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Call it what you will, I didn’t want to be that kind of person. It dawned on me that feeling worthy of standing inside a given space had little to do with always being at the center of it.

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Imposter Syndrome: Fake It Til You Make It!

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In Deborah’s Kitchen.

I’ve been trying out this new thing for the past 3 weeks where I pretend that my kitchen isn’t actually my kitchen. Instead, I “make believe” that it’s actually my friend Deborah’s kitchen. Deborah has a beautiful home in the Hamptons and we’ve been guests there almost every summer since I met her through Anthony in 2015. In fact, I spent a week there right before my wedding in 2018, and I remember thinking that it was one of the most magical weeks of my life, the proverbial calm before the storm (yes, our wedding was a “good storm” but a storm nonetheless!).

Deborah is an incredibly gifted cook, with a bounty of fresh produce from the wonderful local farms at her doorstep all summer long. In fact, you’ll find a couple inspirations from Deborah in my cookbook! Because she spends so much time in the kitchen, she keeps it airy, open, and facing towards the near floor to ceiling windows that overlook the lush green landscape and the silvery harbor beyond. Her kitchen is also equipped with the best that money can buy–a free range oven and the most expensive cookware–but rejects some of the modern gadgetry that would disrupt the lovely homey-ness that Deborah imbues in every room she touches.

There’s no fancy espresso machine, but rather an old fashioned coffee pot that I swear she’s kept since the 70s. It works better than any alarm clock with its soft popping and hissing at exactly the same time each morning (she did relent and pick up a Nespresso machine when she realized that Anthony and I favor espresso drinks, but by that time, we’d sort of fallen in love with the stained old coffee pot and couldn’t really bear to move on from it). The immersion blender she purchased years ago remains, practically unused, in its original box, tucked away in the back pantry, taken out only when I visit and I’m in the mood for corn soup or a fresh red sauce. A chandelier of pots and pans hangs from the ceiling–the same pots and pans Deborah’s been cooking with for decades.

Deborah is quite generous with her kitchen–far more so than I would be–introducing me to quiet alcoves and almost-forgotten drawers like secrets between best friends. Not only does she stock her fridge and pantry with all sorts of vegan goodies before we arrive, she schools me on the best that the local farmers have to offer, what’s in season and what to avoid, and where I might be able to find gochugaru in the middle of Long Island (still lookin…). There’s always something special about cooking in Deborah’s kitchen, an ease I can’t seem to replicate even at home. In part, it’s the functionality that Deborah designed into her kitchen–the pots and pans are easily within reach, the prep bowls nested together right where they should be, the garlic and onions housed tidily together in a dim nook beside the stovetop and right by the olive oil.

But there’s something else, something I can’t really put my finger on, despite having cooked in Deborah’s kitchen now dozens of times. A serenity that attends the whole self-perpetuating nature of it all: the farmers growing and harvesting the food; picking through the season’s largess of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and sweet corn; making something simple, nutritious, and delicious what we select; spooning it onto Deborah’s plates while she hums underneath her breath and her husband, H., guffaws over the same story he’s been regaling me with for nearly a decade (one that I somehow never tire of hearing, though); and the clink and scrape of forks and knives and wine glasses as the sun sets with a fiery outrage, at odds with the rather mundane sounds of a homemade dinner among close friends.

As you might imagine, when I make so much as a peanut butter sandwich in Deborah’s kitchen, I take pains to leave it as pristine as when I entered. No dirty dishes in the sink. No used cookware left out on the kitchen island. No crumbs scattered across the counters. Because the idea that Deborah would feel even a thumbprint of imposition from my cooking would cause complete and utter mortification. And it is this aspect of being in her kitchen that I’ve experimented with bringing into my own kitchen.

Anthony has often complained that our home–particularly the kitchen–is too cluttered and messy. I don’t disagree with him; but, as I think he finally understands, cooking and recipe development is my job. As a result, for every one type of flour a regular at-home cook has, I will need four. In addition to the “for use” cutlery and plates, I will have an entire second set that’s just for props and photographs. Where the average person goes through a small bottle of soy sauce in a quarter, I will go through two jumbo jugs in less than a month. As a result, the pantry is overflowing–literally–with enough ingredients to fill a commercial kitchen. But, I don’t have a commercial kitchen. In fact, I have an average sized kitchen with not a lot of counter space, a narrow refrigerator, and a cupboard beneath the staircase (just like in Harry Potter), which we repurposed into a very tight pantry.

