposter

As you might expect, failure isn’t all that popular an activity. And yet, not everyone reacts to it by breaking out in hives. While many of the people (in a recent study) hated tasks that they didn’t do well, some people thrived under the challenge. They positively relished things they weren’t very good at—for precisely the reason that they should have: when they were failing, they were learning.  

For growth people, challenges are an opportunity to deepen their talents, but for “fixed” people, they are just a dipstick that measures how high your ability level is. Finding out that you’re not as good as you thought is not an opportunity to improve; it’s a signal that you should maybe look into a less demanding career, like mopping floors.    

This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you “really” are is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable.

Megan Mcardle writing in the Atlantic