Embrace Impostor Syndrome with Dr. Adi Jaffe

Adi Jaffe, Ph.D. is a #1 best-selling author (The Abstinence Myth) and a nationally recognized expert on mental health, addiction, relationships and shame. He lectured in the UCLA Psychology department for the better part of a decade and was the Executive-Director and Co-Founder of one of the most progressive mental health treatment facilities in the country – until he started IGNTD.

Through IGNTD, Dr. Jaffe is changing the way people think about, and deal with mental health issues. He is passionate about exposes the role of shame in destroying lives. The driving philosophy behind IGNTD Recovery is to greatly reduce the stigma of addiction and mental health.

Dr. Jaffe’s views on addiction and his research on the topic have been published widely in both academic journals and popular magazines and websites. He has been featured in CNN, The Huffington Post, Bustle, Los Angeles Times, KTLA. Dr. Jaffe has also appeared on several television shows including Good Morning America, The Dr. Oz Show, The Doctors and Larry King Now and in numerous documentaries discussing current topics in addiction. He has also been the guest on notable podcasts including Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, Almost Thirty, Dr. Drew, Cleaning Up the Mental Mess with Dr. Caroline Leaf and many more.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Graduating on a technicality
  • The importance of choice
  • Failure isn’t the opposite of success
  • Promoting your work
  • Practicing leverage
  • Talking with Larry King
  • Put yourself in more places where you have imposter syndrome

In this episode…

What’s keeping you from reaching your goals? Why are you letting that stand in your way?

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Adi Jaffe and Dr. Russell Strickland blow the doors of your excuses. Dr. Jaffe was an addict, drug dealer, and convicted felon when his doctoral journey began. He went from graduating with his bachelors degree on a technicality, to convincing his master-level professors to go to bat for him when he applied for doctoral studies. Clearly, Dr. Jaffe had all of the excuses one could ever need to not earn his doctor degree and make a positive impact on the world. But, he completely wasted all of these excuses, instead becoming a doctor, an author, interviewing with Larry King, and building an amazing community to support addiction recovery.

So, don’t worry that you aren’t completely comfortable with what you’re doing. In fact, Dr. Jaffe said, “I actually urge you to put yourself in more places where you have impostor syndrome.” That’s how you make a dent in the world!

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to www.dissertationdone.com/done and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to www.dissertationdone.com/book and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit www.dissertationdone.com to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03] Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique, and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:28] Hello and welcome. This is an Unconventional Life podcast, and I’m your host, Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done. I have with me today Dr. Adi Jaffe, and he is a well, he’s earned his Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA, went on to lecture there for a number of years before starting his company, IGNTD. He is the blogs currently on Psychology Today. He’s been featured on CNN, The Huffington Post, Larry King Now, which we’re going to talk about some that’s amazing and is also the author of The Abstinence Myth. So we’ll get into all of that here shortly. Dr. Jaffe, welcome.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:01:08] Thanks. Thanks so much for having me.


[00:01:10] You are quite welcome. Like, let everybody know. Today, our episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. And at Dissertation Done. We help adult doctoral students to through the dissertation process. So whether you’re just about to get started on the dissertation and you want to proactively go out there and get some support and guidance to get you through, or you are slowed, stalled or just plain stuck in the process and need a rescue, reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/done. And if by any chance you have made it through the dissertation process and you are a coach, counselor, public speaker, consultant in the expert space and you’d like to get your message out there. Best way to do that is by not only having a first name doctor, but also being a published author and our Expand Your Authority program. We help people get from the blank page to a published author in a very strategic way, designed to bring folks to new customers, clients, and patients. You can find out more by filling out our little contact, form at DissertationDone.com/book, and we’d love to help either of those two ways. So that’s the commercial. Dr. Jaffe, again, welcome and thanks for being here today.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:02:13] Thank you. Thank you so much. Man, I wish I had you when I was getting my dissertation done and when I was writing my book.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:19] Well, I kind of wish say that’s a slog through a little bit myself, but that’s the thing we learn as we go. And if we can help others after the fact, I think that’s very, very important. So we’ll tell folks a little bit about your story in in getting into the the doctoral degree process. I know you said you have a fairly unique background as far as that’s concerned. And then tell us about what came after that. But let’s just start with getting into the dissertation process or the doctoral process. What made you decide to do that?


