In a moment between tasks the other day I was goofing around with a colleague. Only half in jest, I said something about how scary it is when you look around a room and realize you're the smartest person there.
I make a lot of fun of myself; despite having accomplished some things in my life, I never have shook the feeling that I'm just a small-town girl who caught some good breaks along the way. I've often felt I'm more lucky than good, and in spite of the praise people have heaped on my abilities I see myself as no better than average at best. While some people see my ready self-deprecation as self-loathing, to me it serves a vital purpose: it helps me to stay grounded, to remember that everything I have could be taken from me in a moment, and to not get a big head about life.
It's a defense against arrogance. Several times in my life I've been shown where my knowledge has been incomplete, and I've had to come to grips with what I didn't know. Sometimes it's come with humiliation. It would be foolish of me not to have taken something instructive from those experiences. Maybe it means that I often keep my own counsel when I should speak up, but I'm too busy thinking about the things I still need to learn before I make up my mind. When I speak up, I want to be reasonably sure I'm operating from strength, lest I make an ass of myself.
I'm a firm believer that it's not what you know that matters, or even the things you know that you know. It's knowing what you don't know that makes the difference. It's knowing the limits of your knowledge and abilities, and then knowing where to go for what you need to remedy that, and knowing who to trust and vetting those sources too. I've seen people I admired trip themselves up when it was obvious they were outside their realm, and people with incredible gifts in one area completely humiliate themselves in another.
It's not that they were bad people; they weren't. Instead, as often happens, they were just not cognizant of their blind spots. I'm guilty of having done that, too; I'm sure I've done it more than once on this site. When I've been called out on it, or even when I've looked back on the times I've shot my mouth off, it's stung.
It's my fear of doing it again - as I no doubt will, sooner than I'd like - that keeps me my own most persistent skeptic.