Lately I’ve been seeing pushback on social media regarding the (in)famous expression “fake it till you make it”, and it got me thinking about the different ways in which we fake it, and which of them are useful.
I’m sure we’ve all heard this term in some context or other, and I think the pushback is related to the toxic success-culture that social media helps breed, and the idea that if you are not part of it, you are failing.
Finding a balance
It’s hard to hit the right balance, whether as a private person sharing large and small life moments with friends and family, or as a business owner or influencer trying to reach your target audience.
If you’re posting only heavily edited pictures (like using beauty and slimming filters for selfies), champagne and caviar, and quotes about loving yourself and life you will not only risk alienating people by being over-the-top, but you can also make others feel like they are failing at life because they do not live up to this polished image you are projecting onto the world. And it will make it much harder for you to ask for help when you need it, when the carefully constructed public image starts to crack.
On the other hand it’s understandable that you don’t want to share every detail of your marital or financial problems with the world at large, and that can also be something that puts people off from interacting with you or following you. Nobody wants to fill their life with negativity.
My advice is to be real. Be true to yourself. If you are speaking your truth you will automatically be genuine. And don’t take yourself too seriously. Did the cake you attempted to make come out looking like unicorn poo? Did you take the worst selfie in the history of mankind? Did you attempt a cool dance move and fall flat on your face? That’s OK, we’ve all been there. And sharing those moments of your life with people gives them a glimpse of the real person behind the online persona. It makes it easier for people to engage with you, and it makes it easier for you to admit when things are not perfect.
It’s great to have goals and aspirations, to be ambitious and go out there in the world and get stuff done. But it’s also totally OK to admit that right now things are not going as you had hoped, or that you’re struggling.
There’s also obviously a limit to fake it till you make it. You cannot fake being rich (buying things you cannot afford, projecting a social status and class that’s not in line with reality, etc.) and expect to become rich – in fact it’ll probably have the opposite effect. Faking your appearance is not only horrible for your self worth, it also only really works until people see you in real life, without makeup on, in your sweat pants, and so on.
Faking it is a psychological tool that can help boost your confidence both inwards and outwards, but it requires work, adaptability and insight into yourself. It is not a magic trick. It’s a process of self-development and learning.
Learning, and not doing it alone
As this article states, faking it really only works if you are still open to learn from your mistakes and from the process.
Be ambitious, say that you are going to climb Mount Everest or design the perfect AI, but if you don’t succeed, acknowledge it and use it as a learning opportunity rather than brushing it off, getting angry or pretending you did it anyway.
Or say you jumped into a crowdfunding venture, giving it your all, believing in it and the power of your message and that you were in fact going to walk from Amsterdam to Berlin, only to discover that crowdfunding is really hard. You could choose to see yourself and your project as failure, or you could recognise that crowdfunding for a cause, by yourself, without much of an online presence, in a sea of other good projects and causes is actually quite difficult. You can choose to be proud of how far you have come, you can choose to adapt your plans to something more feasible, and you can learn for next time. Be better prepared, get help, do more research. And remember Edison.
Also, there is nothing wrong with recognising your limitations. If you hate public speaking but want to be a politician, recognise that it’s going to be harder work for you than for someone who is naturally outgoing and well-spoken, so you have realistic expectations going into it. I went into this day with the wish to get a ton of stuff done. But I am not a fast writer and it’s currently approaching 6 PM. And that’s OK. In the immortal words of Ron Swanson: never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.
It is also really important to have people in your life to whom you don’t fake it. A friend, parent, partner, penpal, what have you, with whom you can share your fears, concerns, and dreams and just be you. Faking it can help you get started, help you drive your career or project further, but it cannot be all you are. Underneath all of it we are all fallible and vulnerable people, and that is a beautiful thing. Not something to be afraid of.
I have impostor syndrome in pretty much everything I do. So a certain level of faking it is simply necessary for me in order to get through the day, and not curl up in a ball on the floor (a slight exaggeration, but you get the point). Even now, writing this article, I experience imposter syndrome. What do I have to say about this, why should anyone listen to me? When are they going to realise that I have no idea what I’m talking about? But partly exactly because I have this experience, I do know what I’m talking about. And every time I overcome that feeling, and I give someone advice or embark upon a project and I realise that I can do it, and that people appreciate my help and advice, it becomes a little easier. That voice in my head becomes a little quieter. So, I keep going, even though it terrifies me sometimes.
The upside of impostor syndrome is that I get to be amazed and surprised every time someone tells me I am doing good work.
Positive self-talk and confidence
There is some truth to the saying that what we give energy to grows (the whole “the wolf you feed” concept). It’s not the be-all-end-all, and having negative thoughts is not why you are depressed, why you have cancer or why you are poor. Positive thinking does not cure (mental) illness.
However, there is definitely an advantage to using positive thought as a tool to achieve a genuinely more positive outlook. It’s OK to fake confidence when you’re nervous, to get stuff done.
And to take a personal example: I have struggled with body image most of my life, and it has taken a lot of me saying that I love myself and I love my body before I genuinely started to feel like it was real, true and lasting. It honestly helped to repeat this over and over to myself, and also to others. Of course, just saying the words is usually not enough. You have to try and feel it. Maybe love is too much to begin with. Maybe you can try to feel like you accept your body, or there are certain things about your body that you can appreciate, and try to build on that. Megan Jayne Crabbe’s tips for belly love in her book Body Positive Power are great for this (in fact the whole book is great for anyone who struggles with body image). Try starting with gentleness, kindness and understanding. Touch your belly in a gentle way, appreciate that it is part of your body and that it is necessary, remove judgement from the thought process. If you can manage that even for a few seconds, it is something you can build on.
Another great tool for getting into a positive frame of mind is energy tapping.
Positive energy tapping
As an energist, I use a certain idea of faking it till you make it in my work. With modern energy tapping we acknowledge the negative emotions, we accept that they are there, and they are valid, but we do not feed them. Instead, by focusing on what positive energies we can use to evolve the negative feeling, we feed the other wolf, so to speak. Again, this is not a magic trick. It requires knowing yourself, being open, using your imagination and connecting your energy body to your mind and physical self. But by connecting to the power of positive energy, by feeling it in the body, by breathing it in, we can in a very real and helpful way fake it till we make it.