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:02:54] Sure. Yeah, I do believe my my path ended up being a little unusual, even though it didn’t start out that way. We spoke about this a little bit before, but I come from an academic family. What I mean by that is the concept of schooling. And by that I mean extended education right beyond your college degree. College didn’t count for graduating from college, wasn’t a complete expectation in my family. And not only that, the idea that you would go beyond college for a higher level of degree of some sort, honestly, a Ph.D. or  an M.D. And, I was on that path as I was getting my bachelor’s and I found myself really disinterested. I was always good at school. I was always good at taking tests, but I hated doing schoolwork. I hated participating. I was there more for the social component of it or you know, or really because I had to be. And so when I, I graduated lower, fiftieth percentile of my high school class, I got really heavily involved in drinking and smoking weed at the time. And that that was much more interesting to me. And so I was in all AP classes, but literally I think my GPA was like a two point something when I finished high school, it was terrible, made my way into college literally just because of my SAT scores, because they were pretty good. And so I got into college and started off pretty well in college. But pretty quickly, because of substance use, which is a big part of my story, I took a nosedive. And so I started school in upstate New York. We were living in Rochester, New York at the time, and I went to school in Buffalo the two years in Buffalo and then moved out to UCLA to finish up my undergrad degree in UCLA, but. In both of those institutions, I got very heavily involved in drugs and alcohol and and went through a major depression episode as well, and it really derailed my my academics. So I barely graduated from UCLA. I literally this might seem like a joke with some of you stuck in the situation line right now. Might might be craving something like this right now. I graduated on a technicality. I take it enough credits, but I’d not I couldn’t pass one required class in the psychology major. And so a year after I finish school and I tried to retake this class three times, but I was so heavily I was addicted to meth at the time. It was not a good it was not a good world I was living in. I was selling drugs. I was as far removed from being a student as you could be, really. And about a year after I’d stopped even trying to take this class, literally left campus wasn’t there anymore. I got a call from the department saying that course had now become an elective instead of a required class so I could replace it with another class that I had taken so literally on a technicality. I graduated UCLA within undergrad and I took a complete detour and did absolutely nothing constructive. I was pretending to play music, but really just getting high for four years. And what brought me back to school was I got arrested. I got arrested. Ended up spending a year in jail, getting sober during that entire process, and when I came back out, even though I had always rebelled against school, to be perfectly honest, it was my only option. People don’t like hiring convicted felons, and I had the the honor of having nine of those felonies on my record at the time, my records been expunged since, but I had nine felonies so I couldn’t get a job anywhere. I can get a job at the mall. And so I ended up looking back at school. I know I was good at school, but I’d always sworn off of it. And that was it was literally like the only path in my way. And so called back UCLA, they essentially said, look, don’t even apply to your Ph.D. Not only did you graduate here with under a 3.0 GPA, but. You are not exactly in the best standing when you left here, so maybe go somewhere else inside to take a circuitous route. I got my masters at Cal State, which is kind of the. I don’t know if I should even say this, if it matters kind of how these rankings work, but it’s like in the California system, there’s community colleges that the California State University and the University of California, those are sort of the three tiers. I went to Cal State, Long Beach. I love that school. And got my masters there. And I discovered a completely different version of school when I went back. Now school served as my anchor as the thing that allowed me to move forward in life. And I became the most motivated student in that program. I ended up graduating with a 4.0 and which is a big departure. I was the guy staying after and talking to the professors after class go into their office hours. I was the one arranging the the study group’s right. I was that student. And I also got my first job. I couldn’t get hired before, but I got a job with my advisor on campus and I discovered a love for research and a love for reading and a love for studying, which I had never had before. And maybe not surprisingly, given the story I just told, I ended up working in an HIV food bank with people addicted to drugs. And I found this passion both in interviewing them for the studies, but also in writing up the results and really doing work in the addiction field. So that was two thousand and four. They went back to school in 2003, got that job in 2004. And then, to be honest, you know, I always tell everybody I work with now finding that purpose and locking into what my purpose was, which at that point was working in the addiction field and doing something to help the field move forward. I ended up getting a scholarship. My parents were fully supporting me