Embrace Impostor Syndrome with Dr. Adi Jaffe

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:20:03] But I don’t consider someone who’s ABD and ends up walking away or feels like they got kicked out of the program or whatever the case is. I don’t consider that a failure. You have to make decisions. If it is something you’re still committed to, then keep going. Keep keep moving forward, because if you are committed to it, you don’t do it. You’ll regret it later. And that’s one that I don’t believe in.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:20:22] Yeah. Look, there are people there are people who stop because they want to stop and they want to move forward.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:20:26] But what I’m talking about, maybe you wanted to keep going, but now you’re at a point where, you know, decision making should always be where am I right now? What is it going to cost me to keep moving forward on this path? And what will I get from it? And if at any time it cost you more than it’s worth, you should stop no matter how much you’ve invested in it already.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:20:45] Yeah, and I spent a year and a half, two years finishing that damn dissertation. And I got to tell you, there were points in the middle.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:20:54] That was pretty good.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:20:56] What’s that.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:20:57] I said a lot of the people in our audience will think that that was really good. I mean, I know.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:21:00] I mean, it was it was look, I finished three years on the dissertation. Sure, sure, sure. I finished my doctoral program in five years, so I didn’t finish in four, but very few students did. Five was sort of the, you know, run of the mill kind of average doctoral student. Again, I was an incredibly committed student, but those last year and a half, I went into some mild depression. I was talking to, she was my fiancee at that time. We’re now married with kids. But I was considering quitting. It was you know, you’re banging your head against the wall repeatedly going to your advisor. The road keeps getting extended. You keep thinking you’ll have the data you need and you don’t. But let me just say to anybody listening right now, that is the exact same thing that happens later in life. Exact same thing there is. It is almost like a microcosm of what will end up happening you hundreds of times in your life. Later, you’ll want to get married and the path will will be thrown off or you’ll you’ll get a new job and it won’t work out exactly the way you wanted it to. Or you’ll travel and move somewhere else. And and and there will be hurdles and obstacles in your way. That’s his life.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:22:12] I tell those working on their dissertation all the time that there’s no point in your adult life that you’re ever going to sit down on January one or December 30 birds or whatever it might be, to map out the upcoming year and have it go according to script. Something unexpected is going to happen. Something’s going to go on plan. Sometimes it’s going to go wildly better than you ever imagined. And oftentimes there’s going to be curveballs we don’t tend to plan for, you know, the the the obstacles in life. And yeah.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:22:41] And if you deal with them and if anything, if anything, you know, the trouble in everyday life is there’s no there’s no end point. So it’s like. These things don’t work out in a way we can say, well, I’ve reached the end most of the time. I mean, we just bought a house last year, so that was an end point. We got the house. But once you get the house, you’ve got to start fixing it and and adjusting things and remodeling and taking care of it. So whenever we expect that there’s an end, normally there is a lot of follow through. After what you think, you finish. And I think the dissertation is, you know, again, about two years of working on one project after, of course, proposing it and having to even get it accepted. Right. The two years once it was actually an accepted dissertation topic, putting together your advisory like your board and all that, all that, the the things you end up having to do is you’re working on this massive project. But it was it was like a little microcosm of what the rest of my life was going to be like. And I’m an entrepreneur now. You know, you’re talking about people writing books. It took me a year to write this book and a year and a half beforehand to plan for it. I don’t know if you guys are listening, but that’s pretty much the same exact thing that it took to do the dissertation. That same concept repeats over and over. And so. There were a lot of lessons like we’re going have to go back to this returning student thing. I don’t know that I would have had it in me if I didn’t have to deal with this massive downfall and clawing my way back to semblance of a normal life, I don’t know that I would have had it in me to be the guy that arranged the study groups and stayed after and talked to the professors and did everything not on time, but before we do that didn’t go out because I knew what was behind me if I didn’t get away from it. And so climbing up the mountain was a necessity. And when you understand that, just putting one foot in front of the other every single day is a necessity. One of the things I teach the people when I say that I work with struggle with addiction all the time is it doesn’t matter if the step you took today is this big or this big, it matters in your head. But in the grand scheme of things in the universe, the only thing that matters is you don’t stop momentum. You take you take a quarter of an inch step today and your momentum continues. Tomorrow might be better. Circumstances might work better for you. There may be other things to factor in. But too many of us, and I think is probably the day.