The Imposter Complex

When I was in college, I read an article in Psychology Today that described a study about successful people. The study indicated that most successful people were extremely driven achieve because they suffered from what is called “The Imposter Complex” and they believe that they are really fraudulent in being deserving of their success. Successful people frequently really feel like failures and believe deep down inside that they are somehow fooling people into believing they are better than they really are.

When I first read this article decades ago, I was stunned because I felt like it was all about me. I grew up in a sports-oriented family, but I was the physically awkward intellectually curious nerd. Consequently, I always felt like the odd duck. My parents were attractive, and my siblings were athletic and attractive, but I was fat, saddled with a bad acne, poor vision and oily hair. Admittedly, I had a high IQ and great grades, but in my family, being gorgeous and athletic was far more important, so by those standards, I was a failure. To this day, I feel like I have to prove myself. I kill myself at work to live up to standards I think my department head and my dean have for me, but it never seems to matter. Consequently, I have developed higher levels of depression, anxiety and high blood pressure. Rationally, I know this is stupid, but emotionally, I continue to make myself crazy.

Somehow, I learned to quit trying to make my family like me a long time ago. I just accepted that they don’t like me, but I cannot seem to make that seem leap at work.

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