because I couldn’t get a job before, but I ended up getting a full scholarship to Cal State, Long Beach, pay my tuition. And then my professors there saw me as this incredibly motivated student. So they all went to bat for me when it was time to try to get into a PhD program and, you know, called emailed any professor who they had with connection to the psychology department of UCLA, I got a couple of lunches there. I applied to three Ph.D. programs. I only got into one, and that was UCLA. Even though the best program I’d apply to because my the people in my master’s program really went to bat for me. And I got to go back to UCLA, get a second Masters and a Ph.D. and really just. Hone in and focus on completely changing the trajectory of my life and and becoming, you know, something something akin to maybe what the past was supposed to be for me on the front end, but just getting to it in a in a very, very different way. And so finish as you mentioned, you know, you talk about Dissertation Done. Got through the grueling process of the studies and the write ups, et cetera, and then the defense of my dissertation. And unfortunately, my dad missed it. He he passed, I think, literally a few months before I defended. But he already knew that, you know, that I was on that path. And so it was. Yeah, it was a pretty magical transformation.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:20] Yeah, there’s so many interesting notes in there, I mean, there’s this notion of I think motivation and opportunity are sort of inversely correlated in some cases. Then when you only have a few things that that are available to, you get really, really keyed in on those things and really, really push harder. And there’s something to be said for just having to come to your own path and surprising your path is maybe what you thought it was that would have been laid out for you by your family early on. But you kind of went away from that and then came back to it on your own. And that’s when the passion for it clicked. And that’s what you found, why you really wanted to be there.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:11:02] Yeah, I think choice is something, you know, again, I studied psychology, so choice is one of those things that. As humans, we don’t like having it taken away, right? We we love the autonomy and it’s been shown over and over. When you take away somebody’s choice, even if they end up doing the same thing, they would have chosen, they like it and are much more engaged in it when they’re the ones that selected it out of a out of a set of options.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:29] Absolutely.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:11:30] Which is, by the way, to this day, something we use as a principle in the work I do with people who struggle with addiction, because I think that’s one of the problems in the addiction field, that people don’t have a choice.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:39] How do they how do they inject choice? That it does seem like an area where you need a lot of choice.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:11:45] Yes, so there are a lot of areas where people don’t get choices, but one of the ones, for instance, it’s pretty clear is the outcome that they are going after in their pursuit of recovery. So. It’s such a given what I’m about to say, but everybody assumes that if you struggle with addiction, then you have to choose lifelong abstinence. That’s the that’s the route you have to go. And again, as we just talked about, that might be true. But telling people that that’s what they have to do makes people resistant to it. So, for instance, and ignited when we do our work, we don’t we have people choose their goal. What do you want to do? Do you want to reduce by a little? By little? Do you want to get into kind of like non problematic use patterns so reduced to a certain level? Or do you want to abstain? And if you want to abstain for how long? We really make them have to make their own choice. And what we find is, by the way, a lot of people do choose abstinence as a goal. But when they choose it, instead of us telling them that that’s what they have to pursue, it’s a very, very different game.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:45] Yeah, and I can certainly imagine I know I’ve had a lot of our family has issues with with the with weight and weight loss and so forth, and when I tried to do something that says you have to do things in this way, even if I’ve chosen that structure, I really don’t like it as much as when I do something that is gives you more opportunities, more flexibility. So even when I choose a particular structure of that structure is too rigid, I find that I’m not as happy with it and I make choices that I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted. When I can kind of see are the here are the choices; heare are the consequences. Which one do you choose? I wouldn’t necessarily thought that I would do certain things. So when I went into it, I know what my overall goal is. I don’t want to go down this path, but if I’m going to follow my overall goal, I might choose that path to get there.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:13:39] Yeah, yeah, absolutely.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:41] Well, tell me, how did that from from a rather rocky start or early part of the career process, how did things shift over for you? I know you mentioned kind of finding your passion while we were we were at school. But how did how did that shift work to get you from there to where you are now?