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:25:08] It’s something that people need to appreciate that we talk about this again with our students a lot, that people will suffer losses of spouses or parents or something like that while they’re in a doctoral degree program. And they want to know how do I keep going? Because I’ve got this huge, urgent thing that I’m dealing with right now. And my advice to them is one of two things. Number one, if you know yourself and you know, you have to take some time off, take some time off, but put a date on the calendar when you get back to it, as long as you’re committed to coming back before you leave, then you’re you’re OK. Better, though, is to reduce rather than eliminate the steps I have to take. Instead of working on my dissertation to three hours a day, let me make sure for half an hour every day I focus on my dissertation. I make some little steps, I keep moving forward. And some days I’ll just naturally fall into two or three hours. I’m working on my dissertation because as a lot of our students tell us, it’s a refuge. It becomes something that they have more control over in their life. My dad, they say they don’t have control of his vacation, but at some points they perceive more control there than in other aspects of their life.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:26:14] My dad passed about my kid was born August twenty seven. My dad passed. Mid-April sumai that passed about four and a half months before I defended and before my first born was born. He had been struggling with cancer for about two and a half years. So the entire time that I was working on my dissertation, my dad was in and out of hospitals struggling with cancer. And then he died literally a handful of months before I had to defend, and I remember I told my. I told my adviser. Hey, I need I need a little time, and I didn’t leave. I mean, I went back for the funeral, etc., but when I came back, I. I took care of myself. For honestly, about a month. And I was my study, my dissertation work was with animal models, and so I had to go in and do rat surgeries on a regular basis and I couldn’t let them completely go. Somebody had to feed the animals, et cetera. So I start to go in and do that. But I, like you said, I kept minimal engagement while I needed it, to be perfectly honest. Again, f-shame, right? Rigth before he passed, I actually got put on antidepressants for a short period of time because it was just I mean, I’m sure you can imagine, but losing your dad in the middle of that is not not a not a great time or not a great process, not a not an enjoyable period in my life. And so I just I knew I needed some help getting through it. And I think about two months after he passed, I, I started coming back into the lab on a regular basis. And then it was like, OK, let’s just get let’s just get out of here. To be honest, it was kind of once I got back, it was even bigger of a drive to see what we have to finish this. I can’t I’m not I’m not going to be able to give myself another year doing this. I need to be on the other side and whatever you need, honestly, whatever you need to motivate you. Here’s the bottom line for a lot of a lot of us. Right. Just being in a doctoral program is already something that the vast majority of people in the world either have no idea about, would never consider doing or don’t think would be good enough to do right. So you probably eliminate.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:28:37] They don’t think that they’re good enough to do or they don’t think that we’re big enough to do.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:28:41] I’m not I’m saying that for individuals who you take, you take the majority of people in the population, some of them have never like. That’s just not a consideration for the vast majority people. That’s not a consideration for others. They look at it and it’s. It’s not something they they want, right, they they are aware of it, but they don’t want it. And then there is a subset of people who want it but think to themselves, I can’t that’s that’s too much for me. The fact that you’re in a doctoral program alone makes you a very single digit percentage of the population who will even commit to that kind of undertaking.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:29:15] It’s about two percent is actually the number because,.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:29:18] Yeah, you’re not going into a PhD program like everybody wants to become a billionaire. So they’ll try to invest or they’ll do something entrepreneurial a little bit, just playing with it. But everybody knows a Ph.D. is a commitment. Yeah. So you’ve entered that field right now, consider the fact that what is I think it’s like 30 percent, 30 percent of the candidates that never get there, the never finish.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:29:45] The number I hear so much is about 50 percent. But I have tried and it’s very hard to track that down. A lot of people will agree with me when I say I keep hearing the number of 50 percent. But in terms of trying to get real stats on it, it’s really hard.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:29:59] So maybe I think maybe UCLA was like 20, some close to 30. So think 30 to 50 percent somewhere in that range. Right. So now you take two percent. Don’t even enter. I mean, only two percent enter. And now 30 percent of those people don’t finish, 30 to 50 percent of people don’t finish. Hold that as as a testament to how good you are and what you’re doing, just not right now, where you are right now is already an achievement. Right. And I think too often, especially for us, perfectionists, which I think most all of us who try to go after a we have a little crazy perfectionism. It’s the only way you would even conceive of the concept of doing something that only one percent of the population does. You know, it’s just insane.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:30:46] To enter the program and it’s often what keeps you stuck in the program. You have to be you have to turn pragmatic while you’re there. Otherwise, the perfectionist thing will just get you stuff in the program forever.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:30:57] Yeah. And so pragmatism is one great way of doing it. But the other one is stop constantly looking at everything that you haven’t yet achieved and take at least a look back and go, oh crap. Like, look at where I am right now. I had to really get used to this, you know, when I got. When I was an undergrad to some extent, and then when I was in my master’s program, I was normally one of the best students in the room. Sometimes the best student in the room for semesters at a time. Yeah. And then I get into a program at UCLA, which is, you know, one of the top programs in the world. And I was like, I was average, yeah, I mean, I graduated a three point nine, but everybody graduate with like three eights and above, right. You know, it’s like. We had full on savante genius’s next to me, you know, it was a girl, I think she finished her PhD program in three and a half years and she was already young because she had finished college. I think she finished. By 2043, she was done with her Ph.D. in the clinical psychology program at UCLA, which is the number one program in the world. I could have chosen to look at that as like, oh, my God, what am I doing here? Something wrong with me? And I did originally. Initially, that was the thought process. