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What's Below The Surface? Discovering Your Core

| “Take the time to do the self-work. Be willing to open up to figure out what’s underneath that first outer layer and identify your core values. This is a game-changer.”

A few days after I stepped foot on the Harvard campus, I began to experience what I later discovered was quite common among my peers. It’s called “imposter syndrome”. I felt that I didn't belong, that I was too average to stand next to some of the most brilliant minds in the world. 

Eventually, I discovered that I do belong. But it took some time to overcome that imposter syndrome. In reflection I think I learned some important things about myself and about humanity from that experience.


  • What you need to know if you feel that you don’t belong
  • A lesson you can learn from Shrek about imposter syndrome
  • Why it’s important for you to dig below the surface & get to the core
  • What I learned from training adults as a high-performance coach
  • How average students behave & why you should avoid doing the same

     And so much more.


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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

A few days after I first stepped foot on Harvard's campus, I began to experience what I later discovered is quite common. It's called impostor syndrome. I felt like I was an imposter.

I felt like I didn't belong on Harvard's campus. How could I normal, average, wimpy little me? How could I be earning my master's degree alongside some of the most brilliant minds in the world, learning from some of the people who have changed history and earned Nobel Prizes and other amazing awards? How could I be a part of this? Eventually, I worked through that. I discovered that I do belong and that I have my place in that community.

And my place was important, and I contributed, and I made a difference. I made an impact even in that community. But it took some time before I overcame that impostor syndrome.

And this feeling that we don't belong wherever we're at, whether we're in middle school or high school or university or at work or anywhere else, is quite normal. It's quite common. And it's important for you to know that if you're feeling this way, you're not alone.

Many before you have felt the same, and many around you are feeling it now. And significantly, I think it's important that you know that impostor syndrome is just one of the ways that you might be feeling out of place or you might be feeling incomplete. So today I want to share a quick thought with you that includes a reference to Shrek.

You know the very first Shrek movie when Shrek is walking with the donkey and he talks about how Shreks are like onions. It's quite funny. The donkey talks about how maybe Shreks are like onions because they're so stinky.

But eventually the Shrek says, no, look, we have layers. And once you peel away one layer, you go to the next layer, and then we still have another layer underneath that and so on, and people are like that. Also, if you feel like you have layers and that sometimes you hide your true self with outer layers that look prettier or are better, again, you're not alone.

For most of us, teenagers and adults alike, we have an outer layer, which is what we hope the world thinks of us. And because we hope the world thinks that this is the real us, we spend a lot of time and energy maintaining this role. So think about first day of school or meeting a new friend for the first time, or job interview version of you, or college admissions applicant version of you.

And yeah, we spend a lot of time and a lot of energy keeping up this layer because we don't want people to discover what we believe is the impostor layer. Below this layer is the fear layer. And this layer is what so many people believe that they actually are lazy, selfish, dishonest, insecure, ashamed, scared, rude, et cetera.

And you know what? The reason why we're so afraid to let people see this layer is because most of us believe that this layer is our authentic Selves. Many of us believe that we are selfish and lazy and rude and dishonest and more. We're afraid that this second layer is our real Selves.

But let me assure you, this is not who you really are either. Below that layer is the real you. Your core, your values, and everything that is truly meaningful to you.

And identifying what those values are, getting to the real core of who you are and what makes you you is a very scary and vulnerable process. And letting people see the real you is even more scary, probably because it's so vulnerable. The reason why so few people actually get beyond that second layer is because we're so afraid of the second layer.

And if we spend so much time and so much energy covering up that surface, then we're not going to voluntarily go explore things so that we can understand them better. We don't want to even acknowledge that that second layer exists. And as someone who has worked in personal development, in training and coaching, I've spent a long time working with adults and helping 40 and 50 and 60 and 70 year olds figure out what's beneath the surface so that they can go beyond that second level, so they can get to their core.

And it is such important work. But I can tell you that many, many people neglect to do it. Now, the reason why it's important for you to consider doing it as a teenager or a young adult is twofold.

First of all, it's really exciting to figure out who you really are at your core. You're going to find out that you are selfless, you are loving, you are empathetic, you care about making a difference and about improving the world in some meaningful way. That's who you really are.

The fact that you haven't identified that does not change what your personal values are. The things you really care about are deep and they're meaningful and they're beautiful. The second is overcoming that fear of exposing the second layer.

The stuff that you think you need to hide from will not only help you write the most engaging and authentic and beautiful and compelling personal essays in your college application, but doing the work also makes life more meaningful and more exciting. Much of what I see in my middle school and high school students is behavior driven almost exclusively by extrinsic motivators. People act and behave based on what they think others around them are going to think, and that extrinsic feedback motivates most of their behavior.

But guess what? It's exhausting. It leads to burnout. It's not sustainable.

And that's why people work really, really hard but then break down and need to recover. And eventually what many people do is they resort to this nonliving life. Instead of really engaging and living fully, they do the bare minimum at school or at work.

And then once they're finished with their responsibilities, they go into some kind of escape, whether that's social media or television or stimulants or depressants or some other behavior. It is not really engaging life on their terms. Instead, they're doing what they need to do to meet what they think are their responsibilities at work or at school, and then escaping from life for the rest of the day.

Which because you're not excited to begin the next day of work or the next day of school, oftentimes you try to escape a little bit longer and a little bit longer, which pushes you to exhaustion, because you don't. Get to sleep on time, which, of course, leads to sleep deprivation the next day, which makes it even more miserable to complete your responsibilities, which makes you want to escape back into YouTube or Netflix or social media or whatever it is that you do even more. And this cycle just perpetuates and it continues.

Let me assure you that there is a better way. Take the time and take the energy to do the work, even though it's really scary. Be willing to open up and figure out what's underneath that first outer layer so that you can dig even deeper and get to your core and identify what really is important to you as a human being.

Once you've identified those values, you can begin acting based on intrinsic motivators. You can begin acting based on what is most meaningful to you. And you'll discover that all of the burnout and the desire to escape from responsibility and escape from the world and life and social situations, it disappears.

Because instead it is replaced by a charge, an excitement, a zest for life, and a zest for your activities that meaningfully complete those values. This is a game changer. And if you are 13 or 14 or 15, if you are young, when you're listening to this podcast, you can save yourself from decades of disappointment and frustration by taking this advice and going through the process of identifying your core values.

If you're an adult and you're listening to this podcast, it is not too late. It's just not worth it to continue spending time and energy trying to reinforce that outer layer at the expense of becoming aware of your real core and who you really are. And so I encourage every one of you, whether you are young or old, to decide to have the courage to really explore who you are.

Dig deep and look past your outer layer, your second layer, all the way to your core, and remember that you can be brave and scared at the same time. It's worth it to do the exercise, you'll be glad you did. And if it fits, consider signing on to the waitlist for the ivy league challenge.

I'd love to see you there and help you through this process.