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:14:01] Yeah. So, you know, we just already talked about choice. And and I think, as you mentioned, I had whittled down my world into a very, very small existence at some point and. And in that way, when I went to get my Masters. I was committed to giving, whatever I did next, everything I could now, to be perfectly honest, I had a I had a big monster, a dragon, and I was trying to get away from it. And that was the risk for me if I didn’t get this right. And I have to say that there was there’s probably a lot to that in in what motivates me, right. Is what am I trying to get away from? It can be a big motivator for me sometimes. And so. When I went back to school. Everything that I did within school was an expansion of what I had already. Of the small world that existed in so. I had a very small social circle, I don’t know how many people listening right now have struggled or have had people close to them struggle with drug addiction. Your social circle gets very small. It’s pretty much all the other drug users or just you do it alone. And so all of a sudden, I had people to meet and talk to. And that was it was a challenge because I felt so disconnected from the reality. But I also wanted in. So I worked heavily on that. I also, to be honest, I gave up.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:36] That is important for folks that I deal with on a regular basis, too, is that often these folks who are adults are going back to graduate school. They don’t know anyone else like them. And so this idea of creating sort of normative positive peer pressure, it’s not there for those folks. And that’s something that we have to do to try to build that up or try to create some normality around what they’re doing. And I guess now the same thing was true in your area. Once you start really trying to plug into that community, what they were doing became normal, that the academic community, that people at school became normal for you. Right. And that was able to allow you to bring yourself from your reality to this new one.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:16:19] Yeah. Now, to be clear, right. By the time I went back to get my Ph.D., I had already spent about two and a half years at Cal State, Long Beach. I was twenty five. Twenty six when I got arrested, probably twenty nine. The twenty nine, twenty eight or twenty nine by the time I got into the PhD program. Twenty eight, twenty nine is still a returning adult student, right, most of the other students in the department were twenty two, right, maybe twenty three, but I wasn’t in my 40s. So returning now, I would have to have a I mean, I feel like I have it now, but if I was a returning student at this point in my life, I’m forty four years old, there would be a much greater age separation. But there was still a six, seven year age separation. And I did I had to sort of step into this place of saying, you know, again, a big part of what I do, my work now is under f-shame. I’ll keep it PG for us. But this concept of f-shame and I had to walk into all of those interactions at school, really setting aside the feelings of guilt and embarrassment and shame on the fact that I’d taken a seven year detour that all my most of my peers hadn’t. There were a few other returning students which made a little bit easier to connect because we were not all twenty two. But that was definitely part of the puzzle. What’s interesting is now being where I am and having achieved those things. Each one of our stories is offer something unique. The shame is, not always. Sometimes, I’ll call them toxic people around us who shame us regularly, but oftentimes a big source of the shame is the internal expectation and the gap between what we expect of ourselves and what we believe we’ve achieved. And so if anybody is struggling with that as a returning student, I’ll tell you, put your story front and center. Don’t run away from it. Don’t avoid it. It’s you. It is you. You can’t run away from it. And as you’re trying to hide it or or become somebody slightly different, so the people accept you more, what you’re actually telling yourself that you should be ashamed and then that there are reasons for you to feel less, then I got to tell you. What I found is the story, which, you know, the story I just told of how I got there could also be one of the most embarrassing stories ever, right? Oh, my God. I got I got heavily involved in drugs and and my life went on the wrong. Know what? I went off the wrong path. I just discovered that every time that we have that and we start going down that road in terms of our own story, all we’re really doing is we’re putting down our experience. And like like a coin, there are two sides to. What did you learn from it? What what makes you stronger? What makes you better and bigger, better because of that experience? And if you just decide to focus on what went wrong, you’re missing all the all the learning opportunities from everything that’s there. Right?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:31] I firmly believe the only real failure in life is quitting.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:19:35] Yeah. The opposite of success is not failure. The opposite of success is giving up. And and, you know, I mean, I’m sure you have a lot of Abdeh people in your audience, right? People who’ve had years, they finish all their classes. Everything else is done. Just got to finish his dissertation. And. You haven’t failed unless you’ve given it up, and so obviously what Dissertation Done sounds like it helps people do, is pick it back up so they don’t give it up.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.