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You’re one of the top programs in the world and your average, that’s not bad, it’s pretty. It’s pretty frickin good, right?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:32:28] When I went to graduate school, I went to the University of Chicago and I was studying out of that school. And I love well, gosh, it’s hard to encapsulate what I felt about my time there. It was it was really, really tough. But I still really, really was glad that I did it. But I remember, like, one of our first classes, one of the first test I took, you talk about imposter syndrome. I was like, OK, that’s it. They found me out because I knew I didn’t do well on that test and came back and I forgot what I got on the test of 50 or 60 or something like that. And the professor came back telling everybody how well he thought everybody did is like, you can call me after class and just tell me, pack up my stuff and go home. And then I came to find out that I was like 10 or 10 points above the average or something like that, that this was just a new ball game here. He was rating people on, like, how good the best people in the world were. Versus only looking at the best people essentially imagine a 50 on your very first test in your very first quarter here, he’s like, that’s good.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:33:36] Imagine you’re a quarterback in the NFL. Yeah. And you’ve been and you’ve been a quarterback your whole life in high school. Kids didn’t know what to do with you. You were throwing the ball 30 yards farther than everybody else. More accurately, receivers were like waiting for you in the in the end zone and you were delivering it every time you go to college and you’re still absolutely one of the best anybody’s ever seen. It’s getting a little tough. Guess what? You get into the NFL, you’re talking about like the 20, 30, 40 best quarterbacks in the universe. You’re not you’re not going to shine at the same level likely. But oh, my God, look at where you made it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:34:14] Yeah, it’s one hundred percent and that and that’s something that whether you you personally, those folks that are listening here, whether you are at a super prestigious program like we’ve been talking about, or you’re just going to kind of a run of the mill, a regionally accredited doctoral degree program, a run of the mill doctoral degree program, still puts you in the top one percent in the population. And that used to thank you for pointing that out people in it and see how many people that is. And to say I’m the best one in this room, statistically speaking, in terms of academic achievement, that’s that’s huge. And people do inside of that.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:34:56] One hundred percent, I think. Thank you for saying that. Right. Just being in the fray like it’s I mean, it really is when you think about it, it’s the equivalent like you made it to the academic NFL. Just think about that for a second and honor it. Now, the rest of the world doesn’t in the same way, but I got to tell you this, I just want to get to this piece as well, because when I was working on finishing my Ph.D., it got hard. It got really, really hard. It got dark. I was I was not liking the work I was doing. It gets to this point where you just really trying to figure out how to write this thing up in a way your committee will accept it, like it gets dark. Not that different than some other times in my life, but it got dark and. But I got to tell you, when you do the work and you get to the other side, it’s worth it. Yeah, so so that’s something I really, really want to point out is I think a lot of people give up because they don’t know if the extra little bit. Like, is finishing this dissertation really going to make that big of a difference and I got to tell you, when that gets added to the end of your name, when people start referring you as doctor, this, that and the other thing, especially in your professional life, the amount of. Clarity of purpose and clarity of expertise that you get from those tiny little letters is massive. And so especially if you’re talking about trying to write a book, it’s not it’s not that you can’t do without it. There are a lot of people that have written books that don’t have it. But the amount of authority that you have, the moment that happens, it’s it’s pretty massive and it’s and now you get to put that up, right. Not only are you part of the two percent who reached it, but now you’re one of the top of the one percent of the people who actually achieve that goal, right?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:36:46] Yeah, it’s the number of opportunities that you get when you graduate, when you’ve earned your doctoral degree. I cannot overstate all of the different folks that I’ve talked to. We’re going to go ahead and get into that because you’ve had just wonderful opportunities come your way since you graduated. But that’s one of the things I want people to keep in mind, that whatever you think your goal is for your postgraduate life, after you’ve gotten your doctoral degree, stay open, do it, because chances are the future is even brighter than you can imagine. So many people that say they had no concept I would be doing what I’m doing right now. When I was in graduate school, when I was working on my doctoral degree and the future better than what they had planned for you.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:37:30] So, yeah, absolutely.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:37:34] It’s just impossible to overstate. It really is all of the amazing things I’ve seen people do since they graduated. So tell us about that, because, again, you have you’ve done some of those amazing things. I don’t know if you want to start with the book or some of the interviews, but,.