But Anthony’s grievances weren’t limited to the amount of stuff we had. Every once in a while (usually in the middle of a fight that had absolutely nothing to do with the state of our house), he would accuse me of not picking up after myself. Despite my [legitimate] objection to the inapposite timing of such criticism, I begrudgingly noted that the coffee mug I drank out of each morning often lingered longer than necessary on the kitchen table, that half-consumed cans of sparkling water littered the ever diminishing counter space, that dishes often piled up in the sink while the dishwasher remained in a constant state of “are these washed or unwashed??”

When we moved into our home in SoCal, we hired an organizer to kickstart a “more orderly” kitchen life, but that soon gave way to the exigencies of Cookbook #2. Weekly photo shoots were all day affairs, often entailing up to ten recipes a day. For months, it was all hands on deck and Anthony’s largest contribution was staying “mum” about the chaos that soon enveloped nearly the entire downstairs area of our home. But, as you may recall, I invited my mother, aunt, and cousin to help me with the final photo shoot for Cookbook #2 and Asian moms can’t help but Asian mom–after an entire day’s worth of cooking and composing and photographing, the kitchen looked cleaner than I could remember it by the time my camera finally came to rest.

I decided, then and there, that I was going to do my darndest to keep my kitchen neater. Not sparkling clean, but a sight tidier than what had become normalized through the cookbook shoot.

But as we discussed a few weeks ago, change–even small change–requires more than just “gung-ho” determination. Sustainable habit formation requires a little strategy, a bit of cleverness to make otherwise slippery behavior patterns sufficiently “sticky.”

While fitting my camera batteries into their assigned chargers immediately after a YouTube shoot (a habit I’ve kept now for nine months), I thought about that time at the law firm when a member of the management committee warned me that my time entries had become noticeably tardy–“noticeably,” as in the most powerful people at my Firm had noticed and had put me on some list of recalcitrants. I was up for partner that year and was told, quite explicitly, that my failure to enter my time was staining an otherwise impressive record. Completely humiliated, I told Michael, “Ok. From now on, I’m going to do my time entries every day and you will NEVER see me on the ‘bad list’ again.”

After hanging up the phone, I took a big, black marker and wrote the following on a yellow Post-it:

“Never save for tomorrow what you can do today.”

I stuck it on the corkboard next to my phone and reinforced it with a blue thumbtack for good measure.

From that day forward, with few exceptions (when I was on trial or traveling), I entered and closed my time entries every single morning. In fact, I couldn’t start my work day without doing my time entries. And what used to take several hours a month to do now took only 5 to 7 minutes a day. True to my word, I never, ever, appeared on that bad list again.

As I retrieved the SD cards from my cameras (another habit I’ve sustained for several months), I tried to think of the equivalent of the Carpe Diem post-it note I kept in my office. And just like that, I had it:

Pretend your kitchen is Deborah’s kitchen.

I could literally feel the conceit sliding into place with the same soft click as the camera batteries I’d just started recharging. From that point on, every time I saw a lone used cup sitting on the corner of the island, a knife with dabs of peanut butter loitering in our sink, a random kitchen prop left stranded between the kitchen and my studio, I would ask myself, “Would you leave that there if this were Deborah’s kitchen?” And before the emphatic “NO!” finished echoing its way through my body, the cup, knife, and kitchen prop would be swept up and placed in the dishwasher or tucked neatly back into place in my studio.

“Would I leave this in Deborah’s kitchen?”

It’s been three weeks and I can definitely feel the rough edges of a habit forming inside my brain, though picking up after things isn’t always by rote (yet). A few nights ago, after a full day of editing videos, responding to emails, and cooking Lulu’s food, I wanted nothing more than to curl up into bed and go to sleep while staring at the growing mountain of dirty dishes in the sink. What’s worse was that the dishwasher had just been run but not yet emptied. Perhaps I could stare the dirty dishes away? And then, I thought, “You’ve had a long day. It won’t hurt anyone for you to leave a few dirty dishes in the sink.”

But this is not true.

In the end, it would hurt my habit formation.

And, because the habit formation was my goal and mine alone–

It would hurt me.

So, I repeated the fundamental question: “Would I leave these dishes in the sink at Deborah’s house?”

No. No, of course I wouldn’t.

