The Talented-Person Blind Spot

I’m betting you’re extremely good at something, perhaps at more than just one thing.

Let’s face it: you’re talented – gifted, in fact – a classic overachiever. But the odds are 7 in 10 that you find it difficult to accept and believe these compliments.

I say this because 70 percent of our population suffers from Impostor Syndrome and it is most common among high achievers, especially people with graduate degrees, college professors on track for tenure, and research scientists. 1

Isaac Newton, the man who changed the way we understand the universe, who discovered the laws of gravity and motion and invented calculus, suffered from Impostor Syndrome, saying, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 2

Impostor Syndrome is the blind spot that comes with talent.

Harold Kushner describes Impostor Syndrome as “the feeling of many apparently successful people that their success is undeserved… For all the outward trappings of success, they feel hollow inside. They can never rest and enjoy their accomplishments… They need constant reassurance from the people around them to still the voice inside them that keeps saying, ‘If other people knew you the way I know you, they would know what a phony you are.'” 3

Now here’s the good news: Impostor Syndrome is perfectly normal. What you want to avoid is the opposite, the Dunning–Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusions of superiority, mistakenly assessing their abilities as much higher than they really are. 4

Everyone is messed-up and broken a little. (Impostor Syndrome)
But the most messed-up are those who believe they are not. (Dunning-Kruger)

Scientists Dunning and Kruger believe “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.” 4

In other words, those of us who have Impostor Syndrome see ourselves from the inside, where we stand naked in the shadow of old wounds, past failures and the knowledge of our limitations. But we see others from the outside, where they stand majestic, beautifully illuminated in the bright glory of their successes.

A close friend once asked me to tell him the secret of confidence. “The key isn’t to think more highly of yourself,” I said, “but to quit thinking so highly of others.”

If Dunning and Kruger’s research can be trusted, it would appear that I was right.

This is what I was hoping to give you today:

  1. Encouragement.
    Talented people like yourself often feel they’ve just been lucky. But being in the right place at the right time doing the right thing in the right way isn’t luck, it’s talent. Most people have at least one talent. Be happy that you found yours.
  2. Normality.
    Seventy percent of successful people wrestle with Impostor Syndrome. See it for what it is and it will disappear.
  3. Self-acceptance.
    Yes, you have deficiencies, but so does everyone else. Relax.
  4. Self-awareness.
    I said that Impostor Syndrome is a blind spot among people with talent. Hopefully, now that you’ve seen your blind spot, it won’t be a blind spot anymore.
  5. Gratitude.
    Open your eyes to your talent and be glad of it. (And if you ever figure out who gave it to you, be sure to thank them for it!)

Have a great week.

Do great things.

It’s in your nature.

Roy H. Williams

1 Clark, M.; Vardeman, K.; Barba, S. (2014). “Perceived inadequacy: A study of the impostor phenomenon among college and research librarians”. College & Research Libraries75 (3): 255–271.

2 Newton, Isaac. (1676). “Letter from Sir Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke”.  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

3 Kushner, Harold. (2002). When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough: The Search For a Life That Matters.

4 Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David (1999). “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.