Dr. Adi Jaffe [00:37:49] Yeah, I so the book definitely came later. So again, I was very focused on a particular topic and that was addiction. You guys now know why. Because of my own story. But I started writing about it even when I was still a PhD student online. This is the days of blogs 2008 and so I created a blog online. Interestingly, I created a student group, called Psych in Action, that still exists to this day, UCLA, that would get students together to write about the things that we were learning in a way that the broader audience could could understand and, you know, graduates to do some really cool work. So we were all writing about what we were doing, what we were learning for mass consumption. I started a blog called All About Addiction and and that really gave me some visibility in the field as somebody who is sharing latest knowledge and things of that nature, but yeah, then I ended up actually connecting. This was something that I didn’t expect, but I ended up through that Psych in Action group. I ended up connecting with the guy who ran the PR portion of UCLA. You know, every university has somebody whose job it is to get out information about the studies and the cool work that is being done there. Millions and millions of dollars are being spent in your institution trying to create great knowledge there, somebody whose job it is to get out the word about that, that knowledge. So actually, we invited him to speak at that Psych in Action club. And so he and I actually became close-ish. And. And so, weirdly, whenever there were things about addiction that he didn’t have somebody else to give it to, he would give it to me. And that was a really, really cool in, because now I had the guy at UCLA representing literally the science departments at UCLA sending authors my way. So I had a number of opportunities with them, primarily written and web versions of print. While I was still graduate student, after I finished, I definitely became one of his go to people for any addiction ask, especially ones that other faculty gave up, which was very cool. And like everything else, the expertise world, the authority world is one of momentum. So it’s like when your name is being mentioned, other authors, other journalists, other people find it as they’re looking online and then they end up coming back to you. So I had definitely from 2010 through about 2013, 2014, I had quite a bit of that coming at me. I was teaching at Cal State, Long Beach and at UCLA. Some of the stories are really cool because they’re not what you would expect, like I was on NPR and one of the local NPR stations, they called me for first story around. I think it was actually about overdose deaths at the time. I would get called a lot around celebrity overdose deaths and things of that nature. And for me, even those served a purpose because I got to get a different message out than, well, you know, people shouldn’t do drugs. I got to have a more compassionate element, which is just what I do around addiction in general. But. I really enjoyed being able to speak publicly and get the word out about everything that I’m doing into the world, that was really, really nice. And so I started focusing in, honing in on and more. I ended up going into entrepreneurship while still teaching. I was teaching. There was a period that was insane in my life where I was teaching in two different places. I was leading therapeutic groups in a rehab and I open up my own rehab. And so I had essentially four jobs. I was working like 80 hour weeks. It was insane, but. When that rehab open is when the power of the press and the power of authority really became obvious, right? Because if you can get people to talk about what you’re doing professionally, it is more likely that, as you mentioned at the outset here, you’ll get more clients, you’ll get more attention, etc.. So we definitely got a lot of our clients because we were front and center. We use all the tools back then. There are new tools now that the people would use. Right. So obviously a Web page, but also Twitter and Facebook and all those things. And I had to learn something that. They don’t really teach you in your Ph.D. program, and that is how to talk about what you’re doing, first of all, in the way that other people can understand, because the same thing that goes along with you being one of the one percent that reached a PhD also means this. You know so much about what you know and what you’ve become an expert in the explain it and talk about in ways that the vast majority of the universe will not understand. So you have to really figure out how to talk about it and whether the public can absorb. But then the other piece, I feel like in academia, although the good academics, the one that we hold as being the best in our fields, do learn how to do this. People don’t teach you how to promote your work. In academia, it’s actually the opposite. It’s like, well, keep your head down and do work. You know what I realized? That’s great. But all the people that we look up to. Heavily promoted their work. Yeah, and that’s how we we came to know them as the leaders in the field from Philip Zimbardo and psychology on right. Like the Stanford prison experiment, et cetera. The people you look up to talked about what they did a lot and told others about it, so I had to learn that out on my own and. Had massive opportunities through that, you know, I’ve been on Dr. Oz, I’ve been on the Dr Show multiple times on Good Morning America. I mean, I’ve been on I did CNN. There was a period when I was on CNN and HLN almost once a week. It was. There was there was real gratitude in being able to get the message out about what I’m doing, and I think it also really helped my professional life.

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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.