I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

It’s too early to tell, but so far, this little experiment is shaping up to be a big success. We’ve gotten several square inches of kitchen back and my husband appreciates that I’m at least trying. The idea of using “pretend” to trick our brains into doing things that are challenging isn’t new, of course. One trick I often use during my long runs or marathons is the old “Just run one more mile and I’ll let you walk” ruse. Or the “Just workout for 5 minutes and then I’ll let you quit if you hate it that much.” Nine out of ten times, I end up running the whole thing, working out the full hour. Despite knowing that these are lies–I know my kitchen isn’t actually Deborah’s kitchen–these little “fibs” can serve as powerful tools for habit formation and, more importantly, proving to ourselves that we can do hard things (yes, washing dishes at 9:30 pm is HARD!).

But can this little Jedi-mind trick be deployed against something more insidious than a little clutter? Can it help dislodge a malady much nastier than a few crumbs that have fallen between the kitchen tiles?

Can I trick myself out of my Imposter Syndrome?

For those who are unfamiliar with the affliction known as “Imposter Syndrome,”

​Imposter syndrome (IS)​ is a behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals. These individuals cannot internalize their success and subsequently experience pervasive feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and/or apprehension of being exposed as a fraud in their work, despite verifiable and objective evidence of their successfulness.

I remember when I first discovered this term, how it mapped on all fours against the shame I’d harbored pretty much my whole life; how it explained why my “C+” in advanced geometry in high school always prevented me from believing I was as smart as my teachers said I was; how it perfectly encapsulated the dread I walked into the office with every morning, as if at any moment, the penny would drop and everyone would finally realize I had no business being a lawyer, much less a partner at a law firm; how it continues to dog me even now, as a 44-year-old entrepreneur and successful author, as if certain doom lurks behind every corner of our home, ready to restore my rightful place as the girl who wept over the report card with the ugly C+ in geometry.

Recently, I was invited to the Streamy Awards and, believe it or not, I was there to actually receive a Streamy. My good friend, Cassey, nominated me to receive a Creator Honor Streamy. Needless to say, I was both flabbergasted and – for a host of reasons, not the least of which was because I am such an admirer of her extraordinary work and story – incredibly grateful to be Cassey’s Honoree. That said, I showed up to the awards very much feeling like I didn’t belong there. I assumed that most of the people who received a coveted invitation to the awards ceremony had far more subscribers, followers, and “clout” than I did. But, I did my best to mask my “I-S,” view my attendance as an excellent opportunity for growth, and otherwise enjoy the evening with Cassey. The following day, I posted a video about the event.

I showed the video to some friends a few days later over dinner, describing both my elation and apprehension at being honored with a Streamy. Expressing incredulity that I might struggle with imposter syndrome, they scanned through a handful of photos from the event, and one of them, Nabiha, observed, “Omg, Joanne…! I can see your imposter syndrome. I can see your insecurity! Look at the way you’re standing…!”

Now, it’s one thing when you know you have imposter syndrome. It’s an entirely different thing when someone else can see it. All this time, I’d thought I’d done a pretty good job of masking my crippling lack of confidence, but apparently, I was wrong. I felt my face heat up and the wheels in my brain already beginning to turn as I recalibrated the facade I’d need to don for future public appearances. It was at this point that Nabiha said something I simply haven’t been able to get out of my mind:

“You need to create a ‘Joanne 2.0,’ a Joanne that pretends that she knows she deserves to be there as much as everyone else.

I imagined donning the guise of a totally “new” Joanne–one who was confident, made people laugh, strode into rooms with her shoulders back and her gaze straight. Only, it wouldn’t really be a “new” me so much as a “fake” me, like a character in a sitcom.

The idea appealed to me. I liked theater in junior high and high school. I was the star of the school musical my junior year–I played the part of a cockney waif in Me and My Gal (I was the “Gal”). Surely, if I could convincingly play the role of a British vagrant, I could pretend to be this “Joanne 2.0.”

Someone who believed she deserved to be there.

Over the past several days, I’ve had a chance to practice playing the part of Joanne 2.0. I flew to NYC to participate in my first ever fashion event–a watch party hosted by Genesis and Vogue, where I got to hobnob with models and bonafide NY fashionistas as we celebrated the official opening of London Fashion Week. I was thrown into a room full of beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes, surrounded by flashing cameras and the clink of champagne flutes. I knew two people–acquaintances I’d met when I began my partnership with Genesis (a Korean car company). Despite the overwhelming urge to hover around the small table of finger foods like I was extremely preoccupied deciding what to eat (none of it was vegan, lol) or take multiple unnecessary bathroom breaks, I asked myself,

“What would Joanne 2.0 do?”

It turns out the answer was a little more complicated than you might think.

A snapshot of Joanne 2.0.

