I seldom feel confident as a partner, friend, mentor, or coworker.
In my marriage, I rarely believe I am as intelligent overall as my wife. I know I am not as emotionally balanced as she is. I know I lack her ability to deal with people. I know all the ways in which I fall short of her. I rarely feel that my talents complement hers.
This insecurity means I constantly worry that I have failed her. She could have found a better companion, someone with whom she would enjoy life and enjoy more success. That's a challenge for a relationship, since I'm always fighting the sense that she would be better off without me.
I think to myself, if only I were more successful, more popular, more charming, and more fun, her life would be better. Instead, she's stuck with me holding her back financially and socially.
Similar thoughts impede my friendships, my teaching, and my career. Doubts take over, consuming me at times.
A simple example explains how self-doubt is a problem.
The job interview question, "What is your weakness?" is meant to test honest self-evaluation, but most people try to turn the negative into a positive. In my case, perfectionism is never a positive. It's paralyzing when I work on projects. I need someone to tell me, "The work is good enough. You have done enough."
In relationships, we cannot be perfect either. But, I dwell on the mistakes. I worry every day about some new perceived failure, even if I don't say so aloud.
For a teacher, this is called the "pretender complex" — you feel like you are pretending to be something, an "imposter" within the academy. Everyone expects you to be the expert when instead you become acutely aware of what you don't know about your field… much less any other field.
I feel like an imposter when I lecture. My students tell me they initially consider my "I don't know everything" waiver a form of false humility, like the cultural norm in some Asian countries. But, no, I really don't know everything and I always want to know more so I don't make any mistakes. I'm never the expert I want to be, and yet I am supposedly an expert on some topics.
The strange thing is that I know what I do know, too, and I'm rather aggressive about getting facts correct. It bothers me when "experts" are wrong — so I have long had problems with correcting teachers and mentors when I should have more self control. (Again, something my wife has that I do not: the ability to tolerate misstatements in silence.) My desire to correct things leads to social tensions, especially in workplaces and classrooms.
Because I expect perfection of myself, I assume other students, scholars, and coworkers have the same innate need, the same compulsion, to be correct when they say or write something. My mistakes cause me pain and suffering, and I hate those feelings.
Unfortunately, wanting to be better doesn't make you a good companion, friend, mentor, or coworker. I'm anxious. I'm nervous. I'm apprehensive. People want to be around others who are relaxed and fun. On one hand, I'd be the person listening for the approaching stampede around the campfire. On the other, I wouldn't be telling jokes or singing songs. People like me are useful, but not enjoyed.
I envy people more accepting of themselves and more tolerant of mistakes.
It would be nice to find a better balance between insecurity and a desire to be the best I can be. Yet, even that thought reminds me of how inadequate I might be.