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Impostor syndrome or else?

  1. Sep 5, 2016 #1
    Hi all. I'm trying to find out what to do with my impostor syndrome (if that's what it is). I'll describe my story below.

    I think that I was a rather bright kid, reading tons of books since I was 4. Pretty happy when I was little. However, at some stage my parents started arguing, considering a divorce or separation, plus there were other issues like alcohol abuse and (limited, mostly verbal) aggression at home. So, I've spent the next 10 years trying to keep the family together - running away from home, putting myself in trouble to bring parents together, etc. When I was in high school, anxiety disorder hit me with full strength. I had problems breathing, panic attacks, fear of losing it, and so on. This extended to the first year of university studies, which I failed and had to restart from scratch. I was unable to attend the lectures because of anxiety issues, so I tried to get professional help. The psychiatrist told me that I'm fine when it comes to mental health, so no meds for me, but I should try therapy. I didn't do that, but I met a girl and have put myself together, at least for a few years.

    I always was 'ambitious' - in the sense of what I want to achieve, but my grades (I studied math) weren't great. I suppose that was because I probably have a mild form of OCD, that is, I can't just go through the lectures to prepare myself for the exam. When I find something I don't understand I just have to start digging deeper, so I was able to read at most half of the lectures before any exam, before I sunk into side research. Still, despite the GPA approximately equal to 3 there were people that claimed that I should go for PhD. I didn't do that, but went to work and concurrently did BSc in computer science at average (but not bad) school.

    Fast-forward to today: I'm 40 and I finally got my PhD in CS. My non-academic career is not relevant: mostly teaching jobs. I keep hearing nice things about myself and the bright future that I might have. However, there are so many talented people 10+ years younger around me! Many of them were trained in math and cs since a kid, took part in math/cs competitions, etc. I missed all that as a kid. I know that it's silly, but I keep going through a sort of retroanalysis to find out whether I was good enough to join their ranks if my life looked different or not.

    Well, I'm 40, which is supposed to be mature, and I'm still frozen in time as a 12 years old kid that wanted to build the true artifical intelligence. I don't really want to let go of that kid...

    Also, feeling like a fraud, I'm compulsively going through online masters, etc., to change my career in order not to be the worst loser around.

    Can anyone relate to this? I'm thinking about therapy, although this might be a bit late. Also, thanks - I wanted to tell my story, I thought that this might be a good place for this. Sorry if I was wrong.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2016 #2


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    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    You got your PhD, great, congratulations. Stop comparing yourself to other people. There will always be those that are younger or smarter. You don't need to prove anything to anyone.

    Of course it is tempting to ask "what if..." questions, but the fact of the matter is that these questions are mostly irrelevant for the future. With your degree and additional life experience under your belt, stop browsing though online masters, please do not go into therapy (unless it is for the direct treatment of your OCD, a serious condition) and try to look ahead without letting go of your 12 year old self.

    By the way, I am a mathematician too and I never took place in math competitions. In fact, I loathe them. :smile:
  4. Sep 5, 2016 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    Great response from Krylov, and with that I will close the thread. Except if you still have have OCD to the point that it bothers you, that is treatable and you can see a psychiatrist about that.
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