“Fake it ’till You Make it.” Good Advice or Recipe for Disaster?

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“Fake it ’till you make it” has always been a favorite expression of mine, and I’ve subscribed to this philosophy for years. I’ve even used it a time or two on this site. But, I’ve recently started to wonder whether this phrase we all so casually throw around is actually sound advice or if it does more harm than good.

The idea of pretending that we have it together is appealing in circumstances where we feel lost. After all, acknowledging that we are overwhelmed or that we don’t know something we think we should is scary. We are conditioned to project confidence at all times and at all costs. But when we are not our authentic selves, we miss out on critical opportunities for growth and genuine connection with those around us. If we are pretending to know what we’re doing at all times, even when we don’t, we probably won’t have enough time left to actually learn. We won’t ask the right questions or take the time to develop the skills that will actually help us achieve our goals.

Worse yet, if you suffer from imposter syndrome, faking it only reinforces the false narrative that you are a fraud. Keeping a positive internal dialogue is incredibly important to your confidence, but that’s hard to do when you’re consistently telling yourself that you are a phony.

There are times when behaving “as if” is necessary. For example, if you had one too many at last night’s happy hour, it’s probably best to act as if you didn’t at the morning meeting. Perhaps you’re speaking in public and want to project control when in reality your insides are tied up in knots. These are times when it’s perfectly appropriate to fake it. But, these moments should be the exception, not the rule.

It’s OK not to know everything, and most importantly, it’s OK to admit that to those around you. If you’re asked a question and don’t know the answer, say so and then do your best to find the right answer. If you’re confused by instructions for an assignment you’ve been given, ask for clarification. If you want to be taken seriously in a meeting, come with ideas and thoughtful feedback, not trite expressions that don’t add anything of value to the conversation simply to have your voice heard. Taking the time to develop your true authentic self can take more effort, but will always be more rewarding than faking it.

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