Have you ever felt convinced your career success or popularity has been the net result of a long, elaborate ruse you’ve managed to pull on everyone around you that's every bit as shaky as a game of Jenga played entirely by pugs?

If so, congrats! You can not-so-proudly join the ranks of others, such as the obviously talented Emma Watson, Maya Angelou, and Kate Winslet, to name a few. The most popular, if somewhat misleading, term for that feeling of faking your career success is "imposter syndrome," and we here at Medical Daily have decided to lay down the skinny on its ins-and-outs.

Hopefully, at least. Ugh, my explanation probably won’t be very good, anyway.

The Feeling Of Feeling Fake

Imposter syndrome — not to be confused with the very real delusion of believing your closest friends, family and even cats have been replaced by identical fakes — was first described in the late 1970s by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. They called it “imposter phenomenon,” though.

At the time, the pair used it as a placeholder for the “internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.” In the years since, other researchers have affirmed imposterism tends to be especially amplified in successful women, but it doesn’t spare men either, particularly if they’re minorities.

For some, imposterism crops up because they’ve succeeded so early compared to their peers and worry that they’re one-hit wonders. Others worry because they haven't produced tangible results, even though they're highly educated and at the start of their careers. Still others worry that they were only chosen for a job to fulfill unspoken quotas, not due to their actual skills.

That fear can drive people to paradoxically both strive for perfection and avoid taking chances with their career choices, lest they fall flat on their face and confirm their worst nightmares. “It’s not that women don’t want to succeed, it’s that, despite their education and experience, they’ve internalized messages about their lack of qualification,” explained Ann Friedman in a 2013 Pacific Standard article. A similar internalization can be found among Harvard Business School students, medical residents, and indie game developers.

A Brain Crink

Imposter syndrome isn’t really a disease so much as it is a psychological crink — something akin to a bad back. Like a bad back, it’s often fleeting, occasionally debilitating, and much more common than we assume; some estimate that at least 70 percent of us have felt like career frauds at some point in our lives. But there are ways to alleviate imposterism the same as there are exercises and stretches that strengthen the back against pain.

According to Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on the syndrome and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, the best solution is sunlight.

"No one likes to fail, but what differentiates imposters is that they feel shame when they fail. So, put a name to it. I'm a huge fan of normalizing it — not pathologizing it — and putting it into context,” Young told Science Careers in 2013. “Let people know that everyone feels that way at some point or another." Mentors in their respective fields can especially help out, letting their proteges at work or academia know about the challenges up ahead without sugarcoating it while still reassuring them of their capabilities.

Others, such as NYMag’s Molly Fischer, are not only unafraid to name their imposterism — they revel in it.

“Lean into your imposter syndrome. Accept that no magical combination of preparation and credentials can guarantee the achievements you desire, but a lack won’t preclude them, either,” she wrote in a November 2015 article, brazenly titled I Hope I Never Get Over My Imposter Syndrome. “Nothing really qualifies you for a job besides doing it, and — yes, it’s all true! — whatever success you have attained is in large part the product of luck and charm and circumstances beyond your control. This goes for you, but it also goes for everyone else.”

Rather than thinking of imposter syndrome as a problem for — mostly — women to overcome, Fischer continued, it might instead best be thought of as an imprecise buffer against overconfidence. To her, worrying that you’re not as good as others think “entails the gnawing belief that there’s a better version of yourself you ought to try to be, one you haven’t been yet and aren’t sure you can be. You could also call that ambition.”

If nothing else, though, at least you’ll have something to chat about with Meryl Streep.