Confidence doesn’t look the same for everyone. My definition of “confidence” was rapidly evolving, as I continued to examine how to settle into this new role. In the beginning, I thought it meant diving into conversations I wasn’t necessarily invited to, making jokes that had everyone laughing, taking selfies with my new “friends” and otherwise making myself the center of attention. But as I watched other people act this way, I realized that “confidence” could sometimes be, well, obnoxious. Indeed, confidence could easily be mistaken for–or unmasked as–arrogance or even narcissism. Call it what you will, I didn’t want to be that kind of person. It dawned on me that feeling worthy of standing inside a given space had little to do with always being at the center of it.

I thus shifted my focus from being the life of the party (ceding that role to others who seemed far more inclined to play it), and instead, sought out individuals I wanted to actually talk to. Yes, I tend to feel lost and insecure in large groups and infernal networking events, but one-on-one? Seventeen years of depositions have made me a rather skilled and agile conversationalist. Moreover, I could focus the soft light of my attention on whomever I was talking to, instead of needing to be under that spotlight myself. I had a riotous chat with a fellow Star Wars/sci-fi nerd, an engrossing dissection of all the running paths of NYC with another marathoner, and a fascinating discussion regarding the state of misogyny with a female executive at one of the largest companies in South Korea.

I discovered that when you’re enjoying yourself, you no longer care whether you “belong.” And when you no longer care?

Well, that’s what confidence really looks like.

Listen to This Week’s Newsletter!

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This Week’s Recipe Inspo.

​Full recipe and instructions on The Korean Vegan YouTube Channel

Spice Up Your Life.

Spicy Ramen Salt

A spicy, umami packed blend of seasonings that’ll enrich your broths, pop your popcorn, and heat up your pasta sauce!

Fishy Salt

A plant-based seafood-esque blend that’s perfect for broths, marinades, or sprinkling over roasted veggies!

What I’m…

Watching. The absolutely jaw-dropping, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat finale of Moving made this k-drama one of the best I’ve ever seen. While it starts out as a comic book hero series, it turns out to really be about family, friendship, loyalty, and what it means to be “human.” My favorite thing about the show was the father-son relationship between one of the students and his autistic dad. I also loved the interplay of Korean geopolitics with the show’s sci-fi elements. I highly HIGHLY recommend Moving, whether you’re into Korean dramas or not. It gave me serious Parasite vibes for all the right reasons. Watch –>

Reading. In case you missed it, The New York Times published an article, “TikTok Stars Reshape the Cookbook World,” and yours truly was featured! As you can see in the photo, my mom cut the article out and FRAMED IT, LOLOL. Read –>

Wearing. I was running along the lakefront path in Chicago last week when someone tapped me on the shoulder. A woman slowed next to me and between breaths, asked, “Where did you get that sports bra? I need one with a pocket for my phone.” “Amazon,” I managed, “just search ‘phone pocket sports bra.’ There are like 70 of them.” In case any of you are also looking for a super handy sports bra, here you go! Shop –>

Virtual Cooking Class on The Kollective!

This Sunday, October 1, I’ll be teaching a LIVE cooking class featuring my most popular recipe of all-time: Kkanpoong Tofu! The cooking class is FREE for all members of The Korean Vegan Kollective. If you’re already a member, make sure to keep your eyes peeled on the App. If you’re NOT a Kollective Member, sign up today to partake in thousands of plant-based recipes, free one-on-one food coaching, and live cooking classes!

Parting Thoughts.

Shortly after my event in NYC, I flew home to Chicago to spend some time with my parents. The morning after I unzipped my suitcase in my brother’s old room (my room has been turned into my mother’s office), I woke up while it was still pitch black outside to head to Waterfall Glen, a beautiful 9.5 mile running trail located just outside of the city. Two loops, according to my training calendar, which translated roughly into 19 miles. I knew my running team would be out there, but because all of them are much faster than I am, I began an hour before everyone else. Near mile 8, I finally started to see my teammates loping towards me, nodding or sometimes waving as we passed. As I turned the bend of mile 9, a large cluster of them came into view. A chorus of “Joanne!” “Good job Joanne!” “Yeah Joanne!” flew towards me as I fist pumped my way past them. Only halfway done with my run, my feet bounced on the rough gravel as I turned around to begin my second loop.

Waterfall Glen.

As I looked up at the latticework of trees splayed out against the grey sky, I mused,

Joanne 2.0 might be more fun and confident, but man… It’s nice to be around people where I can just be me.


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