Updated: Feb 10, 2020
"Fake it till you make it."
We're told this a lot. And research suggests it may actually be a good strategy for getting ahead at work. Specifically, faking confidence and assertiveness makes it more likely people will rate you as influential, which then makes you continue to act confident and assertive two days later.
When I first heard about this study, I had just finished my second year of graduate school. (Anyone who knows anything about postgraduate work knows the second year is the WORST. So I was particularly vulnerable to get-brave-quick schemes.) Battered and bruised from two years of knowing exactly jack in my chosen field of study but being surrounded by people who seem to have known this crap since birth, I thought, Hallelujah! According to this, all I have to do is pretend to be a smart, confident woman and that's what I'll become.
Fast-forward 5 years later, and I'm still cleaning up the mess from that trope.
The problem with the "fake-it-till-you-make-it" study is that it only tracked people for two days, not 5 years. If it had, I would hypothesize that the faked-it-till-they-made-it condition would be miserable. At least, that's what I was.
It turns out that faking it till you mak(ing?) it is antithetical to something fundamental to emotional well-being: authenticity. When we live authentically, our lives are in alignment with our values. We reach a new level of honesty, because we can mean what we say and say what we mean. We become unapologetically who we truly are because we've stopped living in fear of what that actually entails.
Doesn't that sound amazing?
On the other hand, faking it requires that you disconnect from yourself. After all, I didn't want to be a scared graduate student anymore--I wanted to be strong, successful academic! The problem was, I was a scared graduate student. But rather than sitting down with the scared-graduate-student part of me, looking her in the eyes, and asking her what's wrong, I locked her in a cage and threw her in the basement.
If I would have sat down with her and listened to what she had to say, I would have heard her tell me she didn't actually want to become an academic. And more importantly, I'd hear her tell me her fear wasn't just around academia; it was pervading a lot of areas of our life. And then I'd see that becoming a successful academic was just a bandaid, an external solution for an internal problem.
We fake all kinds of garbage in our lives. We fake relationships. ("I'll love you forever!") We fake careers. ("It's challenging but also super rewarding.") We fake friendships. ("I'm soooo excited to see you!") We fake our needs. ("Everything is fine.") We fake happiness. ("#blessed!")
When did faking it become an acceptable alternative to attending to our needs?
Here's my advice to my younger self--and if you're faking it, then here's my advice to you: Drop the mask for a minute and ask yourself if this is what you really want. You may not get the answer you want or expect. Fair warning: It's going to be really uncomfortable to face that truth about yourself. So uncomfortable, you're probably going to reach for the mask again. After all, you're all naked and exposed for who you really are. And it does feel a bit drafty in here.
But sit with it for just a minute. Learn your way around it. Once the initial shock wears off, you'll see its not as bad as you thought. In fact, it feels kind of good. Liberating.
You do this enough, and your mask starts to feel a little ridiculous. It doesn't fit anymore. It sort of feels like a square peg in a round hole. You start to crave those times when the mask is off, and you can be yourself, flaws and all. And faking it just seems like this exhausting thing you don't have time for anymore.
Because nothing worth doing needs to be faked.
Check out part 2 here.